Cast your mind back six months ago, and you might just remember a progressive, upwardly mobile Everton team that were on the verge of gate-crashing the ‘big six’ in the Premier League.
It didn’t quite pan out that way, with the Toffees finishing seventh following a poor end to the campaign. But all in all, 2016/17 was a positive season for Everton, with a dynamic young squad and a talented manager in Ronald Koeman who had shown a real aptitude for managing in the division both with the Merseysiders and Southampton.
So their supporters could be forgiven for feelings of confidence and positivity heading into the 2017/18 term, but so far performances have been rather flaccid to say the least. Notwithstanding a tough fixture list, Everton have claimed just four points from a possible fifteen.
So what is going wrong on the blue side of Merseyside? And is it just a blip….or a sign of something more terminal?
Rom’s a Goal Man
For any team to be successful at any level of football, really you need somebody in attack who is proven at putting the old pig’s bladder in the onion bag – scoring goals, in layman’s terms.
In Romelu Lukaku, Everton had a very good example of a natural goalscorer in all his burly Belgian glory. Lukaku netted 43 goals – and contributed a not-insubstantial tally of 12 assists – in his last two seasons at the club.
It was natural for the vultures to circle, and so it was no surprise when the frontman signed a deal taking him to Manchester United for a cool £76 million.
Fair enough, Ronald Koeman must have thought, the player wants to further his career and we’ll trouser a whopping transfer fee – everyone’s a winner.
Well, they would be, but in the transfer window Koeman spent money like a teenager with their parents’ credit cards on Black Friday. In came Gylfi Sigurdsson, Davy Klaasen, Sandro Ramirez and Wayne Rooney – all with the idea of replacing Lukaku’s goals.
That’s all well and good, but there’s a few flaws in that plan. Klaasen is primarily a midfielder, Sigurdsson doesn’t net all that many from open play, Rooney’s best years are behind him and Sandro is still something of an unknown quantity.
So four players have come in, and yet you suspect none are really able to replace Lukaku. And here’s why….
If you want to score goals, you had better shoot on target. Okay, you can win the odd game with an own goal or a bizarre strike that goes in off somebody’s backside, but over the course of a 38-game season it is high quality shots that separate the weak from the strong.
At this early juncture in the campaign, Everton simply aren’t creating chances. You can use any analytical model you like, from xG to something you’ve cobbled together yourself, and whichever way you look at the data it does not look good for Koeman’s men.
Even taking raw shots on target data poses answers to the question ‘why are Everton struggling so badly?’. Since playing Stoke off the park on the opening day without really creating many opportunities, the Toffees have fired just six shots on target in more than 450 minutes of Premier League football and data nerds would only class three of those as ‘big chances’.
So, you’ve lost your proven goalscorer and now the supply line has gone….it’s no wonder the Toffees are in a sticky situation.
Ronald Koeman has been backed in to 5/2 in the Premier League Sack Race market, just behind the equally-beleaguered Slaven Bilic, and realistically he has just a few games to save his job.
Remember, he saw Dutch compatriot Frank de Boer get the bullet at Crystal Palace just a few days ago, and while Everton have four home games on the bounce – Sunderland in the Carabao Cup, Bournemouth and Burnley in the Premier League and Apollon Limassol in the Europa League – defeat in any of those could be the end for Koeman.
As such, those 5/2 odds don’t look half bad….