Are Everton suffering a post-derby hangover?
It’s been a spirit-crushing 10 days for Everton.
The Toffees looked to be gathering some crucial momentum as they headed across Stanley Park last weekend with five wins from their previous seven league matches.
They responded with an impressive performance - as good as I’ve seen them play at Anfield in some time - but the heartbreaking nature of the defeat looks to have had a long-lasting affect.
Home games against Newcastle and Watford were the perfect opportunity to launch an immediate recovery and get things back on track. Instead we have seen two flat performances that were fortunate to yield two points.
There are certainly more specific issues with the side at present, some of which we will discuss later in this piece. But I wonder whether the team’s confidence has been shot following that Anfield disappointment?
It’s hard to quantify how confidence, belief and momentum can affect a team’s performance but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the team have turned out two disappointing outings in the immediate aftermath of the derby.
With games against Manchester City and Tottenham to come, with the busy festive period to follow after that, Everton have picked the worst time to suffer a dip in form.
A number of sides have already begun to bunch up immediately behind us and it seems likely the Toffees will sucked back into mid-table in the coming weeks.
They need to shake off any disappointment quickly, put this part of the season behind them and re-focus on the new challenges ahead.
Richarlison’s early opener made it eight goals for the Brazilian in what has already been a fine debut season in a royal blue shirt. But the question of who is deployed around him remains something up for debate.
Theo Walcott began brightly but faded badly, with his penetrating runs failing to yield an end product. On the opposite flank, Bernard also started well and linked up with Lucas Digne down the left. But the diminutive forward also faded and was replaced just after the hour. Ademola Lookman is the obvious player to come in, but he failed to truly grasp his opportunity from the start against Newcastle so may have to be content with his role of super-sub.
Then there is the issue of the central striker. Richarlison was again pushed up top where he has been effective at times but was buffeted by Watford’s central defenders. Referee Kevin Friend had obviously made a conscious pre-match decision not to give the Brazilian anything, perhaps thinking the 21-year-old goes down too easily. That may have been the case at times, but there was no doubt that the forward was subjected to some rough treatment that went unpunished. At one point he suffered a forearm smash to the back of the head but Friend waved play on, not even stopping play to treat a potential head injury, with Troy Deeney going on to have an attempt at goal.
The natural option therefore is to switch Richarlison back to the left and bring on another central striker. But that’s where the problems begin.
Cenk Tosun sadly doesn’t look equipped to fit into Marco Silva’s system. The attitude and commitment is there, but he doesn’t look mobile enough. Dominic Calvert-Lewin meanwhile has potential and versatility, but isn’t yet ready to hold down a regular first-team place in that crucial position.
It’s no surprise therefore that the club have been linked with a striker in the January transfer window. That would free up Richarlison to move back to the left as well as easing the goalscoring burden on his shoulders.
That’s easier said than done of course, the January window is notoriously tough. So we may have to remain patient and wait until the summer to get the right man or risk either paying over the odds or landing someone who isn’t their first choice.
Right side issues
As mentioned, Walcott’s position in the starting line-up is under scrutiny after a succession of patchy performances.
The former Arsenal forward also struggled to link-up with Seamus Coleman down the right, another recurring issue over the past few weeks.
We all saw Coleman’s reaction to his critics when scoring against Brighton a few weeks ago. The Irishman is fiercely proud and a dedicated professional, so he is not one to shy away from a challenge. But I can’t help fearing that the serious injury he suffered last year has permanently shorn something from his game.
The 30-year-old gamely gets forward to join in attacks but doesn’t seem as effective as he once was, while his distribution and defensive positioning is occasionally suspect. There is no blame attached to him for the own goal of course, but I do feel some of the criticism aimed in his direction in recent months has been justified, even if I’m loathed to do so given his regular habit of proving people wrong.
I hope I’m wrong about Coleman too I really do. But as we start to look ahead at the next stage of Silva and Marcel Brands’ rebuilding project, I can’t help feeling that a striker and two right-sided players should be next on their transfer shortlist.