Post West Ham Reflections

Sometimes there is a game and a performance that is best forgotten. For Silva and the Everton players I would suggest they will try to omit the game from their memory and not dwell on it too far. While the following will frustrate many fans, for the most part it is a game that is atypical of our season to date. In previous games we have looked sloppy and naïve (most notably from set plays) though we did look generally solid and well organized without the ball and incisive with it (Huddersfield game aside). I think the loss if Richarlison makes an enormous difference to that. He combines the physicality, work ethic and goal threat of Calvert Lewin with the skill and positional awareness of a Theo Walcott. In essence we get almost 2 players when he is on the pitch, or the better part of two players. Since he has gone out of the team we have lacked balance and that has undoubtedly impacted upon all of the other forward players (Tosun, Walcott & Sigurdsson) who had flourished, particularly in the game previous at home to Southampton.

Before the West Ham game we had conceded 1 goal in open play in 5 games. That was a cross into the box, having played for over 45 minutes with 10 men. Very few sides had taken us apart with the sort of incisive movement West Ham were able to show. This isn’t to downplay the performance but to provide a context to it. So far this season we have been left frustrated at sloppy defending, to bemoaning the lack of attacking threat at home to Huddersfield, to then being concerned at a performance where we were all over the shop. While all 3 of the above brings out a similar set of emotions (anger, annoyance) it is important to see that performing terribly is a different challenge for a coach to rectify that performing well but being naïve in key phases.

The post mortem from the performance will go on amongst Evertonians. I haven’t got a great deal to add other than to say we didn’t look like a team. That was what worried me beyond any individual display. We look ragged very early into the game. Given this is a side who has played 2 away games for the best of an hour with 10 men and looked compact and organized we can only hope this is an aberration. The other conclusion I would draw is that a midfield 3 of Sigurdsson/Gana/Schneiderlin doesn’t gel. I read that we have won 1 game in 18 with those 3 together. That is not just relegation form, but form that would almost have you cut adrift without a hope if replicated across a season. Gana and Schneiderlin have never looked right together, Schneiderlin looked good when Gana was away on international duty and his form never came back when he returned. Gana went from being one of the best in the league at his job to looking unsure of what he was doing once Schneiderlin arrived. The arrival of another somewhat ponderous one paced midfield player seems to further compound the problem. Whatever the solution is for Silva I am doubtful it can be found with those 3 individuals in the same team, especially not if they compose our midfield triumvirate.

This is not a dig at any of them as players individually. I can make a case for each, on their ability alone to have a place in the Everton team this season. Broadly speaking (with the caveat of having not seen Gomes) you could say they are the 3 best players in their position. Yet top level management is not about seeing who the best 3 players are and putting them in the team. You ask any 14 year old lad who plays Fifa and he can give you a good idea of who the best 3 midfield players are for any top division team in Europe. The skill for managers is understanding how players play better in particular combinations. The best managers then get a feel for initially how this works in relation to opponents and more broadly how this adapts to different game situations. It seems very clear to me that Schneiderlin and Gana are both best playing as a 6 and neither of them seem to have mastered being effective as a double pivot. Both of them play the role in vastly different ways, which must surely mean the manager is left with the dilemma of working out which method he would want for his team and is ruthless in this change?

Of late Tom Davies has born the brunt of sections of Everton’s fanbase. It is often cited that he gives the ball away too easily. It was the same accusation leveled at Ross Barkley. Both accusations have more than a grain of truth to them, yet if it’s a problem that has continued since Ross Barkley entered the team 5 years ago I would suggest it goes deeper than simply Davies or Barkley. We gave the ball away more today than I have seen in any game Davies has played this season. I would even go as far as to say I have never seen him give the ball away as cheaply as many players did today. Much of my defence of him has been that he is young and will get better with exposure. Having again watched an unbalanced midfield, my own conclusion is that alongside this he does at least provide better balance to the players around him and helps them play better. For me he should have a run in the team until Gomes is fit and people should be less critical of his performances, and keep in mind who he is competing against when being critical.

After the Huddersfield game I write that the start was potentially brighter than the results suggested. Much of this was predicated on winning against West Ham, which the previous 4 performances indicated was likely. While I don’t like to wildly knee-jerk after 1 performance underlying data is somewhat worrying for Everton, especially if the norm going forward is closer to the West Ham performance.

