With the embarrassing performance at home to Aston Villa, Everton has said goodbye to their European dreams for this next season. It was an unfortunate showing that saw chances go by the wayside on more than one occasion.
With five matches remaining, it is still technically possible to get a good amount of points, ten to twelve certainly, yet the Blues have not done enough over the last month to deserve a top seven finish. It therefore is difficult for me to rationalize that they can pull out of this nosedive entirely, or at least enough to solidify their European aspirations. While beating West Ham United next week would be a step towards that end, it will be impossible should we play as we did in Goodison Park yesterday.
The second Aston Villa match has been officially rescheduled between the West Ham and Sheffield United affairs, and even with victories in all three of these matches, Everton will now require even more help from teams in front of them than they did before the weekend began.
Yet from this first Villa match, there were simply too many errors. Blunders, sloppy passes and poor control, as well as stagnancy regarding movement and offensive ambition, all played their own roles in how this match played out; Jordan Pickford however, can hardly be blamed for this defeat. No, the blame for this form the club has recently displayed, including in this match, can be spread around to the quality of certain players, their errors and triumphs, as well as to the absence of others and what that means for the squad as a whole.
Inconsistency continues to interfere with Everton’s ascendency
The error on defense by Mason Holgate that led to the first goal for Ollie Watkins in the thirteenth minute was unacceptable at any level of football, and the Premier League is certainly is no exception. Without that gift, it is up for debate how the match would’ve ended; it is one of just many mistakes in man-marking that occurred throughout the course of the match.
While Dominic Calvert-Lewin evened things up for the Toffees, he missed a couple of chances later that could have put the Blues ahead. The blame cannot be solely on his shoulders though with Alex Iwobi and Richarlison also failing to find the back of the net after being set up for scoring chances.
Iwobi gave the ball away too often, lost the plot in the buildup on occasion, and errantly shot the ball off target in the later portions of the game. The ex-Arsenal player has seen runs of solid form this season but has also shown poor streaks of play that have seriously hampered the team, especially in the absence of James Rodriguez. While it is difficult to ask Iwobi to replicate the skill and creativity of the Colombian superstar, the Nigerian must be able to contribute more in the possession and build up of play than he demonstrated against Aston Villa.
Carlo Ancelotti meanwhile stated that Richarlison must give the Toffees even more of his ability, despite the reasonably good season he has had across all competitions. In games without DCL, the Brazilian has withered comparatively, and especially when sitting as a number nine himself. Yet he was incapable of making a difference this week as well, even with his partner up front present and relatively productive; without the mistake by Bernd Leno last week after all, it is likely neither Richarlison nor his club would have been dancing at all.
The truth of the matter is sadly that, without that Leno blunder, the Toffees would have taken just four points from five matches since the loss to Manchester City in the FA Cup. The club has not played with the quality that they were able to earlier in the year, and it is unfair to necessarily blame the stars or management entirely; injuries, inexperience and a streak of consistent inconsistency have all set in to create an unfortunate circumstance that the team has struggled to break through.
Key injuries proving very consequential
While it is fair to call attention to the deficiencies of the players we depend on most who are still playing, it is worth noting that two particularly important players have been largely absent over the last month plus. Abdoulaye Doucoure has been out since injuring himself in routine training in early March, hampering our organization, passing fluidity, defensive effort and ultimately goal scoring. James Rodriguez has been on and off the injury list, and the loss of both of these players respectively has left the Toffees a bit more deficient in both the middle and front of their preferred shapes at the absolute worst possible portions of the campaign.
The effect both of these injuries have had on Everton in different, yet massive ways during this season, continue to reverberate in the last months of the 2020-2021 Premier League season. When James is healthy, his vision, threat and creativity are hard to replace on Merseyside; while he was scheduled to play against Villa, he sustained a calf injury right before the match, leaving Sigurdsson to play as an ineffective number ten.
Doucoure, former Watford FC teammate of Richarlison, was admittedly not on Don Carlo’s transfer list during this summer transfer window, yet his impact was likely felt more than many fans realized throughout the positive stretches of this season. When he sustained a small fracture in his foot, it went a long way towards sinking Everton, and will likely leave the club in a worse position on the league table than they would have been had they had a full squad.
Such is football however, and while this loss to Villa is not the end of the season, it is certainly a very big blow to the ambitions of this campaign. The team will be stronger next season, with better pieces, more experience and increased fire and passion; some players will be sold, and some purchased. Football is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a commitment of years, not months.
Everton are not yet there, yet they’re closer than they have been recently. Should the club improve this next season at the same rate it did from last season to this season, European competition will be an inevitability on Merseyside for the Blues. While it is disappointing that it appears that this ambition will have to be put on hold for another season, all is not lost of course; five matches remain, and if we can return to form with the return of Doucoure, this piece can be looked at as a premature declaration by season’s end. The Toffees have left a lot of points unclaimed this season, and it might simply be a case of foregoing too many of your chances, until no more real chances remain to be had.