Four out of Everton’s five preseason goals this summer have come from outside the 18 yard box, which is more than Everton had all last season in the English Premier League. Notable among the early preseason returns was Wayne Rooney’s first goal back with the club, but the evidence suggests that this is a trend that will carry itself throughout the season.
In addition, Kieran Dowell scored twice from distance, as did Kevin Mirallas yesterday.
As a club, Everton have struggled over the last three seasons with shooting from distance. The team has a paltry five goals in that period from outside the box, and a big reason for that was the ability of Romelu Lukaku. With a striker of his size in the penalty area, the Blues channeled the ball to the Belgian more often than not.
While we certainly don’t expect this preseason 80% strike rate to continue, Everton has invested heavily in ranged shooters this offseason. Sandro Ramirez took 52% of his shots outside the penalty area last year, compared to Lukaku who took only 26% of his from the same distance. Wayne Rooney took 65% of his shots last season outside the box. Ross Barkley, contributor of the only open play long range league goal last season, took 55% of his shots from outside the box.
As a team, Everton took 39% of its shots from outside the box last season, ninth most in the Premier League, but with only the three goals total (two free kicks and one from open play) they ranked 18th. Sandro alone had five goals from free kicks last season, and three additional goals from outside the box in open play. Davy Klaassen, despite being a less active shooter and being more creatively oriented, has three outside the box goals in the last two seasons, which is only two less than Everton.
Everton’s offense the last two seasons degraded into forcing the ball into Lukaku in the box and hoping he used his brawn to make room and finish. Direct free kicks and long shooting, the sorts of things that keep a defense honest, have simply been non-existent. The additions of Sandro, Rooney, and Klaassen do not make Everton an elite club in the long range category, but that’s perfectly fine.
In addition, Everton has been linked strongly with Gylfi Sigurdsson, who is well known for his chance-creation exploits but also as a player with two free kick goals and two open play goals from distance last season. Sigurdsson took 62% of his shots from outside the box last term and would fit well with this shift in philosophy.
Relying on long shooting is risky and inefficient, and if it’s too big a part of your offense, you can have a bad time. Just ask Burnley, who finished fifth in this category last season.
However, every team in the top six of the final Premier League standings last year finished in the top eight in this category, and since Everton is on the path to moving up the table they should expect to start performing like the other big clubs in this way very soon.
The difference in goals we should be hoping for is four to five markers over the course of a season, which is an incremental improvement. As we all know, though, four to five goals can be the difference in a large number of points, and therefore places in the table.
Everton has done well to address this need and now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the fireworks. Being more of a threat from long range should open up more space in the box, which should lead to a more productive offense all the way around.