Maybe it was the endless dominating attack without a goal or maybe it was my own pessimism, but Everton's 1-0 loss to West Brom felt natural; almost expected. Everton comes to play in good form against a beatable team that's struggling, and do all the little things wrong. Ho hum. Everton's fans deserved better, but they didn't get it, and won't likely get it this season.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
Based solely on the numbers involved, one would expect this to be a game that Everton lost rather than one that West Brom won. I'd argue the opposite is true. Yes, Everton dominated possession (76% to 24%). Yes, they completed 431 more passes than the Baggies. And yes, they managed an absurd number of shots (34 including 18 inside the box). But West Brom knew how they could win the game, and made the plays they needed to make to do it.
As with any Tony Pulis side, everything started with the defense. I've seen a lot of Premier League games this season, and that was the best defensive performance I've seen from a side all season. There were a lot of individual standouts for the West Brom defense (the much maligned Jonny Evans for one) but really it was the tremendous coordination and discipline of the whole unit that frustrated the Toffees all afternoon. Despite relentless pressure, the Baggies held Everton to only six shots on targets and blocked a whopping 15 of them.
The match was rarely played in Everton's half, but West Brom was efficient in taking their chances. Whatever you think of Everton's defense (or lack thereof) on the game's only goal, Jonas Olsson's header was a good one and a difficult pop up to keep track of in the air. The Baggies managed few other opportunities, but again, made fairly good work of the opportunities they had.
Oumar Niasse Cannot Get Match Fit Fast Enough
It was clear after the first half that West Brom were organized and dense enough at the back to thwart any attempts to play through them towards goal. Martinez felt that Everton had a better chance trying to play the ball over the top into the box, and having Seamus Coleman as a secondary striking option just wasn't cutting it. With Steven Naismith now wearing canary yellow, Martinez only had Arouna Kone or Kevin Mirallas to turn to.
Martinez chose Kone, and for what its worth, in theory that's the right choice. For all his poor form of late Arouna Kone has had success playing centrally off Lukaku, and was the only other true striker on the bench. Unfortunately Kone's run of bad form continued to dog him as turned in another poor performance.
It did however, demonstrate the value of having a second target man, playing either as a winger or a true secondary striker, to compliment the big Belgian. Everton desperately could have used an extra man in the box, and Kone simply wasn't up to the task, losing the ball early and often.
Tom Cleverley has shown tremendous work rate this season both as a left winger and a defensive midfielder but is little help to Lukaku in the box. He was pushed off the ball early and often by West Brom's larger defenders. Niasse is an unknown as far as the Premier League is concerned, but is known for his pace, strength and his work rate. Hopefully he can bring the same effort to the wings as Cleverley while adding power and serious scoring threat.
A Good Problem To Have
Ask just about any Toffee fan who the best Everton player has been during their three game win streak and that fan give you Aaron Lennon's name without hesitation. He's been a nightmare for opponents both offensively and defensively and Saturday was no exception.
Lennon routinely abused West Brom defenders with his speed and ball control, ultimately only falling short (as with the rest of teammates) when it came to finishing. Watching him utterly bamboozle James Chester brought some joy to an otherwise bitter afternoon.
Clearly Lennon deserves his place in the starting XI, but it does bring up the question - how do we get Gerard Deulofeu on the pitch? Despite his defensive disinclination and his silly flopping, Geri remains an offensive force unlike anyone else Everton has. Deulofeu has amassed eight assists this Premier League campaign, good for sixth overall in the league. He's done that despite playing fewer minutes than anyone else in the top ten.
Finding ways to get the best XI on the field is an ongoing challenge for Roberto Martinez, all the more so when two of those XI occupy the same position.