Romelu Lukaku faced a fair amount of criticism during his four seasons at Everton, but his record against West Ham United could never be scrutinized.
Before his move in the summer of 2017 to Manchester United, Lukaku was exceptionally prolific against the Hammers, scoring in nine of his ten clashes with the East Londoners in royal blue.
If Lukaku was lethal against West Ham, Cenk Tosun, arguably his replacement as Everton’s first-choice striker, was anything but on Sunday.
As an agricultural Everton slumped to a humbling 3-1 home defeat to the Hammers, who had previously lost all four league games this season, Tosun toiled horribly, spurning numerous key chances to keep the Turk waiting for his first goal in 2018/19.
The Blues managed 16 shots on Sunday, the most since March’s win at Stoke City, ironically in which Tosun bagged a brace. Here, despite many of these chances falling his way, he had no such luck.
Extending back to last season, Tosun has scored only once since that day at the bet365 Stadium, and is without a goal in his last eight competitive fixtures for the Blues.
Two particular misses from Tosun on Sunday smacked of a player entirely sapped of confidence. The first, a tame header after a superb Lucas Digne cross, could scarcely have made for an easier save for goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, firing straight at the Pole. From six yards out, he simply had to score.
The second epitomised Tosun’s time at Everton, working tirelessly to forage the opportunity, dropping deeper to collect a loose ball evading West Ham winger Andriy Yarmolenko. But another weak shot hardly troubled Fabianski, and the alarmingly high number of touches Tosun took between regaining possession and shooting again alluded to an individual totally devoid of self-belief.
While the club’s other recognised strikers, Oumar Niasse and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, hardly set pulses racing, it is difficult to keep justifying Tosun’s place on the team sheet while he continues to draw blanks.
It would be churlish to question Tosun’s application; his persistence and selflessness on the pitch do not compensate for his meagre goal return, but have at least endeared him to much of the Goodison Park faithful amid his worrying drought.
What Tosun desperately lacks in pace, he makes up for with his physicality and, though underwhelming on Sunday, his hold-up play at Everton has generally been impressive. Patently, this is not a footballer lacking in technical ability.
Away from the field, Tosun also comes across as an incredibly likeable human being, substantiated by his interview with Dominic King of the Daily Mail this weekend.
A man who gave up a run in the Champions League with Besiktas for mid-table Everton in January, the 27-year-old voiced his genuine desire to delight his home supporters, and told of how much it hurts him when the team do not come away with three points:
“The Everton fans like players who fight and give everything for the team.
“I will do this. I can’t sleep of a night if we lose or if we draw. I tell you. If I miss a chance and we lose, when I go home it is all I think about. I won’t leave my house for three days!
“I like to be in the city with the supporters. I like to walk around, to see a lot of people with Everton shirts. This makes me proud. I want to make them proud.”
Ultimately, though, this is all academic when you are a goalless forward.
Even for a club bankrolled by a man with as much financial clout as Farhad Moshiri, the £27 million shelled out to Besiktas for Tosun represented a sizeable investment for Everton, and the Goodison hierarchy would not have sanctioned such a costly deal had they not expected him to fill the glaring Lukaku-shaped void. In that respect, Tosun has not delivered.
While some decry a lack of service from Tosun’s team-mates as the reason for his scoring woes, such an argument looks less credible on closer inspection. Though Tosun admittedly cuts an isolated figure far too regularly, Lukaku was often vindicated similarly whenever the Belgian failed to convert. In spite of this, Lukaku still left Goodison as the club’s record Premier League scorer, with at least 20 goals in all competitions in each of his last three campaigns on Merseyside.
Even this season, Richarlison, Michael Keane, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Calvert-Lewin (twice) have found the net by virtue of their heads. If his colleagues and predecessors can find a way to goal from the few chances fashioned, then this excuse cannot wash for much longer with Tosun.
The substitutes’ bench would not be unfamiliar territory for the forward, either. After a sluggish start to life in England, then-manager Sam Allardyce opted for Niasse up top instead for a few games in late January and early February, choosing to ease Tosun into his new surroundings.
When he worked his way back into the side, he scored four times in three consecutive games in March. Should Marco Silva make a similar choice against Arsenal next Sunday, it could, eventually, prove the catalyst for a return to form for Tosun.
The issue is the dearth of viable alternatives for his place. Niasse, though similarly industrious, is erratic at best and has also yet to break his duck this term. Having failed to impress when starting matches, especially after a hapless performance in the Carabao Cup against Rotherham United, the Senegalese has developed a reputation as an impact player, who produces his best in the final stages against tiring defenders.
Calvert-Lewin, again an undoubtedly hard worker, is another with a patchy record, albeit as the club’s joint-top scorer with three goals this season. Though against inferior opposition in Rotherham, his two clinical finishes versus the Millers was yet another sporadic demonstration of the talent he possesses. He may be inconsistent, but the longer Tosun continues to flounder, Calvert-Lewin may feel he increasingly warrants an opportunity in his place.
But after completing his suspension for a red card at Bournemouth last month, three-goal Richarlison should be the way to go for Silva next weekend. Fresh from a brace on his full debut for Brazil, the £40 million summer signing has easily been Everton’s most convincing finisher this campaign.
Even if it moves him away from his natural position on the left wing, this could also allow deadline-day signing Bernard to take Richarlison’s place after his electrifying performance from the bench against West Ham was one of few positives to take from a bleak day.
But for Tosun, the place he should start at the Emirates Stadium is on the bench.
This would by no means write him off as another of Everton’s expensive mistakes, of course, but for all of his obvious qualities, there is only so long Silva can keep faith with a striker who is just not striking.