Frankly, if you watched the match, you know how it went down. Everton had 70% possession, yet generated only three shots on target. It’s the same story I told last week, and have told countless weeks before that — Marco Silva and Everton cannot break down a deep block.
My new favorite Everton stat needs to be updated — since December 1, Everton is now 2-3-10 against non-top six teams when they do not score in the opening 20 minutes. Basically, if the opponent is allowed the opportunity to get settled into a match without Everton scoring, you can pretty much count them out of the match.
And if the opponent has lead to defend? Forget about it — it’s game over.
I would like to highlight one statistic from this match, though, that I think encapsulates the overall issues at play here. Of Everton’s possession in the attacking third against Sheffield United, just 11.1% came in the central channel (47.2% down the left, 41.7% down the right).
You simply cannot expect to beat a deep block — particularly one with three center-backs, by just getting the ball wide and playing hopeful cross after hopeful cross. And yet, that is once again exactly what Marco Silva did, and the result was a completely-deserved home loss against a recently-promoted team.
Because I talked at length last week about the problem itself, and the problem hasn’t really changed, I’d like to briefly discuss the potential causes for Everton’s struggles in this realm.
I think you can pretty much subscribe to one of two beliefs (or potentially a combination of the two):
- Marco Silva’s tactical preference is to play through the wide areas, and he has no real ideas on how to instruct his team to play when his Plan A isn’t available.
- Everton lacks the necessary players in the center of the pitch needed to work the ball through there.
(1) is pretty self-explanatory, so let’s focus on (2). You can break that into two components — either Everton doesn’t have the deep-lying central midfielders it needs to move the ball forward through the central channel, or Gylfi Sigurdsson isn’t capable of handling the creative burden of a true No. 10.
Let’s start with that first idea — that the deep-lying midfielders aren’t capable of progressing the ball centrally. Let’s take a look at the combined passmaps of Morgan Schneiderlin and Fabian Delph from this match.
They were asked primarily to move the ball wide, rather than central, but they did a pretty damn good job of it!
The idea that a player who was good enough for Manchester City, and another who was good enough for Manchester United, aren’t good enough to play a forward, central ball against... Sheffield United at home? ...just doesn’t fly with me.
And even if for whatever reason, you do subscribe to that theory somehow some combination of Schneiderlin, Delph, Andre Gomes, and Tom Davies can’t come together to form two coherent passers, I have a hard time placing that at the feet of anyone but Marco Silva. Delph and Gomes were his additions (I know Gomes didn’t play this weekend, but the issue has persisted when he plays too), and Silva and Marcel Brands have had three transfer windows to find a player who could fix the issue.
So I don’t think it’s an issue with the holding midfielders — that just leaves the question of the player further up the pitch, Gylfi Sigurdsson.
I personally like the Icelander, but I understand that he has his detractors, I can see some validity to their claims that he hasn’t fully been the creative force some might have hoped. To me, that’s an issue with Silva’s tactics, rather than Sigurdsson’s skillset, but I absolutely acknowledge there’s room for different viewpoints on that at this stage.
That said, we’ve now seen Alex Iwobi get some time at the No. 10 each of the last two weeks as well, and it hasn’t helped to create much more in terms of centrally-generated chances. Iwobi is, like Gomes and Delph, a Silva-era signing, so if he does not succeed at that position, that again falls at Silva’s feet, not the player’s.
Now, it’s only been around 40 minutes in late-game scenarios, so I’m not at all willing to call the Iwobi at No. 10 experiment a failure at this stage. But if he gets four or five games worth of chances, and has the same struggles that Sigurdsson has had at the position, it becomes incredibly difficult to blame the players as opposed to the manager.
To this stage, I’ve had decent hope that Marco Silva would eventually figure out his Plan B for matches like this weekend’s, and Everton would be able to implement them. This match represents the first time for me that I’ve thought “you know what, I don’t think Silva’s ever going to find the answer.”
And like our own Matthew Chandler suggested after the match, it isn’t hard to conceptualize this match as the beginning of the end for Silva.
Silva will get more chances to right the wrongs we’ve seen so far this season, but after 44 Premier League matches in charge, it’s just hard to see any reason why we should believe he’s got a fix for this issue. If he can’t find one soon, he won’t make it to the end of the season.