After every Everton game, I do a statistical round-up.
But, following the embarrassing defeat to Millwall that saw us exit the FA Cup and effectively end our season in January again, I believe there are four reasons behind Everton’s woeful form – but ones that are hard to identify in the numbers.
This post, therefore, will be an observational analysis rather than a quantitative one.
But first, I’ll set out my stall on the manager and the players: I still believe Marco Silva is the right man for the job and deserves at least another year to get things going in the right direction. I also think this is the best set of players (and the most balanced squad) I’ve seen at Everton since my first match at Goodison in 1996.
Sure, we could do with a top striker (who couldn’t), but that wouldn’t solve the four major problems we’re having at the moment.
1) The High Press Has Stopped
With the exception of the performances against Huddersfield Town and West Ham United, Everton’s opening 14 games saw the Blues adopt an intensive, high-press system that was simply exhilarating to watch after seven months of Sam Allardyce “football”. The results weren’t always there, but the performances were generally on point.
This is why I still believe Marco Silva can deliver.
The front four, anchored by Gylfi Sigurdsson, tried and often succeeding in putting opposition defences under pressure and winning the ball high up the pitch. Players worked in unison and it felt like the start of a new dawn. It was the type of football Ronald Koeman promised, but never came close to delivering.
However, since that goal at Anfield, the high press has disappeared. You’ll occasionally see one or two forward players looking to press, but no longer do the attacking players look synchronised when doing so – and being on the same page is key for this tactic to work.
2) Counter-Attacking Has Stopped
Likewise, Everton started the season playing fast, counter-attacking football. From the first day of the season, the Blues looked a real threat, moving the ball through opposition lines and baring down on goal with real pace and purpose.
Now we see the same lumbering buildup with the fullbacks and the midfielders fanned out across the pitch, while the forwards are lost among the opposition defense for the most part. Every so often someone makes a run, but for the most part we pass the ball into oblivion.
The quick counter-attacks? Almost entirely stopped.
3) Pondersome in Possession
Instead, we are treated to slow, pondersome football. The same style that marred Roberto Martinez’s last two seasons at the club.
The Blues play out from the back. Slowly passing among the defensive players up to the halfway line, where the team are then greeted by 10 or 11 opposing players sitting behind the ball. Then, a loose pass will typically see possession turn over. It’s hard to think of a single instance that we’ve created a chance by starting our possession sequence when Jordan Pickford has played the ball short to one of our defenders from a goal kick.
Sure, this is the same tactic Manchester City use. But they’re also the very best at it. Just like Barcelona were over the past decade. Most other teams that “like to play” attempt to follow this template, but execute it woefully – and instead simply invite pressure and problems upon themselves.
These three problems aren’t exclusive to Everton. Just look at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson left. They’ve been slow on the ball, throw in hopeful crosses and then seem perplexed as to why they can’t break teams down.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has come in and instantly - with exactly the same group of players - returned an attractive threat to the club simply by unshackling the players and encouraging fast counter-attacking football reminiscent of Ferguson’s glorious period in charge. It’s not rocket science.
4) Zonal Marking
Lastly, and a departure from the other three points, is how Everton set up at defensive set pieces.
Zonal marking is a popular feature of team’s managed by non-British managers.
Ironically, one of the biggest strengths of British footballers is defending set pieces.
There is one fundamental reason why zonal marking doesn’t work: A player with a run up on a static player will nearly always win the header. That’s it.
This has to change. Zonal marking does not work alone. You need a fusion of both zonal and man-to-man.