Alright, everyone calm down. This weekend didn’t go as planned, but there’s no reason to panic.
Yes, the draw at Middlesbrough IS disappointing, because we expect more from this team and know they can provide it.
Yes, dropping two points does (it seems) severely hinder the Toffees’ chances of making Europe.
No, being shut out on the road against the league’s fourth best defense (look it up) is not something to lose our cool about.
It’s a long season.
You see, Toffee Twitter went to a dark place this weekend after the final whistle blew on a lackluster 0-0 draw at a Middlesbrough side struggling for form.
From moans and groans about team selection:
To complaints about tactics:
I don’t know if it was the knowledge that this was the squad’s last competitive match for two weeks, or the idea that the only way to be successful is to win the rest of our 13 league matches and qualify for Champions League, but fans were riled up.
While I understand the sentiment, there are A LOT of reasons to slough off this past weekend’s draw and be excited for the future, including two weeks from now!
So with that in mind, let’s get to your questions!
If you aren't happy with Everton challenging for 6th and improving in every area after watching the dross under Martinez, you're stupid.— Sean Lunt (@Sean_Lunt) February 12, 2017
Ok, so this isn’t a question, but Sean makes an EXCELLENT point that needs expanding on.
(Love the use of dross by the way!)
As I mentioned, there was a noticeably caustic attitude among Everton supporters after this weekend’s draw.
My first thought was that this might be a good thing.
Expectations have already been ratcheted up, we have known quality performers in almost every position, and a manager that has shown the ability to positively impact the match.
So it would make sense that Toffees followers would be upset, just not THIS upset.
A lot of the responses came across to me as resignation of another season spent in transition. Another mid-table season long forgotten.
In fact, without the cups for supporters to pour their competitive juices into, every league match carries with it the weight of a final.
For the players at training, that is the right mindset. Only accept the best.
For the manager, that pressure can be key to self-improvement, but only with the right intelligence and perspective (Koeman has it).
For fans though, with the team in it’s current state, measuring each match individually does not provide true perspective on the strides being made by the club on and off the field.
So why all the consternation?
In defense of Everton fans, the last two seasons of the Martinez era were roller coaster rides of emotions, to say the least.
In fact, at this point last season, Everton was only one spot lower (8th) than we are now (7th).
That fact, on it’s face, would make it seem as though those of us, myself and Sean included, who have been calling for a more measured approach to determining success this season are just papering over the same flaws that have haunted us for years.
Roberto Martinez said as much during his remarks on Sky Sports after the Bournemouth match.
I can appreciate Martinez’s opinion Martinez is totally full of bologna/baloney, I hesitate to even include that nugget of information, but it is that view of the squad that both created the mess Koeman has been cleaning up and caused Everton fans to be wound tighter than a two dollar watch.
It’s the perception that Everton is a team that is susceptible to drastic rises and falls in form and in the table. It’s not exactly difficult to see why fans harbor these deep fears, just look at last season!
As I said, at this point last season we were in 8th, which isn’t terrible, but also doesn’t tell the story.
Back-to-back wins in weeks 24 and 25 got the squad the highest they had been in the table since almost two months before, and would be the highest position the team would occupy the rest of the season.
Looking back though, the team was all over the place, with the only the consistent thing being the overall downward trend.
There was no consistency in performance, much less in results. That chart looks like an EKG! No wonder last year’s matches felt like a heart attack every weekend!
Compare it to the current campaign:
A little less unpredictable huh??
Sure, we started off hot, but with a new manager we were bound to dip. Once he settled in though, we have found our groove in a highly competitive table.
The Blues haven’t been lower than ninth all season, while at this point in the previous campaign we had already spent two months in 10th or lower!
In fact, our beloved Toffees have only been outside the top 7 for three weeks!!
I’d call that consistency.
Yeah, but we are only one spot better off right now than this time last season, so they can’t be THAT much better.
Oh yes they are!!
What many fans forget when comparing seasons is the relative strength of the league.
The 2015-2016 season was one of the WEAKEST in league history, if not ever. The top teams fell waaaaaaay back, and only Leicester could muster up the strength to crack the top 4.
This season has seen the top sides reestablish themselves high above everyone else, and luckily for Toffees fans, we have latched on for the ride.
Just where do we stand in terms of the league leaders, relegation and the Champions League compared to last season?
At this point last season Everton were just as close to be relegated as they were to the Champions League, each 12 points away.
This season, however, we are only 8 points out of the Champions League race and a comfortable 21 from the bottom three.
I’ll go on!
Note that the league leaders (Chelsea) have amassed seven more points (60 to 53) than eventual league champs Leicester had at the same point last season, while the Champions League spots sit a clear two points higher (49 to 47) than they did in 2015-2016.
