Those familiar with Steve Coogan’s classic role as hapless broadcaster Alan Partridge will no doubt recall his hilariously half-baked suggestions for potential television programmes.
From ‘Arm Wrestling with Chas and Dave’ and ‘Cooking In Prison’ to ‘Knowing M.E., Knowing You’ and ‘Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank’, Partridge was never short of an actual idea, if always short of a viable one.
Watching Marco Silva’s Everton currently feels uncannily reminiscent of this. Unlike Silva at Goodison Park, Partridge was not given a second season by the BBC, yet there is a rather striking similarity between the two in their unmatched abilities to devise slapdash plans at the drop of a hat.
With Everton’s season already threatening to unravel seven league games in, having taken as many points from those matches and losing the previous three, Silva could hardly be accused of doing nothing to salvage something from these defeats. The trouble is, though, that this is where the Partridge effect kicks in: proposing new ideas for the sole sake of proposing new ideas, just to be seen as revolutionary, without either rhyme or reason as to how they will prosper.
Take the Blues’ last two defeats, for example; arguably the most obvious calling cards of a manager feeling the heat. Starting a home game against newly-promoted side in Sheffield United with two defensive midfielders in Morgan Schneiderlin and Fabian Delph seemed as naive on paper as it played out on grass. Unsurprisingly, though, it didn’t last long; Schneiderlin was hooked ten minutes into the second half for Alex Iwobi, an infinitely more attack-minded player, while striker simultaneously replaced winger in Cenk Tosun for Bernard.
Before long, Theo Walcott was seemingly brought on to play at right-back, while a number ten - if a floundering one at that - in Gylfi Sigurðsson finished the galling 2-0 loss almost partnering Delph as Everton’s defensive shield. In stark contrast, Sigurðsson ended Saturday’s gallant yet ultimately disappointing 3-1 defeat to Manchester City playing remarkably high up the pitch, perhaps even as half of a strike duo with Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
At the same time, a recognised forward in Moise Kean, a man with unrivalled potential in this Everton squad and who cost them £27 million to prise away from Juventus in August, was introduced, only to be shoved over to the right wing. The structure of the midfield ostensibly bypassed, Silva’s attempt to go for the jugular, admittedly to a side of incomparable ability to Everton, proved to no avail.
And yet, what renders these decisions all the more bewildering is that, clearly, Silva is aware himself that change for change’s sake alone does not equate to positive results. “Sometimes, if you put so many strikers in the side, it doesn’t mean you’re creating more chances or will score more goals,” he said in his pre-match press conference on Friday, before correctly pointing out that, in Everton’s 2-0 EFL Cup win at Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday, the Blues looked far more potent with Calvert-Lewin, who netted twice, as a lone forward.
In some ways, then, this encapsulates the conundrum staring Silva squarely in the face, gnawing away at his job security with every defeat inflicted on his bruised team. His modus operandi has invariably been to set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation which, by now, feels just as ingrained into the fabric of Everton Football Club as obstructed views, wooden seats and inevitable disappointment. Either he sticks with that somewhat stale approach, perhaps with different personnel, or he can twist, providing it is a well-thought-out, water-tight plan rehearsed endlessly at Finch Farm.
What it cannot continue to be, though, is a continuation of the sort of impetuous experimentation we have seen so far this season; the sort of which that has seen strikers lashed on in Silva’s hour of need, for example. Or, the sort of which that has seen Bernard and Lucas Digne’s left-flank partnership jettisoned merely to accommodate a new signing in Iwobi, with the Brazilian dropped instead of the far more deserving Sigurðsson, who continues to give such a faultless rendition of How To Disappear Completely that it might even make Thom Yorke crack a smile.
Or, the sort of which that has seen the potential for change in midfield in the absence of Idrissa Gueye not capitalised on. Such was Gueye’s tenacity and tireless work ethic that his summer departure for Paris Saint-Germain dealt Everton a crushing blow, but it also gave Silva the opportunity to revamp and redefine this area of the pitch in his own image and likeness.
Instead, though, having hung his hat on the ultimately failed attempt to lead Abdoulaye Doucouré on that well-trodden path from Watford FC to Everton, it seems Silva is happy to settle for a like-for-like alteration in this department. Doucouré would likely have given Everton the sort of vim and urgency they patently lack in midfield, but the apparent attitude taken, that the club must sign this one particular player and nobody else as an alternative, again highlights a similar lack of a contingency plan in the transfer market as on the pitch. Their unsuccessful pursuit of re-signing Kurt Zouma permanently from Chelsea is another case in point, with the Blues now desperately short in central defence as a consequence.
The task facing Silva now, to paraphrase Partridge, is to evolve his tactical and managerial repertoire, not revolve around the same predictable setup, the same incompatible midfield axis, the same undroppable underachievers.
Money is there to serve, not to rule. With Farhad Moshiri having spent about £450 million on new players, and a hefty chunk more on compensation for three sacked managers during his three-and-half-year spell as Everton’s owner, you would hope the paltry return yielded from this outlay means he, too, has heeded this advice by now.
But, as bitter a pill to swallow as parting with yet another manager would be, unless Silva can veer from his intractable ways - and quickly - Moshiri may soon live to regret giving him that second season.