Sacking a manager is not a decision to take lightly. Too often clubs make a knee-jerk decision based on a string of bad results, when in fact those results were based more on luck or random variation than anything that the manager could actually control. Indeed Swansea City may perhaps be the most salient example this season of this phenomenon:
Changing managers has made little difference to Swansea's performance level. pic.twitter.com/Z6fTGsecE2— Simon (@analytic_footy) May 9, 2016
Of course the Swans are by no means alone in this regard--prolonged strings of bad or good luck have probably been disproportionately affecting boardroom decisions for as long as the professional game has been played. In the case of Monk, it seems that he was bit by both ends; the combination of unfairly raised expectations from a fortuitous 8th place finish last year with a poor run of fortune this year contrived to divest him of his job.
The twelfth-best team in the league?
Fair or unfair, this is life and this is football. As such it behooves us to dig at least a little below the surface before we can confidently call for Roberto Martinez's head. Let's start with a quick glance below.
Needless to say we're off to a bad start here. There's not a whole lot in the underlying numbers to suggest that Everton don't deserve their league position. At best you could argue that 10th would be fair, with a little luck maybe a bit higher. On Statsbomb recently Michael Bertin suggested an improved soccer version of Bill James's pythagorean that would put Everton in 9th.
Especially troubling is the defense--we talked about it in December, we talked about it in January, pretty much since the end of the 2013-14 season it's been no secret that there are at best leaks and at worst enormous gaping holes in the rearguard. Unfortunately things have only gotten worse in this regard, as they've conceded over 30 shots in each of their last two away matches. The numbers above suggest that Martinez has managed to assemble a borderline relegation defense this season.
It's not just the defense that's gotten worse though. Though it feels like years ago, it's been five months since I examined Everton's attack, which at the time was topping the table in goals from open play. I noted, though, that the Toffees were buoyed by (1) monster performances from Romelu Lukaku and (2) a probably unsustainable conversion rate. Sure enough both Lukaku and the team's finishing in general have cooled off somewhat and the Everton attack has fallen out of elite company into the much less glamorous "above average" category. Lukaku has probably earned a pass simply for the amount of minutes he has put in and for his outstanding performances for the majority of the season, but it was always going to take another attacker to step up in his place and unfortunately that hasn't happened.
In fact not only has nobody made up for Lukaku's dip in form, the entire team seems to have tanked after beating Aston Villa on the first day of March. There's no good way to put this:
In short, things have gotten out of hand. Admittedly it hasn't been the easiest schedule, though according to Michael Caley's xG numbers Everton have created better chances than their opponent exactly once during the last 9 matches. There's a lot of interesting stuff to be said about variation and uncertainty in expected goals (especially over one-game intervals), but it hasn't been particularly close; we're talking about roughly a -1.14 xG difference per game over this period, which is pretty dire.
It gets worse: over this period Everton have allowed an average of 19 shots per game. To put that number into context, no Premier League team for the data I have (since 2000-01) has allowed that many shots over the course of a season. In other words, the defending we've seen from Everton for the last two months is in the realm of some of the worst you'll witness at this level.
Digging a little deeper, Everton are not only failing to create chances and to prevent them, they are failing to establish any sort of control on games:
The falling possession and passing numbers indicate that Everton have been controlling the ball less and less, while the territory trends suggest that Everton are spending more and more time penned in their own area rather than camped out at the opponent's end. Unless you're Leicester (hint: nobody is Leicester except Leicester), you do not want to post numbers like this.
Everton may have appeared half-decent in spells this season, but for some time now they've been pretty abject. Whether or not the team have given up on Roberto is beyond the realm of my analysis but it surely won't help that their last two games are against what should be highly motivated teams fighting for their Premier League lives.
Sometimes numbers can provide silver linings in dark times, but I'm not sure this is one of those times. It seems to me that we've had ample time to see the storylines play out, and though the argument always remains that Everton have a mid-table budget, the rises of Southampton and to a lesser extent Leicester City and West Ham are evidence that such excuses are becoming less and less adequate.
Admittedly there are plenty of unanswered questions here, chief among them "why, exactly, have Everton been so bad?" and "is it the manager's fault?" I'll leave those questions for now, but suffice to say that this team is about as bad as you think they are. No matter what you think about Martinez's culpability in this, at the very least it cannot reflect well on him to end the season looking so hopeless on the field.