As the second international break of the season brings domestic football to a halt, the Premier League sides will be taking stock. For Everton, the assessment is a mixed one.
With a new manager and Director of Football arriving this summer to oversee a summer overhaul this season was always going to be a transitional one. The early days of Marco Silva’s reign have borne that out.
Sitting 11th in the table with three wins, three draws and two defeats the Toffees have been very middle of the road. The fact they sit six points outside the top six and nine from the relegation zone will mean they are feeling more positive than negative. Indeed, there have been plenty of plus points for Silva and his team. Chief among them is the manner in which the Portuguese boss has his side playing.Everton were listless under Ronald Koeman before being bored to death by Sam Allardyce’s negative style. From day one Silva has looked to rectify that. His team has attempted to play on the front foot and the style has been appreciated in the stands.
Their improvement is borne out in the stats. This year they are enjoying more shots per game and more shots on target per game. Their number of dribbles per game has also increased. key passes and assists per game have all also taken an upward turn. Whereas last season they sat in the bottom half for all these statistics they now sit in the top half. They are top four when it comes to assists per game.
All the numbers are indicative of a side that is playing a more progressive style of play. Silva has been the antithesis of Allardyce. His side push high up the pitch, press opponents and always try to press the advantage. They are a side that wants to attack and score goals.
That was demonstrated in their win over Leicester City at the weekend. From minute one Everton pressed and harried the Foxes backline, seeking to score as quickly as possible. When the home side found themselves a man down following Wes Morgan’s red card, Silva introduced striker Cenk Tosun to push home the advantage and secure all three points. Gylfi Sigurdsson’s super strike ensured they did. It was a perfect example of how Silva wants Everton to play.
Sigurdsson is another example of a positive. Playing in his preferred number ten role he has been set free and no player has played more key passes than him. Last season he finished with four goals and three assists in 25 Premier League games. In eight so far this year he has four goals and one assist. The Iceland midfielder is back in form and Silva’s style is the reason.
It’s a similar story across the team. Michael Keane is starting to impress at centre back. Idrissa Gana Gueye has reverted back to the N’Golo Kante lite and is currently the league’s top tackler. On the right wing, Theo Walcott has two goals and two assists in eight games and is flourishing.
The new signings are also impressing. Brazilian pair Richarlison and Bernard have established themselves as fan favourites. Kurt Zouma is impressing at centre back alongside compatriot Lucas Digne. The latter has proved a perfect replacement for Leighton Baines. Three of the four have earned international call-ups, Bernard will follow suit if he continues to impress.
This is not to say there have not been negatives. The defence has been a particular issue. It has been an issue for several years and Silva is yet to find a solution to the problem. Indeed, his system has created more problems.
With the team pushing high up the pitch and the full-backs joining them, Everton are often left exposed on the counter-attack. It has been an issue in each of their eight games so far, some teams taking more advantage than others. Set pieces are another problem. Silva prefers a zonal marking system but it is one this Everton squad are struggling to adapt to.
There has also been an issue with putting the ball in the back of the net. While Everton have been great at creating chances, converting them has been a different story. Cenk Tosun has particularly struggled and now finds himself on the bench. Richarlison has carried the burden so far with his fine start to the season. His performance as the central striker against Leicester gave credence to the idea he should start there permanently.
Defeats to Arsenal and West Ham demonstrated the goalscoring issue clearly. Everton dominated both games and created chances but did not take them. They lost both because the other side took theirs. Silva must find a way to ensure his side become more clinical to avoid similar results moving forward.
These problems at both ends of the pitch are ones that can be rectified, though. In fact, both are likely to be improved as Silva’s style and philosophy become more ingrained in the squad. His hands-on, analytical approach to the game will help in that regard.
For now, he and his team can be content with their start to the season. If they were looking to finish in the top seven, potentially push for the top six this season, they are right on course. More importantly, they’re on course to do that with a tonne more style and that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.
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