Days ago, I asked if Everton had it in them to win at Stoke on Wednesday night. The answer, it turns out, is no. The Toffees started poorly, never really recovered, and shouldn’t be too upset to leave the Britannia with a draw. They return to Goodison this weekend to face 14th-placed AFC Bournemouth.
Bournemouth still searching for consistency in attack
Eddie Howe and his side have been praised for bringing an attack-minded possession game to the Premier League, but in their first season the offense never really got going. They had the 9th most possession and took the 11th most shots in the league, but their shot quality (expected goals per shot) was in the bottom 3. In other words, they were comfortable on the ball but lacked penetration.
At the end of last year, Mohamed Mohamed pointed this out but also noted that their attack profiled decently in some ways (lots of through balls) and could be set to improve. This year their overall shooting is down, but they are shooting much more accurately and thus producing more shots on target. Shot quality is still an issue though—not as bad as when I last looked at it in September, but still not great. As it stands, only Middlesbrough, Sunderland, and Hull have taken fewer shots in the 6-yard box. Overall it’s fair to say they’ve marginally improved the attack, and they currently sit in 11th in expected goals on Michael Caley’s model.
In addition to noting the poor shot quality early in the season, I also mentioned Bournemouth’s lack of central creativity, specifically pointing to Jack Wilshere. To his credit, he seems to have picked up his game a bit since then. He likes to dribble and get forward, and leads the team in through balls. This has helped take some of the pressure off of the wide players in what has generally been a very wing-oriented offense.
Like most teams, though, the Cherries live and die based on how well they can link with their striker. Howe has used Benik Afobe and Callum Wilson alternatingly over the last few games. The players have comparable numbers, but it seems that Wilson is generally links better with his teammates. In recent matches against Arsenal and to a lesser extent Watford, he has been involved:
On the other hand, Afobe was totally isolated against Palace in their last match, and Bournemouth endured a miserable performance:
Howe would have gone back to Wilson against Everton but he sustained a knee injury and is out for the season. So Everton’s goal should be to cut off Afobe’s supply line, whether it be Wilshere in the middle or Junior Stanislas on the right wing.
What’s up with the defense?
Last season, Bournemouth didn’t concede a ton of shots but conceded a ton of goals. Lots of times analysts write off a low save percentage as bad luck, but this has been happening over and over again for Artur Boruc. It’s possible the dude just kind of sucks:
Ooh look. When you take quality of shots into account, Karius is actually doing better than you'd expect the avg PL keeper to pic.twitter.com/dXTkzKPPU6— Paul Riley (@footballfactman) December 6, 2016
You can’t let the Bournemouth defense off the hook though; they were dead last last year in shot quality conceded and are only a teensy bit improved so far this season. Overall expected goals has them 15th. So it seems Boruc isn’t getting a ton of help.
Recently it’s been the aerial and set piece game that’s killed the Cherries. Both of Palace’s goals were headers, both Watford goals in the game before that were from corners, and Hull scored from a header and from a set piece in the game before that. From an Everton point of view the goal will be to attack the heart of the defense early and often; Bournemouth have proved to be soft where it matters most.
Everton attack needs a jumpstart after stalling at Stoke
The Toffees came into this game on the back of some consistently solid attacking performances but never really got going here:
For whatever reason Barkley and Davies couldn’t find Lukaku for the life of them, and defensive lapses forced Koeman to change the system at half time. It was only at the end that anything of note happened for Everton.
Koeman has a decision to make now. Marko Arnautovic eviscerated the 3-5-2 in the first half from his left wing position, but Bournemouth are generally a right sided team and thus won’t necessarily pose the same threat:
Dropping Mason Holgate and/or reining in Coleman’s running isn’t necessarily the answer, and this could be a case where sticking with the plan instead of reacting based on one game is the correct move. It was a bummer to see Everton so toothless, but I think Bournemouth present a chance to get back on track without abandoning what’s been working for the last few games. Koeman’s hinted at giving Ademola Lookman a start, and maybe he can spark the Everton attack by spelling Mirallas for a game.