Simplistically I divide the league into 2 sections. I have done a myriad of articles into why the Premier League is essentially a two tiered league. However the funding of clubs has to clear brackets. Largely the top 5 and a bottom 14, with Spurs somewhere between. Currently they would rightly be considered as part of the top 6. We play 12 fixtures against the top 6 and 26 against the bottom 16. We have played 5 of the bottom 16 so far and have 6 points. If replicated across a season that would give us 29 points. While I think a par score for us should be around 10 points from the 12 other fixtures (win 2 draw 4 lose 6) it would give us 39 points in total, if we repeated last seasons results (where we picked up 4 points) we would be in serious trouble. The sample size remains small and it’s hard to imagine us being so timid against the top teams, but serious improvement is required.

Likewise another indicator of comparing the results to the same teams last season we find against the same 4 teams that were in the league last season we picked up 7 points and also got a point away at Swansea (the easiest replacement for Wolves) so we are 2 points down after 5 games. You can look at that as 25% down on the previous season (if replicated across a season we go from 48 points to 36 points) or that we are losing we are losing 0.4 ppg (which leads to 15 points across a season and would leave us to 33 points).

It doesn’t take a football expert to see on each of the current models we would be in deep trouble if the pattern we have seen emerges across a season. We would be looking at mid to low 30’s on each of the underlying measures. I don’t raise these points to create panic or paranoia but to illustrate the need for improvement. The important caveat is that it remains a small sample and for example a win at Arsenal next week would lead to most of the models above showing Everton to be on course to improve on last season’s performance.

Improvement is something that I believe will come. I have seen some rogue calls for Silva to leave. While I understand where they emerge from I think as a fanbase we have to be quite clear as to why that would be a counterproductive manouvre while also being respectful of where such opinions are emerging from. Calling people idiots, or not having a knowledge about football is unlikely to help shift their opinion, but calls for Silva to be removed from his job will do little to help Everton Football Club at present.

While everyone’s opinions are forged in their own minds they are made within a wider context that exists around us. We have gone from being arguably the most stable club in the country for managers to potentially being one of the most unstable. At the time Moshiri arrived Everton hadn’t sacked a manager in over 10 years. We had employed 3 managers in 18 years and 2 in 14 years. Since the summer of 2016 we are now onto our 4th manager (and that’s not including the 2 temporary spells that David Unsworth took over the helm on an interim basis). To some extent I have to take some of the blame, blithely accepting Roberto Martinez had to be removed and saying Everton should move Koeman on if it allowed them to pursue either Thomas Tuchel or Carlo Ancelotti. Looking back I cleared wildly over estimated Everton’s bargaining position and had I known the replacement would have been Sam Allardyce I would opted to keep Koeman.

The sacking of managers quickly has undoubtedly had a number of consequences for ourselves as fans. Once short termism (and the idea getting a new Coach in is the solution to your problems) gets into the bloodstream it is fiendishly difficult to get it out. This is very much the context people call for managers to be moved on. Koeman finished 7th and was sacked. Allardyce finished 8th and was sacked. In that context why would we accept being in the lower half of the table?

For many years the club haven’t helped themselves by opting out of any positive communication on matters. I recently saw a video with Australian cricket batsman Ricky Ponting who said that he looked to play an attacking, positive (and optimistic) brand of cricket and that he felt if he was positive in his mindset it actually improved his defensive game as he was more assertive and clear in his movements. I see a similar with communication from the club. To borrow another cricket analogy, they prod around outside off stump too much thinking too much of survival and not enough about scoring runs. To his credit Marcel Brands joined many of the dots as to why his appointment, Allardyce’s departure and recruiting a young, attacking coach are linked. This would hold more weight if it came initially from the board and was consistently re-enforced in communications from the club. That can then give an answer as to why Silva being (for arguments sake) 12th at Christmas may not lead to him being sacked, but Koeman and Allardyce were sacked before him. Thinking that the confusion that exists will go away through lack of dialogue though is foolhardy, as is an approach to such supporters as problematic and acting centrally upon anger (rather than anger being a trigger to a broader confusion).

I had theorized that we would get off to a strong start under Silva, would likely see a dip but was of the belief that we would end strongly. Ultimately, some freak events (2 red cards) meant that rather than 9 points from 3 games we had 5. There can be no excuses for an underwhelming display against Huddersfield or a shambolic one against West Ham. However but for 2 freakish events we would in all likelihood be on 10 points. We can make those points up across a season, but after 5 games they will feel far more brutal. I won’t get through the above mathematical models, but suffice to say we will be in and around the top 6 had the above played out.

