While the season ended on a very positive note, there is still obviously a lot that can be improved on. Some of these things were improved dramatically over the course of the year, others continue to be a worry going forward and need to be addressed over the summer.
This was always going to be the first thing covered. Everton gave up more set piece goals than anyone in the English Premier League. That’s ridiculous, especially considering the fact that we have good center back and keeper play. Two of these goals were direct free kicks, five were from non-corner set pieces and a whopping nine of them came off corner kicks.
This problem was actually most magnified not in the Premier League but against Millwall, and the less said about that game the better, but the good news is that Marco Silva seems to have addressed this problem. Everton did not concede a set piece goal in their last eight league games.
In what is a testament to the ability of our players in open play, when the set piece goals were stopped, almost all other scoring did as well. Everton only conceded four goals from St. Patrick’s Day onward, despite facing several top six sides. If Everton can defend like that next season, we will have a chance against almost everyone.
Directly related to the amount of set piece goals we gave up this year was the fact that there was entirely too much fouling going on. Everton was tied for the second most fouls per game in the Premier League with 11.4. Among Premier League players with at least 25 league appearances, Everton has three men in the top fifteen in fouls per 90 minutes- Andre Gomes (2nd), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (13th), and Idrissa Gueye (14th). Gueye I understand. His job of defensively cleaning up the midfield for us leads to a very high number of attempted defensive actions and situations where he is asked to foul tactically.
Outside of the appearances filter, other high foul players fit the same positional profile. Morgan Schneiderlin, Tom Davies, and Cenk Tosun are all among the top on the team in fouls per 90, and somehow Oumar Niasse managed to foul three times in his 58 minutes this season. A lot of this I think is a byproduct of Silva’s tactical system, and in theory ought to mean our fouls are further up the pitch as we try to reclaim the ball, however, in a season where our xGA involving set pieces nearly doubled and our goals given up off those situations nearly tripled, it seems to be that finding a way to foul less will give our opponents fewer opportunities to take advantage of our potential weakness in that area.
Also, while this fouling did not lead to an excessive number of cards overall, it did give us the second most red cards in the league, and we dropped seven points in those games. If being at full strength could have given us four of those points back we would be in Europe.
Cohesion and depth
The other main weakness to this side is a combination of a lack of depth in some areas and a lack of like for like replacements in others. For instance, when Idrissa Gueye was not in the lineup, there was simply no one in the squad who could even adequately mimic what he brings to the table. The normal replacement was Morgan Schneiderlin (who I still insist is a fine player) and Tom Davies, who is right now a mediocre jack of all trades. Schneiderlin represents a complete tactical departure from Gana, and Davies can only hope to mimic Gana’s defensive prowess and passing ability through sheer hustle and will. A similar problem is created if Andre Gomes or Gylfi Sigurdsson is forced to sit.
Fixing this would require bringing in players who stylistically mimic our starters and thereby fit what Marco Silva is trying to accomplish. In Gylfi and maybe Gome’s case I think we already own this player in Nikola Vlasic, but a defensive threat to spell Gueye is an absolute must this transfer window.
The problem is much simpler at right-back. Seamus Coleman is still a fine player, and in fact statistically he profiles very similarly to how he did pre-serious injury, but when he sits there is simply not a first team caliber replacement in the squad. I like Jonjoe Kenny well enough but he is simply not ready. This massive hole in our depth is not good enough. Depth at CB was also an issue this year, as Yerry Mina missed ten games to injury and simply was not as good as our starters when he did play.
If Kurt Zouma and Andre Gomes are not retained, these issues in depth will be severely exacerbated. Everton right now is a talented team but they are not a deep one.
Overall, there is really not too much to complain about in this article. Set pieces were a problem that we seemed to get a bead on late in the year, so hopefully that is resolved, the fouling numbers really only worry me insofar as they make us vulnerable to set pieces and red cards, and the questions about depth are only relevant in trying to catch up to the top six.
Everton had a good season. Inconsistency cost them 7th place, but I still firmly believe this is the most talented roster outside the top six and that we have a manager who can help us take the next step. Now we simply need to execute our business effectively this summer and avoid the inconsistencies that marked the early part of the year now done.