I have to give Marco Silva credit.
Not for anything good, mind you — I haven’t been in the habit of complimenting the Everton manager since the opening few weeks of the season. But I have to admit, his ability to find new and interesting ways to get obliterated by the same problems over and over again is really quite impressive.
Look, if you’ve been reading this space with any sort of regularity this season, you know what my issues are with Silva. These include:
- An over-reliance on Richarlison in build-up play
- An inability to adequately get Gylfi Sigurdsson involved in play
- A general lack of awareness regarding the abilities of his own wingers, primarily via the continued exclusion of Ademola Lookman
- An over-reliance on crosses to create attacking chances
- And of course, everyone’s favorite, an utter inability to defend set pieces
In truly mystifying fashion, Silva trotted out a lineup unlike any other he’s used this season, and his team still managed to fall prey to all of the above.
It’s never a good sign when the lineup is such a godforsaken mess, that even the social media intern says “shit, I have no idea what this is supposed to be — let’s just list the names and start prepping the post-defeat propaganda.”
In reality, the system looked something like the following:
Tom Davies played as the most advanced in a midfield three, with Gylfi Sigurdsson playing out on the left. The rest of the lineup was more or less how you’d expect.
So surely, surely, Silva used the pair of Sigurdsson and Digne on the left — his two best creative players — to create chances in the final third, right?
Ha! That would make sense! This is Everton! Nothing is allowed to make sense here you gullible buffoons!
Nope, instead, the Toffees elected to play through the right almost exclusively — through a winger (Richarlison) whose expected assists (xA) total this season is 1.03 (per Understat.com) and a right-back (Jonjoe Kenny) who probably isn’t even the best right-back on his own team.
The EvertonFC.com stats page for the match indicates that 50% of Everton’s attacking-third possession came in the right channel before the introduction of Theo Walcott and subsequent tweaking of the formation.
And do you know what Richarlison and Kenny did with that staggering half of Everton’s final third possession (again, this is from the opening hour, before Walcott entered the match.)
Not a single friggin’ thing!
Now, I’m not laying blame for this at the feet of either player. Richarlison is who he is — and he’s not a creative winger. The numbers bear that out, as does the eye test. That Silva continues to look to build through him is truly incredible, given the amount of raw stupidity it takes to repeatedly go back to the same well.
Kenny has been a pleasant enough surprise since his re-inclusion in the lineup. He looked over-matched earlier in the season when he replaced Seamus Coleman while the Irishman was injured, and he’s definitely improved upon that.
But he’s not a creative superstar either, and it’s a disservice to him to ask him to be one.
Now, I think Silva did have a plan here that could almost make sense if you squint at it for long enough. Play down the right, and let Sigurdsson drift into the center from his left-sided position to get him involved there.
The problem though, as I’ve already indicated, is that Richarlison and Kenny aren’t the players to work the ball into that area, and neither is Tom Davies.
Okay, time to briefly pause to lay out an unpopular aside about Davies. He, like Kenny, has looked better in recent inclusions than he did earlier in the season.
But...this isn’t good enough.
His work rate is very good, and I give him full marks for that. But he’s not as good at winning the ball as Idrissa Gueye and he’s not as good a distributor as Andre Gomes.
And he sure ain’t as good a final-third creator as Sigurdsson.
He’s a useful player, but not so useful that he should be supplanting any of the regular Everton midfield three.
However, Marco Silva used him at the tip of the midfield this weekend anyway, and the result — when combined with the reliance on the underwhelming creative duo on the right, was that Sigurdsson ONCE AGAIN barely got a damn touch on the ball.
This is managerial malpractice on an Allardycian level.
No winger on this roster should be seeing so much of the ball that it isolates Sigurdsson — although there is one winger who is close.
His name is Ademola Lookman.
Do you remember Ademola Lookman? I couldn’t really blame you if you didn’t. He was the short lad who was Everton’s best player on the pitch against Bournemouth and Southampton last month, then Marco Silva buried him so deep on the bench that even Luke Garbutt felt bad for him.
Forget the man-management aspect of how ludicrously horrific the decision is — for Silva to have finally given the youngster the minutes he craved, then bench him for...no discernible reason. That’s bad enough.
But Everton desperately needs a winger who can both progress the ball and create chances in the final third — and he’s probably the club’s best at both! His xA per 90 minutes is the best at the club, as is his xG Chain per 90 (which is the xG of all chances in which the player was involved in the buildup at any stage).
So Everton’s three best creators — Sigurdsson, Digne, and Lookman — played no real role (literally, in the case of the third). So, what did the attack look like?
A bunch of crosses to no one! I’m utterly shocked and mystified! How could it possibly be the case that forcing the ball wide to non-creative players led to the attack generating no real chances — and those that were created came on crosses or set pieces?
Speaking of set pieces...
You know where this is going. It’s the same place it’s always going. Everton, once again, failed to handle a set piece, and it led to Watford’s only goal of the match.
It was slightly different than the normal set piece goal conceded, in that the wide open player didn’t appear on the initial ball into the box, as is normally the case. Instead, it took two whole passes for Everton’s set piece defense to collapse upon itself, rather than just one.
Maybe next time out it’ll take three whole passes before the opponent gets a wide open shot 3 yards out from goal!
Mercifully, the next time out isn’t for another two weeks, because Everton gave up three set piece goals to Millwall and is now out of the FA Cup. As the majority of the Premier League’s decent teams participate in the Fifth Round Proper of the domestic cup, Marco Silva will be sitting at home on his couch.
That’s where he deserves to be, because once again he’s fallen victim to the same pitfalls that he has all season.
I’ve written about all these issues before (see the beginning of this post) — and this week, I wrote about them again. Can Silva turn things around and address these problems?
Don’t hold your breath.