Maddening as it was, Saturday's 1-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion should not alone cause panic amongst the Everton ranks. On a quick analysis, the much-reported-upon 33-5 shots tally, a slew of blocked shots, and a goal from a set piece all suggest that Everton simply got Pulis'd.
Expected goals tell a slightly more nuanced story:
xG map for #EFC-#wba. An absolute crapton of shots by Everton, but few big chances. Still, shoulda had a goal. pic.twitter.com/HIg3jI2GVO— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) February 14, 2016
So perhaps not quite the shellacking it appeared, but the reality remains that Everton deserved more from this match.
I stand by my main assessment last week: the team is in good form. Offensively, they've averaged 1.8 expected goals and 18.8 over the last five matches, both season highs for any five match period so far. Defensively, the story is the same: 0.9 xG and 9 shots against, again season bests over five matches.
Usually when you create a bunch of chances, take a bunch of shots, and prevent your opponents from doing the same, good things happen. Unfortunately--or fortunately, depending on your position--this is football, and it's not always enough to simply play well. You'll find few better examples of this from Everton this year than 1-2 against Swansea three weeks ago and this weekend's result.
However, it would be a bit disingenuous to take part in a pity party at this juncture. Recent results notwithstanding, Everton's league-high scoring percentage of 38.7% suggests that they continue to benefit from fortuitous circumstances in front of goal. 46 goals from 36.9 xG points to the same conclusion--no other side in England has outperformed expected goals to such a degree. I noted as much over two months ago, and I suppose it's fair to ask why I think things will change now when they haven't yet. To that, I'll just reiterate that since 2000 only two English teams have managed to finish a full season with a scoring percentage over Everton's current number. As such, it remains likely that something will give.
At this juncture our disappointment as supporters should be directed not at losing at home to Tony Pulis, but at taking six months to find any sort of defensive form. Indeed, it took this most recent shooting outburst to push Everton past the .500 shot ratio mark for the first time all season, an ignominy driven mostly by failing to limit opponents' opportunities rather than failing to create them for themselves.
Such setbacks as Saturday's match are to be expected over the course of the season. The issue for Everton, of course, is that they are simply no longer in a position to sustain them. They will need probably about 57 or 58 points by the end of the season to be in with a shout at the Europa League. That equates to around a 1.9 points per game clip from here on out, which historically is usually good enough for second or third on a season-long basis. I'll leave it up to the reader to decide if you think this team can play like a Champions League squad for twelve straight matches. For what it's worth (if you didn't click the link), Caley's putting that probability at about 10%.
All is not lost--an FA Cup tie beckons, and if recent form continues more league results should be bouncing Everton's way. Saturday's loss was simply another reminder of how difficult it is to rely on late-season run to ascend the table. Even when the form comes, the points don't always follow.