Shifting our attention to the bottom of the table, we’ll find the relegation line is three points lower this season (23 to 20), a sign that the top teams are stronger and not giving away as many points as last season.
Also, this years bottom three have picked up more wins (16 to 15) than last years sin binners at this time last campaign.
Finally, if anyone wants to argue that current bottom dwellers Sunderland are anywhere near as bad as last year’s Aston Villa ‘squad’ they will find themselves getting institutionalized.
That team sunk like the Titanic.
Lucky for us, Steve Walsh and Ronald Koeman went down and retrieved the jewel that wrinkly old lady threw into the ocean, or in this case the Championship:
Anyways....back on topic....
So the good teams are a lot better this season, the bad teams are just as good if not better (in a tougher league), and Everton is improved by almost every measurable statistic.
We are making up ground on the big boys, AND pulling away from the bottom of the pack.
Sure, I would like to see us at or above that yellow line, but when you assess our standings this season and last, the comparison is laughable.
Everton’s goal differential is one better this season, more importantly though, WE HAVE PICKED UP SIX MORE POINTS! Which in spite of what our former manager has said, IS the most important thing.
Fans have every right to expect more from the squad than they got against Middlesbrough.
Our performance wasn’t up to the level we know the players are capable of, but it shouldn’t raise any alarm bells.
In fact, Koeman HIMSELF said that he was fine with the result, and we all know he doesn’t pull punches.
That, or he has one hell of a poker face, because If he DID view this performance as an indicator of impending struggles he didn’t let on after the match.
So, appreciate how far the club has come, how much the team has improved, and that Roberto Martinez is no longer our manager.
If you don’t agree with the first two points, you can at least agree with the last one.
See, getting one point out of three isn’t always that bad!
YOUR WEEKLY HAIKU
Davies coasts the field
Goals and tackles both abound
Dream your biggest dreams
Who are the best three individually, who are the best three together? Is it situational? I still worry about Schneiderlin not quite being match fit mentally, and on the same page as his teammates. In the eye test he is playing some odd short passes that players weren't expecting, and could have been ugly. He could have seen red for a tackle, and needs to stop with the ref yelling, he's been on the team two weeks, let someone else deal with it. He does fill a certain role, with more mobility than Barry. Though Barry's passing, and his positioning are second to none.
That said, James McCarthy has been the best performer the last week, and we haven't even talked about our best player in the first half of the season, Gana, or in the second half so far, Tom Davies. Oh, and that guy who made Leo Messi irrelevant, Mo Besic, is coming back- he is young, hungry, and isn't half bad on the ball- his ceiling is high if he can stay healthy. I can see against a team that rely's on passing through the midfield playing Davies, McCarthy, and Gana together, swarming teams to death- I can see Morgan, Gana, and one more further forward. How do you think this pans out. What is the depth chart, and what is the trade off between win now, and grow as players? If there isn't a big drop, should we always go young at this stage?
- Palmer M.
So I have to admit that at first I wasn’t going to post this question(s) in their entirety (at least how I received them) but then I realized I was an idiot and that Palmer not only asks some good questions and makes some good points, but openly mocks Lionel Messi using factual and historically accurate (and totally unbiased) information!
When does Mo Besic get back again?!? Holy muffins I am excited!!
Seriously though, Palmer just typed out the same line of thinking that runs through every Everton fans mind as they ponder the lineup for the upcoming match, a mere 12 days away (AHHHHH).
How IS Koeman going to make a decision about who to start? He has so much talent, a lot of which have similar qualities, how does he figure it out?
Well, with 13 more matches on the schedule, and only a few weeks from reaching confirmed purgatory, Koeman has the opportunity to mix things up and try out a few combinations.
How he makes the decision on WHICH combinations though, is as Palmer said, SITUATIONAL.
When we match up against a top quality side, we are more likely to see both Schnedierlin and Gueye in the heart of midfield.
A top 4 side will require that we line up with enough fire power to guard a centrally-shaky back four (or three), at least until the summer when reinforcements WILL arrive.
These two will operate as dual #6’s, while also being able to step up and deliver passes as a #8 when the opportunity is presented or the situation calls for it.
Toss in Davies or Barkley at the #10 and that midfield will cover a lot of ground. Play like we did against Middlesbrough with Barkley even higher up the field and you can get all four in the side.
This can lead to a lot of possession, but as we saw on Saturday, the team can lack incisive running in behind the back line and stall out attack on the top of the 18.
That’s why we saw Koeman take out Gueye and bring on Valencia.
