The curious thing with turning a corner is that the first steps in the right direction are often not easily visible. The underlying work that is needed to help stop the rot often occurs before it’s easily visible for all concerned. While it’s not doubted that Everton have turned a corner to me the hard yards came following the catastrophic Millwall performance. With the exception of the Wolves game, Everton have been competitive in each game they have played and have arguably deserved more from games where they have lost. Following a string of good wins and clean sheets it would be easy though remiss to suggest this is unique for the last 5 years. It’s not strictly the case with the obvious case being Ronald Koeman’s first season in charge of the club. For Evertonians it is the consistency (albeit over a short period of games) that gives most grounds for optimism when comparing to Koeman’s first season in charge.
There were to standout wins in that season, firstly the Arsenal home victory and subsequently the standout 4-0 win at home to Manchester City. In both cases Everton failed to capitalize immediately after the positive performance. The Arsenal victory was followed by a home defeat to city rivals Liverpool while the Manchester City win was followed by an underwhelming 0-0 draw against relegation threatened Middlesborough. Even in the medium term, Everton would follow those 2 wins with 3 defeats and a solitary draw from their remaining fixtures against the top 6 sides. Any attempt to create a sense of expectation and momentum was surrendered in doing so. In essence the 4-0 demolition of Manchester City did not act as a catalyst for greater things for Koeman’s Everton but a pinnacle for Ronald Koeman at Everton who would slowly head towards ignominy and ultimately departure from the club within 10 months of the victory. While there are a multitude of reasons that can speculate as to the reasoning behind the demise of Koeman his inability to kick on after comprehensively defeating Manchester City is a key factor in it.
The big positive thing Silva has done, is ensure in the short term each positive performance has been built upon the following week. The spirited defeat against Manchester City was followed by a credible draw to rivals Liverpool, a 2nd half reversal against Chelsea before a comprehensive 90 minute performance and victory against Arsenal. With each performance that has gone you can see and feel the confidence oozing through the players as the next challenge comes. If Silva has done nothing else this season (and he has done plenty) he has shown an ability to carry momentum from one positive result to another. In between the challenging home games have also come performances and indeed results that have been eye catching. The 3-0 victory at Cardiff slightly flattered Everton (who controlled the game but ultimately didn’t create too many openings) while the 2-0 victory against West Ham flattered the hosts. Barring a nightmare half an hour at St James Park we would too be discussing 3 consecutive away victories.
Compared to Koemans first season you can see the striking difference in being able to capitalize on positive singular results. Koeman too enjoyed some important stand out victories (most notably against Arsenal and Manchester City) and it would be inaccurate to pretend otherwise. Yet what held Koeman back was his inability to utilise the momentum generated in each performance to move the team forward. The victory against Arsenal was followed up with a defeat at home to Liverpool while the victory against Manchester City was followed by a disappointing 0-0 draw against relegation threatened Middlesborough. On top of this the following 4 games against the top 6 heralded 3 defeats and one 1. Any opportunity at forward momentum was greatly stalled as a result of this.
Though early days Silva is showing a consistency in performances and results that is allowing each result to help feed into the next. The spirited performance against Manchester City, became a solid draw with Liverpool, to an inspired 2nd half victory against Chelsea before finally becoming a comprehensive victory against Arsenal. Incremental progress can be witnessed in each home game. Crucially there have also been victories against Cardiff and West Ham sandwiched in between these performances and we are on a current run of 3 consecutive wins. For a manager who was in serious danger of events overcoming him in February he needs to continue to utilize the change in fortunes, ideally until the end of the season to help cement his position in the minds of Everton supporters that he is a viable long term choice for manager.
It has been a long time since we finished a season on a high and were thus able to carry momentum forward into a summer. Certainly in Moshiri’s time at the club that has not been a luxury that has ever really been afforded to a manager. It is unknown territory and it is difficult to measure how far Everton would be able to benefit from this- the old adage of how long is a piece of string comes to mind. Yet the infrastructure is now far better at the club to help build momentum and confidence generated at the end of a season.
Perhaps the best proponent of a manager being able to end seasons strongly was under former manager Moyes. Unlike Koeman he always showed a propensity to be able to build sequences of results at the back end of seasons. Over a 4-5 year period I would estimate we were in the top 4 teams in the league for 2nd half of a season performance. The biggest problem Moyes faced was being able to carry the form into a new season where we would often start slowly.
There are multiple reasons as to why this was. Primarily though was a lack of finance at the club led to a situation whereby we would be unable to build upon the squad we had. The discussions often turned onto which player could we sell to help us buy the 2 or 3 that we needed to move forward. If we take this own team as an exemplar there would be little prospects of being able to keep hold of Gomes & Zouma. It led to a situation where we robbed Peter to pay Paul and couldn’t build with any degree of continuity. This problem would then be further exacerbated by the often stubborn frustration of Moyes who perhaps lacked the flexibility to consider more frequent player trading as a solution to this difficulty.
There will inevitably be some question marks over how far away we are from that reality now, but what cannot be doubted is that as a club we are significantly better prepared for being able to take the momentum of a strong season and carry it into the following season. We have an owner who has on numerous occasions pumped money into the club (even after saying he would not) and this must remain a possibility. We also have a Director of Football who has shown himself very adept at developing a strategy for summer recruitment based upon the concrete realities he faces. You feel between the two of these things, the club will be in a better position to move forward if we can finish the season strongly.
Alongside that is the work Silva himself has done on the training ground. 17 day break before the Watford game that has spurned 5 clean sheets in 6 games has clearly been adeptly utilized. While questions may remain about aspects of the managers style little can be directed at his work on the training ground. He will soon get another 40+ day period with the players in pre-season having fully got his feet under the table and subsequently be in a position where he has greater autonomy of his work. For all the summer signings (bar Richarlinson who had only a part pre-season with Silva) there is an ample opportunity to work with those players again for the entire pre-season. For younger players either returning from loans, or those who have been left on the edges of the squad there is another opportunity to kick on and grab the managers attention.
For Silva there is an unlikely opportunity at redemption for this season and to come away from it in a broadly positive light. It is important that we do not presume this will inevitably happen, but recognize that is now an important challenge for himself and the team. In Koeman’s final 5 games of his first season the team picked up just 1 win and the sloppy finish continued into the following season. For Silva and in the medium term for Everton the next 5 games offer him an important opportunity to cement a feeling of positivity and optimism amongst the fan base and the club and set the team up for a more prolonged burst at the top 6 places next season. We ought to be hopeful he can take it.