Kevin Mirallas is one of those players that supporters struggle to agree on, despite his presence in the team for five seasons now. The 2016-17 campaign likely did little to change this, and a new three-year contract means that we will be seeing even more of him in the coming years. For now, let’s look at how he did this time around.
There are always questions over whether or not a new manager will favor a certain player. As it turned out, Ronald Koeman handed Mirallas 2081 league minutes (23.1 90s), more than twice what he had last year and more than he’s had since the great 2013/14 campaign. Most of those minutes came on the left wing, in keeping with the last two seasons. Interestingly he was largely deployed on the right in that 13/14 year. More on that later.
Statistically the biggest thing that jumps out about this year is that Kev’s shooting and scoring is down from past seasons. Looking at total numbers you see that he scored the same about of goals (4) as last year, but incorporating his increased time on the field changes the picture. He’s never been below 3 shots per 90 for a season; this year he was at 2.68. In terms of non-penalty goals per 90, he was down a whopping 52% from his prior career average.
I think part of the scoring drop is bad luck—Mirallas’s shooting accuracy was largely unchanged but his conversion rate was way below his usual. Typically his shots on target go in about 27% of the time, but this seasons they only went in about 17% of the time. Poor finishing, perhaps, but there is plenty of luck and variation sprinkled in there.
As far as taking fewer shots, I’m not sure what to make of it. Mirallas led the team in shots per 90 in 3 of his 4 first years at Everton but was down to 4th this season. Interestingly he took more shots per 90 from inside the 6-yard box than he ever has before, which is probably a good thing. The optimist in me suggests that his game is evolving and he is learning to pick better shot locations, but I’m not sure, and the sample size is small. In any case, such an approach would be welcome; Kev has failed to score from outside of the penalty area in two successive seasons now, despite historically demonstrating a propensity for what Paul Riley once described as a “scatter gun” approach to shooting.
In terms of creation, the Belgian’s assist and key pass numbers were the best they’ve been since 2013/14. Only Yannick Bolasie posted more assists per 90, and Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu in limited minutes were the only ones with more key passes per 90. With that being said, compared to the rest of the league he remains short of the upper echelon of creators:
Long term deal!— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) May 10, 2017
Long term deal!
Long term deal!
- Chants about 29yo Kevin Mirallas from non-Everton fans. (Probably.) pic.twitter.com/NqwTbXEwak
But while he didn’t set the league on fire, Mirallas still played an important role for the Toffees this season and was one of their most consistent creative cogs (though that’s not saying much in this side). At this point it might even be fair to say that since his arrival at Goodison five years ago, Mirallas has been Everton’s second most productive attacking player. I’m not quite sure how to feel about that but here we are.
In his Olympiakos days, Mirallas was usually deployed on the left or in the middle. As I mentioned above, Roberto Martínez found success using him largely on the right during the 2013/14. With the emergence of Deulofeu and then Yannick Bolasie as fixtures on the right wing, Mirallas has been bumped back to the left in recent times.
As a naturally right-footed player, Mirallas’s obvious issue as a left winger is his tendency to drift inside. At times under Martínez this made the attack horribly lop-sided, especially with an aging or absent Leighton Baines at left back. I have rarely ever seen Mirallas stick to the touchline on the left for the majority of a game—rather, he is often found drifting all over the pitch. I can’t tell if his coaches know this and accept it or if it drives them mad but at this point I think we should just acknowledge it as part of his game. It means that a 4-2-3-1 with Mirallas on the left often looks like this:
To mitigate this spacing issue that Mirallas creates (and to give more support to Romelu Lukaku), Koeman has used him as a strike partner for his compatriot, usually in conjunction with a 3/5-man defense. In this scenarios, he would often end up being the player furthest forward, with Lukaku tending more to drop deep as a target man and link play:
This deployment worked memorably well in the January victory over Manchester City.
Arguably Mirallas found the most success this season as a nominal left-winger in a 4-3-3. While the positioning issues from the 4-2-3-1 are still present, it can be mitigated by the shape of the midfield 3. In a 4-2-3-1, there is generally two holding midfielders and one attacking midfeilder, whereas in Koeman’s 4-3-3, there are two midfielders with more license to get forward. That means there is one more player free to combine with and/or occasionally swap places with the left winger if he drifts inside. Mirallas had very good games against Leicester and Burnley in this system:
After watching him for a few years, I think it’s safe to say that Mirallas is not and does not want to be a traditional out-and-out winger. For further evidence, here is his chances created map from this year. Note how little actually comes from the left despite that being his usual position:
He prefers a positionally free role that allows him to find space and combine in close quarters around the box with his other attackers. While he is often good at such combinations, he is not a particularly penetrating or adventurous passer. Similarly he likes to shoot quite a bit but isn’t the best long shooter. Thus, he’s probably not best thought of as a creative winger (aka a poor man’s Arjen Robben) but as a hybrid second-striker/attacking-midfielder:
While this season was light on goals, Mirallas contributed a decent amount to Everton’s attack in other ways this season and looked to earn Koeman’s trust to some extent. Unfortunately he is on the wrong side of the aging curve, so any future variation will likely be in the downward direction unless he can reinvent himself, perhaps as more of an out-and-out forward in a two-striker formation. The contract was probably a dumb move but certainly in keeping with Everton’s recent history of rewarding players who show loyalty and consistency.
I think we are past the point where we can hope Mirallas will become an elite forward; rather, we should accept him for what he is: an occasionally hot-headed, positionally undisciplined, but ultimately useful attacker for a 7th-placed Premier League team.
What is your grade for Kevin Mirallas's 2016-17 season?
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