It wasn’t because Gueye was struggling, he was just doing a job that Schneiderlin can do by himself.
Gueye is closer to a true #6, with some quality albeit somewhat limited passing, and world-class tackling. Schneiderlin can do both.
Gareth Barry on the other hand, can pass with the best of them, but now finds his physical limitations harder and harder to overcome. I see him getting three or four more starts this season, but only because Koeman is a professional and won’t sit him just so Davies can run around and make mistakes.
I’m not sure what Everton is going to do with the Premier League legend next season, to be honest. If he desires to start week in and week out, he may have to move on.
He may, on the other hand, see the writing on the wall and see this as his last chance to be part of a truly successful squad and acquiesce to a role as veteran voice of the dressing room and spot-duty on the field.
I don’t see Barry sticking around for the fun of it, but for all intents and purposes this will probably be his last season as a major member of the Everton squad.
McCarthy has been told that he is part of the long-term future, and I really believe that. While he will be frustrated with not being in the XI every week, I do see Koeman utilizing his physical attributes and mindset to implement the aggressive, pressing style the Dutchman is steering the Toffees towards.
He is a bit of a wild card though, lacking the discipline to be a true #6, and the consistent on-the-ball quality to be a #8 or a #10.
Give him freedom by pairing him with Barkley or Davies in a 4-1-4-1 in front of a true #6 (Schneiderlin or Gueye) though, and watch him shine.
I question whether or not he can get enough starts to stay happy, but I admit I enjoy seeing his name on the bench. He has the unique ability to change a game with his attitude and I love that Koeman has (and values) that in his team.
Tom Davies is the great unknown.
Much like Ademola Lookman, the most exciting part about him is that his ceiling isn’t readily apparent.
How good would I have to say Davies will be before you stop me?
Barry? Lampard? Toure? Zidane?
See, it’s not easy.
You don’t think he’s GOING to be Zidane-level, but you also aren’t ready to say he’s NOT going be that good.
He is also still a bit too unpredictable for Koeman at times.
***(I’m actually going to stop on Davies for this mailbag. Look next week for more on him and Gueye next week, along with a full depth chart, and the answer to the rest of PALMER’S mailbag I promise! We have two more mailbags before they play again so give me a break!!!)***
That brings me to Schnedierlin. I have had the feeling that Everton fans are still warming up to the French midfielder, and aren’t 100% sure he was worth every penny.
Let me assure you folks, he is!!
Yes, as the reader pointed out, he is still working on familiarizing himself with his teammates. His timing and passing will only improve as he become more acquainted with his teammates, which he seems to be doing:
✈️ | The lads have boarded a morning flight to Dubai for a week-long warm weather training camp. ☀️ pic.twitter.com/qYKAxQp0y8— Everton (@Everton) February 13, 2017
(Is Funes Mori trying to be the “cool” guy?? Seriously? Who are you? Cory Hart? You’re on an airplane, take off your glasses. Unless you have a sunroof. No? No sunroof? Then lose the shades.)
He will settle in with the team just fine, and while he does that he will continue to dominate matches.
Want tactical proficiency? Check out his heat map against Middlesbrough!
It’s like he was playing four square by himself.
By comparison, when the Toffees hosted Middlesbrough in September, Gareth Barry manned the center midfield.
Like I said, Schneiderlin can cover the grass.
Not only did he cover a lot of ground against Middlesbrough, he did a lot of work off the ball.
He chipped in with 5 interceptions, 5 tackles, and two clearances.
When he was on the ball, his performance was just as stellar.
He completed 73 of his 85 passes, but ALL of his incomplete passes were forward, and all but two were into the final third.
Translation: he only lost the ball when he was trying to spring an attack. I actually made this point in my first mailbag, that Schneiderlin has a propensity to play long balls, but they are very often accurate. A deadly weapon when contrasted with a buildup in play.
(Also keeps Romelu happy)
Schneiderlin has the ability to see the field both offensively and defensively, cutting off passing lanes for the other team while opening them up for his teammates.
There is a lot more to cover on this topic, I have only skimmed the surface, and I will continue to dissect it next week and for the forseeable feature.
The key measure will be how the team is deployed at the beginning of next season, once the Toffees presumably improve at center back and in the attack.
If he plays Morgan and Gana together, that frees up the front four to play with limited defensive requirements, while playing only one of them allows RK to add another attacking midfielder or forward but rotates two of our best players.
He has a lot of choices to make, but they are ALL quality.
As far as the former Man United midfielder who joined last month?
You can count on Schneiderlin being on the pitch the rest of this campaign, and once next season starts, have no doubt he will be one of the first names on team sheet week in and week out.
And THAT should excite everyone!