It’s hard to make serious reflections in the aftermath of a collapse as witnessed by Everton on Saturday. Worryingly it’s not the first collapse this season and it’s certainly not the first we have seen it from a Marco Silva side. In my own memory it’s the first time Everton have lost a 2 goal lead since the ill fated West Ham game that seemed to harden the fan base to the belief that Roberto Martinez was not the right man for Everton. As yet, while there has been enormous frustration towards Silva the conclusions being drawn are not as firm.
Part of this undoubtedly comes down to the lack of time Silva has had in charge. For Martinez it was a culmination of 3 years in charge of which 2 were underwhelming. Silva is not yet a year into the job. This has in part led to a reticence from sections of the fan base to switch managers again. This sentiment perhaps wasn’t as common at the end of the Martinez regime with the club going over 14 years without sacking a manager and had sacking just 1 in it’s previous 18 years. The contrast to the last 3, where 3 managers have been sacked is startling. Change hasn’t worked out how we had hoped.
The chaos that has followed on from the managerial merry go round has not been overwhelmingly welcomed by Everton fans and there is enough of a consciousness to still remember what was achieved under the stability of Moyes. If anything at all has been achieved in the last 3 years it’s been a re-appraisal of his time and perhaps a fairer assessment of his efforts and his tenureship more broadly. Roberto Martinez undoubtedly suffered from the belief that we were merely a managerial change away from greatness at the back end of his time in charge. With each season that has followed this position looks increasingly unmerited. The manager has an important role to play at a club but their performance does not exist within a vacuum.
That being said any patience afforded to Silva currently is unlikely to stretch much beyond this season. If the collapses continue in games it is hard to see the patience of sections of the fan base and the boardroom lasting.
Saturday presents him not just of a repeat of some of the difficulties faced through the season but a major new problem. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is fast becoming a central issue for the management team. On Saturday I counted 5 mistakes that were made which led directly to 2 goals. When you factor in the unprofessional antics that accompanied these mistakes it is questionable whether he will be able to win over many of the supporters who have given him ample time to show some of his best form. While football supporters are notorious fickle, there will remain a seed of doubt that will be very difficult to abscond for many people who at a surface level may cheer for him are actually frustrated and exasperated with the goalkeeper. The same process began with Tim Howard and would end up seeing a much liked goalkeeper eventually become resented amongst the fanbase for a continuation of mistakes that would cost Everton games.
Pickford has some advantages over Howard. Howard’s decline ultimately came with age. Howard was 37 when left the club and his form started to dip once he had turned 35. Jordan Pickford is a much younger goalkeeper and it would be logical to assume he would be coming into his prime years having just turned 25. This is both a blessing for Pickford but also a detraction from him. He is no longer the young player Everton signed 2 years ago, who had played most of a Premier League season as a 22 year old goalkeeper and manfully made a woeful Sunderland team competitive. If the penny isn’t sinking in now for Pickford it unlikely ever will.
For Silva and Everton it remains a problem. His antics at the weekend would ordinarily mean he would be dropped. However reserve Stekelenberg looks a shell of a Premier League player and while Joao Virginia has been getting rave reviews for the reserved, adding a 19 year old goalkeeper into a youthful side would mark a very big risk for Silva. What Silva needs is his number 1 to radically adjust his mindset extremely quickly to start paying back many of the points he has lost this season not just against Newcastle, but also Liverpool, West Ham and Tottenham where big mistakes swung games away from Everton.
Silva himself would be fully justified in arguing that the problems presented on Saturday could be solely pinned upon 1 man. There is a wider question though about experience and leadership within the team. The side that played at the weekend had an average age of under 24. It doesn’t come as any major surprise to me that in key moments Everton are often found wanting. Unpopular though it may be it seems unarguable to me the team badly missed Seamus Coleman at the weekend. He remains one of the more dominant characters we have in the team.
There will be a crescendo of voices building saying that we need to sign leaders to rectify the difficulties we face, yet leaders are as much developed & cultivated as they are parachuted in. Since Moshiri came into the club, we have signed more senior professionals with relevant top division (often Premier League) experience as I can remember at any time following the club. Yet we as a side look more bereft of leadership on the field than at pretty much any moment watching the team. That’s not to say the two are connected, but rather to emphasize the point that simple buying leaders from others teams hasn’t been an enormous failure thus far and will likely to be unsuccessful (and costly) if repeated. We have signed the captains of Swansea (twice) Manchester United, Ajax, (occasional) Burnley, England, Wales & Iceland in the last 3 years. The majority of the players have been bombed out and the 2 that remain do so largely thanks to the extensive work done on the training pitch by the current coach (as opposed to any inherent leadership qualities they have).
What Everton need to be doing is nurturing leaders from within the group they have. Michael Keane will be heading into his 3rd year with the club next season and ought to be stepping up more. Lucas Digne can and should start to be a more vocal presence as should goalkeeper Pickford (if he can stop acting the clown). It is also not unreasonable to begin to expect players such as Calvert Lewin, Davies & Richarlison to start to take more ownership if they play more regularly as each have significant experience in the league beyond their years. As a group they need to be stronger with one another and start to develop a spirit that can carry them through difficult moments as opposed to crumbling in them.
There are some positives emerging from Everton. Going forward Richarlison has looked more threatening in his last 2 appearances. It’s unquestionable he needs to be more clinical when carrying the ball at speed, though this is a part of his game that he should be able to develop given his power, speed and physicality- and if done correctly would make him an extremely dangerous and destructive asset. Likewise Dominic Calvert Lewin appears to be growing into the role of an Everton number 9 ore easily each week. He has 5 headed goals this season, which without checking would be the most I imagine we’ve had from a player since Duncan Ferguson. It’s pleasing to witness how far he has come with such a natural ability to attack crosses and I think there is more to come from him in that area. His runs are much better now and show a much greater maturity. The next step for him is to score more goals by timing his runs in behind on the shoulder of defenders. The two players now sit 1st and 3rd in the scoring charts for players under 22 in the league, sandwiching Marcus Rashford who is currently in 2nd place. Only 5 players in the league their age or under have 6 league goals or more. It has been a promising performance from both and gives Marcel Brands strong grounds for optimism heading into next season.
Alongside those 2 players is Gylfi Sigurdsson who also sits on 11 goals. The last time 2 Everton players scored more than 11 league goals in a season they won the league (in 1986/7). Likewise is Calvert Lewin were to score 4 more league goals it would be the first time since 1987 that 3 players scored double figures. These are not statistics or records that should be easily disregarded and hint at some underlying measures that are more positive than what is being shown on the pitch currently.
While I don’t foresee Sigurdssons levels of performance dropping off drastically over the next season or so (though there is little doubt there will likely be some decline as he approaches 30) the two players who Silva needs to get more out of (alongside the continued improvement of Calvert Lewin & Richarlison) are Bernard and Lookman. I have written elsewhere of the need to get Lookman right, who we have to hope will benefit from a full pre-season without transfer speculation impeding the work he puts in. Bernard has openly stated he has struggled a bit with the physical demands of the league. With a full season under his belt and a full pre-season to work with we are hopefully going to see the player who has shone in games more consistently as he makes the front players tick.
The majority of this idles of course into speculation if we cannot turn promise into victories. Chelsea will arrive at Goodison on Sunday as favourites but also as a side that are very beatable if we replicate the performance of an hour at Newcastle or for the previous 2 games. Mina coming back may be the best thing that could happen to him and us (we have only conceded 8 goals in the 7 games he has started) and it may well be time for him to be given a run until the end of the season with Michael Keane can perform well next to one another. One thing is almost certain though, it will not be straightforward. Up the toffees.