If Marco Silva could take anything from Saturday’s lethargic 1-1 draw to Huddersfield Town, it offered him a microcosm of recent years at Goodison Park.
There was much of the purposeless passing synonymous with Roberto Martinez’s tenure, the sort of attacking impotence which cost Ronald Koeman (at least post-Romelu Lukaku), and just as with Sam Allardyce, an inability to fashion clear-cut chances.
Against a leading exponent of the dreadfully unambitious football plaguing much of today’s Premier League, Everton were the embodiment of footballing inertia. For all of Huddersfield’s time-wasting and referee Stuart Attwell’s poor display, the Toffees simply ran out of ideas. It was a story all too familiar to the blue half of Merseyside.
In November, Terriers boss David Wagner will celebrate three years in charge of the West Yorkshire club. On Saturday, his side had the manager’s imprint all over the pitch; every player evidently knew their respective roles, and though not aesthetically pleasing, Huddersfield played entirely to their strengths.
Huddersfield fans deify Wagner for achieving promotion to, and survival in, the Premier League, but he did not perform miracles at the John Smith’s Stadium overnight. When he replaced Chris Powell 15 games into the 2015/16 season, the club were 18th in the Championship, and finished the campaign a place worse off. It was not until the following year, when they won their place in the top flight, that Wagner really stamped his authority on his side.
In this there is a lesson for Evertonians, even if they would justifiably not stand for such a limited style of play from their own team. For Silva to be expected to transcend Everton similarly after just four league matches is a fallacy; indeed, the more worrying sign here was that against a side with a discernible identity, the Blues were utterly faceless for much of the game.
When last season’s fixtures were revealed, Koeman received almost universal sympathy for a gruelling start, comprising trips to Chelsea and both Manchester clubs, and the visit of Tottenham Hotspur. Silva’s first few games looked comparatively easier, so for Everton to take just six points from Wolverhampton Wanderers, Southampton, AFC Bournemouth and Huddersfield is an ultimately disappointing beginning, albeit they remain unbeaten.
There are numerous mitigating factors, of course; first-half red cards at Molineux and the Vitality Stadium perhaps render both draws more credible. Couple this with a new manager trying to impose more progressive ideas on a squad increasingly hamstrung by injuries and some may argue it has been a respectable opening.
But, especially after the Toffees led late on in two of their three draws, and the uninspired performance against Huddersfield, there is an underlying sense of disappointment which will linger throughout the international break.
Though Martinez’s tenure was rife with managerial faux pas, he delivered Everton’s best points return in the Premier League, presiding over some of the most attractive football Evertonians have seen in recent times in 2013/14.
Yet this campaign also started underwhelmingly, and a 0-0 home draw to West Bromwich Albion in August 2013, in which the Blues dominated possession to no avail, particularly bore a striking resemblance to Saturday’s stalemate.
While Silva may draw inspiration from how Martinez eventually got Everton firing after a sluggish start, he must use the coming fortnight to address this side’s failings. An incapacity to defend set-pieces – just one of Everton’s six conceded goals this term came from open play – seems the logical place to begin.
It is an unfortunate circumstance that Everton now have two weeks to stew over easily their most dispiriting offering of the campaign. But in West Ham United, a club riddled with unrest after four defeats from four games, the Blues may have the ideal next opponent to show they have rectified early-season mistakes when the Hammers visit Goodison in two weeks’ time.
Nowhere more than at Everton do old habits die hard. If any positives can be taken from Saturday’s insipid showing, it is just how early Silva will have discovered this side’s deficiencies. It is his job now to correct them swiftly.