I see no sense in Everton ripping up and starting again. West Ham remains a worrying performance yet it crystalised certain things for me. We are emerging from a previous 4 seasons where we have picked up 47, 47, 62 and 48 points. These are not returns of a side that challenges at the top end of the table. The 62 points was centrally down to having a striker score 25 goals and be assisted by Ross Barkley. Neither of those players remain at the club. Without them it’s likely we remained very close to the high 40’s water mark. The travesty of last summer was that having spent £200 million we haven’t been able to demonstrate any real improvement on this (and underpinned why Steve Walsh’s comments about still finishing 7th without Lukaku extremely strange but also very telling of the internal culture that existed).

In any business, improving output by 50% would be a sizeable challenge. A 50% increase would get us to 71/72 points and would have us knocking on the door for Champions League qualification. For any business to improve this drastically it requires qualitative change, beyond tinkering around the edges. This summer we have hopefully started on that journey an enormous amount on and off the field (though I fully accept the amount of change still needs to go further yet!). However few transitions are painless and without moments of real difficulty. I think what we saw on Sunday was this acutely playing out in front of Evertonians. From a business perspective football is unique in it’s brutality for this. The flaws are shown up publically, dissected in front of millions and the shockwaves rumble on for days to come. There will be more days like West Ham at home, but Evertonian’s have to hope they don’t happen very often, and also happen alongside a generally positive trend.

In essence the methods taken by Allardyce (and abhorred by many supporters) were useful in covering many of the weaknesses of the players in question. The downside was that it enforced a ceiling that would not be broken through. Everton under Allardyce would linger between 50-60 points, as he has done for most of his career. Maybe that is acceptable to some fans who do not want to see the team humiliated on occasions but if you have a desire to see the team move beyond this to really challenging for trophies there also has to be some acceptance that some poor displays will come.

Within each sector the change manifests itself in different ways yet the themes bear similarities. Marco Silva is asking Everton to play a style of football that is akin to a top 6 team, yet is using the shell of a side that gets in the high 40’s points wise. On Saturday we were brutally exposed partly because the fullbacks were too high for the first goal, but more because we weren’t composed enough on the ball. The Allardyce solution is to tell the fullbacks to hold their position. Again you may play out a 1-1 game but will never learn to incorporate a winning strategy. In essence you are covering for failings in individuals.

The reality is that it was not just a bad day at the office. For many of the players they are simply not good enough to adopt an approach to the game that involves building play up from deep without the safety net of keeping enough players behind the ball. The antidote to this is that either you get different personnel in, the players improve or you adopt a different approach. Thankfully we look to have moved away from the latter. On the 2nd point there is some hope for many of the younger players that they are of an age where with a mixture of coaching, exposure and a desire to get better they may be good enough in the future. However for the senior players, Gana, Schneiderlin, Sigurdsson, Tosun and possibly Walcott there must be some question marks about the medium term viability of such players.

This does not mean that they are bombed out for the Arsenal game. There is a time frame in existence that is somewhere between the amount of time required to coach the younger players who have made appearances this season to the level that’s required, and our ability to attract good enough players to implement Silva’s ideas in a consistent enough manner. In that time frame the above players will have an important use for Everton, hence why I stipulated the medium term. However by the late 20’s it’s unlikely you will see substantial improvement in any player.

Perhaps the only small shade of optimism from the weekend was that it was the new signings who put in the best individual performances. I felt Bernard was our best player, with Digne (and JonJoe Kenny) as our only other 2 to emerge with any credit in the bank. Given the start Richarlison has made and the impressive home debut given by Zouma there has to be grounds for optimism around the new signings. All looked to have had interrupted summers and it would be reasonable to suggest that all will improve as the season goes on and they become more accustomed to both the pace of the PL and can build up their own fitness reserves.

It is for that reason, above others that Silva has to be given time. Of the signings he has brought in, none of them have played half the games yet. 2 of them haven’t stepped foot on the pitch for us and a 3rd hasn’t started a game. Yet they have all shown, albeit at times in flashes that they are a qualitative improvement on the majority of the existing squad. To judge Silva before he is able to integrate all 6 into his system and see what the results of that are would be counter productive. Yet patience is what is in order for Everton fans, and an acceptance that what we now see is not what we are likely to see in 2 months or indeed in 2 years. The West Ham horror show should have cemented that in the coaching staffs mind.

With each game we learn something new. A win at Arsenal makes the short term look more rosey but it doesn’t fundamentally alter the challenges we face. Neither does the defeat to West Ham. It probably changes the time frame and speed with which decisions can be made. With Silva what is critical is he can demonstrate that he is learning from mistakes and is showing some improvement to the younger players. 5 games is too soon to judge that on, however poor one of them was.



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