Bernard: Everton’s talismanic winger or a player destined to infuriate?

Evertonians often harp back to the days of Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines.

Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines

We love to reminisce about their irresistible linkup play down the left flank, and how they tormented teams for many years: a memory of THAT goal against Larissa in the UEFA Cup springs to mind for many I’m sure…

However, after a few years of transition, the 2018/19 season saw Marco Silva and Marcel Brands commence their tenures at Everton by somewhat successfully addressing the issues down Everton’s left side. They secured the services of French international Lucas Digne from FC Barcelona for £18million and likewise captured Bernard from Shakhtar Donetsk.

Bernard for a number of reasons was hailed as a real coup for Everton’s new director of football, Marcel Brands. Everton hadn’t just signed a winger experienced both at international level and in the Champions league, but they’d done it for next to nothing; a refreshing change in an inflated market. Additionally, Brands did so not without difficulty. Interest from clubs such as AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Napoli (who all boasted the pulling power of European football) were successfully fended off, allowing Everton to complete the biggest Bosman free transfer in the clubs history. 

It quickly became apparent to the Everton faithful that Bernard had huge talent and bags of potential. His trickery and positive running complimented attacking fullback Lucas Digne throughout their first season in English football, contributing a respectable goal involvement of 12 in the league between them. The Brazilian stands at just 5ft 4in but his admiration amongst Everton fans grew exponentially as the season went on, earning his own chant through several impressing displays- most notably a 2-0 away win at the London Stadium in March which featured his first league goal.

Yet statistically Bernard’s first season leaves much to be desired. His talent is undeniable, yet his productivity fell way short of the numbers Everton will need from their forwards this season if an assault on the Premier League’s supposed ‘top six’ is to be a genuine possibility. Many fans quickly and rightly so jumped to Bernard’s defence when early criticisms were levelled his way on Twitter. Stating that a season adapting to the tempo and quality of the English Premier League was to be expected, especially after playing his domestic football in the far inferior Ukrainian top flight for half a decade.

However, a combination of Everton’s lack of goals in pre-season, a goalless season opener at Selhurst Park and the arrival of Nigerian International Alex Iwobi has put serious pressure on the Everton forwards to break their duck and find the net with some regularity. This is where Bernard can be placed under scrutiny. With just two goals in all competitions last year, and some notable one on one chances going begging (including a glaring opportunity at Old Trafford) it is fair to say Bernard is far from clinical. Most recently against Werder Bremen and Crystal Palace, Bernard snatched at a volley inside the box in Germany and then in league action he crafted out a shooting opportunity before dithering on the ball and ultimately over hitting a reversed ball in the direction of Lucas Digne.

Although not a prolific winger himself, the added goal threat and increased chance creation Iwobi can offer is set to challenge Marco Silva’s faith in Bernard. Squad competition is healthy and sharing the burden may well help Bernard, but for now the stats suggest he could quickly become second best to Iwobi.

In 2018/19 Bernard played roughly 200 league minutes less than Iwobi but scored just 1 goal in comparison to Iwobi’s 3. Iwobi had nearly three times as many shots on target as Bernard with a shooting accuracy 22.7% greater than the Brazilian. In addition, chance creation is certainly the most effective weapon in Iwobi’s artillery and another area in which he outperforms Bernard. This time by a greater distance. Bernard registered just 3 assists whereas Iwobi managed double that with 6. It is however important to remember assists can be a misleading statistic to judge a player by; Iwobi created his chances for the experienced, high-pedigree likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while Bernard had limited firepower in the form of two young attackers, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison.

Yet one stat that most certainly does not lie and illustrates Iwobi’s creative superiority to Bernard last season is ‘big chances created’: essentially goal scoring opportunities that were created, regardless of if they were converted or not.  Iwobi, whose minutes amassed to a total of just 21 full games effectively, created 10 big chances and at 16th in the league leaderboard he finished 72 places higher than Bernard who managed just 4. Fullbacks Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman also outperformed Bernard with 13 and 6 big chances each respectively.

Bernard is a high calibre player with many great attributes. His dribbling is at times as good as Everton fans have seen for many a year. His speed, work rate, and tenacity make him an effective component in Silva’s high press system. He is a player who though frustrating at times, can with the addition of a few goals, help to propel himself and Everton to the next level. Ultimately, with the statistically superior Iwobi’s arrival on Merseyside, the 2019/20 season will prove decisive in sculpting Bernard’s legacy at Everton: increase his productivity or end up playing second fiddle.

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