While the blue half of Merseyside has failed to recapture the form of last season, their performances in Europe have been reminiscent of the 2013-14 campaign. Charles Redmond has a statistical look at if and why a contrast exists.
The 2014-15 season has been a bittersweet one for Everton FC. Whilst struggling in the Premier League, they remain formidable in European competition. With 26 points from 28 games in the league, it is clear that Everton are struggling to emulate the form of last season, Roberto Martinez’ first season at the helm. Yet this poor form is set against the back drop of swashbuckling performances in Europe, most notably the 4-1 and 0-2 victories over Wolfsburg and most recently the 1-4 away win to Young Boys in Bern. The commonly touted excuse for poor domestic form is the influence of the Europa League, for many it is seen as an unwanted distraction and a competition which hampers a small squad. Whilst this may be the case this does not explain Everton’s fine form within the competition. This article will seek to show the differences between the Jekyll and Hidesque nature of Everton this season.
In the Premier League, Everton have been defensively fragile. This statement is backed up by the fact that the Merseyside club have dropped 17 points from winning positions, more than any other team in the league. In the first 3 games of this season Everton conceded 10 goals, and on average concede 1.42 goals per game, quiet a worrying stat for any Evertonian. So far in the 2014-15 season Everton have conceded 37 goals a vast amount in comparison to the 39 goals conceded in the entire 2013-14 Premier League campaign. Many supporters of the club are accrediting the mass concession of goals due to the inability to find a settled back four this season.
In the 2013-14 campaign the back line was largely set in stone, Sheamus Coleman at right back, Leighton Baines on the left, Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin forming the central defensive partnership, with John Stones deputising for the two. So far in the 2014-15 season finding a regular back four has proven difficult. Throughout the season Everton’s defenders have been ravaged by injury, examples include Baines, Distin, Stones and Antolin Alcaraz. The statistics certainly point to the fact that a settled defence equates to fewer goals conceded and more clean sheets. Yet this contrasts greatly with Everton’s defensive form in European competition.
Thus far in the Europa League, Everton have played 7 games and have only conceded 4 goals. This stat proves the point that success is built upon strong defensive foundations. The ability to minimise the effect of attackers such as Bas Dost, Kevin De Bruyne and Divock Origi in the group stages of the competition enabled Everton to secure key victories. Therefore it goes without saying that defence should be high up on the list of Roberto Martinez’ priorities. Without a balanced defence Everton will concede goals, as we have thus far seen in the Premier League.
Lack Of Balance
Another area of worry for Evertonians is the lack of balance that has so far existed in their side this season. Everton generally employ the 4-2-3-1 formation, last season to great effect, but this season the team has proved to be unbalanced with more right sided players in the squad, therefore some being played out of position. The absence of Steven Pienaar, a natural left midfielder has caused great concern for Everton. Without Pienaar in the side, Martinez has been forced to shuffle his pack, occasionally playing either Ross Barkley or Steven Naismith down the left flank. So far this has proved to be a detrimental choice as Barkley and Naismith are both central players who enjoy operating in the space directly behind the striker. Once again the stats prove that playing Barkley or Naismith as a quick fix on the left side is not the correct decision.
So far in the 2014-15 season Barkley has played 18 games, scoring 1 goal and assisting another in the Premier League. The young Englishman has played only 8 games in the central attacking midfield position, procuring 2 assists in this position. He has also played 6 games at left attacking midfield, and whilst at this position scored no goals or created any assists. Therefore it is clear to see which Barkley’s most effective position is.
The same also goes for Steven Naismith. Although faring better than Barkley on the left side of midfield, 2 goals and 1 assist in 4 games, it is clear that he should be playing in the centre, having scored 5 goals whilst in this position. Playing both players in the side is leading to an unbalanced team, which leads to not enough attacking creativity and also places pressure on the defence. A lack of a left midfielder has also caused problems for Leighton Baines. Without a recognised left sided midfielder it is difficult for Baines to maraud the left flank, and his attacking qualities are therefore nullified. Without Baines attacking as much, there is less creativity in the final third as Baines is one of the most effective attacking left fullbacks in the league. Therefore it is of paramount importance for Everton to field a balanced side.
Goals win games, and domestically Everton are not scoring enough. This is clear to see, as the side have scored 33 whilst shipping 37. This rate of 1.27 goals per game is simply not high enough when taking into consideration the goal to game ratio of PremierLleague rivals. Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are all averaging higher with 1.46, 1.88 and 1.58 respectively. This shows how Everton’s poor goal scoring form is proving costly this season. When compared against Everton’s European goal scoring exploits, their domestic return seems paltry. So far in Europe, Everton have scored 14 goals in 7 games, a vast improvement. This uptake in goal scoring has also led to the side claiming more victories therefore proving that the two go hand in hand.
Similarly to last season, Romelu Lukaku is the clubs top scorer notching 13 goals in 32 appearances. Once again, his form is of a higher standard in the Europa League as he has scored 4 goals in 7 games and also claimed an assist. In 2013/14, Lukaku managed 16 goals in 32 appearances for the club, quite a decent return. It is in this department where Everton show most potential. Whilst purportedly having a poor season, Lukaku is still only 3 goals away from matching last seasons tally. If he continues his goal scoring form of late it will no doubt help to propel Everton further up the league table and also into recently unchartered European territory.
Therefore it is clear to see the gulf in class that exists between Everton’s domestic form and the form which they produce on the continent. Although the previously mentioned domestic problems are terrorising Everton at the minute, the Europa League performances are offering a serious glimmer of hope. If Everton can play with the same defensive termination and creativity in attack in the premier league as they do in Europe all will be well at Goodison Park. It is also worth remembering that being the victorious side in the Europa League guarantees a spot in next years Champions League, so maybe Roberto Martinez knows what he is doing.
Written by Charles Redmond
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