In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: “Don’t panic.” Okay, fine, maybe panic a little. I am not trying to sugar coat anything, put lipstick on a pig, or conjur some sort of good vibe out of nothing, I just want a (mostly) objective look at Everton, their predicament, and whether we know yet whether Marco Silva is the man to fix it.
Folks who are not pleased by Farhad Moshiri giving the manager a vote of confidence today have a lot to back them up. The level of bad that Marco Silva’s Everton has achieved on set piece defense is absolutely abysmal and entirely indefensible. We have the players to be far better in this area than we are and Silva refuses to do anything other than the same old zonal marking that even bad Championship teams can and have exploited with ease.
If Silva is to remain, this has to be addressed. We have been outscored 10-7 on corners and set pieces in the league despite possessing two of the best free kick takers in the league in Lucas Digne and Gylfi Sigurdsson as well as quality center backs in Michael Keane, Yerry Mina, and Kurt Zouma.
However, the overall construction of this squad suggests that Silva has not been dealt a hand that can adequately show his managerial capabilities. This is not a team of his own players, and what is worse, he has a team of players who do not fit together.
For example, in Ronald Koeman’s tenure, Morgan Schneiderlin was brought in and had immediate success in a three man midfield paired alongside Idrissa Gueye and Ross Barkley, or a similar attacking force ahead of the two of them. It worked, and Everton qualified for Europe. Then Koeman did a curious thing - he replaced Barkley with Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Now, do not get me wrong, Gylfi Sigurdsson is a better player than Ross Barkley. What he is not, however, is as good a fit with Schneiderlin and Gana. Gylfi’s lack of pace and dribbling ability has meant that he and the similarly immobile Morgan are simply not compatible in a three man midfield. We saw the perfect example of this last season where Koeman’s system fell apart and neither David Unsworth nor Sam Allardyce were able to fix it.
Morgan Schneiderlin has since become a £20m paperweight at Goodison Park, and while on-loan replacement Andre Gomes has looked good for much of this season, he is asked to carry such a burden transitioning the ball between the back line and the midfield that if he has a bad game everything falls apart.
Idrissa Gueye is a better passer than people give him credit for, but he does not provide the sort of long balls that Morgan Schneiderlin did when the two played together, so since the successful midfield trio of Morgan-Gana-Ross was replaced with Gana-Gomes-Gylfi, we have less ball carrying in the slot Ross occupied and less passing in the spot Morgan occupied, thus putting all the wight on Gomes.
This is an untenable situation, especially against good teams, and it is one that Marco Silva must manage even though he did not create it. His bench options in the center of the park - Schneiderlin, Tom Davies, and James McCarthy - do not offer the traits needed to restore the balance from the end of 2016-2017.
A similar issue has occurred in the forward slots. £20m was spent on Theo Walcott as a shoot-first winger during the reign of Sam Allardyce. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is a shoot-first forward, and Marco Silva bought a shoot-first forward in Richarlison.
Now, Silva’s management of his front line can be fairly criticized. Too often he has tried to run the offense through Richarlison instead of making Richarlison the finishing piece, and too often he has played too many of these shoot first forwards together, but let’s look at his options.
Given the fact that Gylfi Sigurdsson is, as mentioned, not a mobile ten, any open play creation from the forward areas this season has to come from the wingers or striker. To this end, Silva has employed Bernard and Ademola Lookman to some effect, but as the grind of the season sets in he has two separate lists of forwards - his shoot first and his pass first.
Shoot First Forwards
|Shots Per 90||2.59||2.27||1.5|
|Key Passes Per 90||0.6||0.6||0.9|
Pass First Forwards
|Shots Per 90||0.8||1.4||2.99|
|Key Passes Per 90||2.2||1.79||1|
Richarlison, DCL, and Walcott are Silva’s shoot first forwards. Cenk Tosun, Bernard, and Ademola Lookman are his pass first forwards.
Tosun’s balance of 2.99 shots per 90 along with his key passing numbers as a center forward make an extremely compelling argument for him starting regularly. At any rate, Silva has to play three of them, and realistically, with Gylfi’s lack of mobility, two of the pass first players need to start for the offense to remain fluid.
Richarlison’s price and quality make him a locked in starter. Tosun has only of late started to carve out his place in the team. Bernard has had very inconsistent form and Lookman has taken most of the year thus far to work through the hangover of his attempt to move to RB Leipzig in the summer.
The result of this has been Silva trying to compensate for inconsistencies with his passing forwards by giving minutes to the only other forwards he has, but this ends in an imbalanced front line with too much shooting and not enough creative support.
This roster is a mess. Schneiderlin and Sigurdsson cannot be played together, and neither can Richarlison and Walcott. Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin probably can’t either.
Marco Silva has a lot of dead weight on his hands left by other managers and I think it is a bit much to expect him to create magic out of two regimes worth of purchases that don’t fit with the players he has brought in to suit his own style.
I want to see Silva get another summer to sell off some of these players from previous managers and really round out the squad in his image. I think if he can do that (and hire a flippin set piece coach, please) then this Everton project can be back on track next season.