After back-to-back eighth-place finishes and 24 trophyless years, Everton’s aims this season are undoubtedly to return to European football and land some silverware.
Thus far, the signs are good, with the Toffees sitting in sixth having taken six points from two home games, as well as sealing their place in the third round of the League Cup.
But the season is still very young. If Everton are to hit their targets, consistency will be key. After all, the top sides in the Premier League churn out points for fun and hurdle cup ties as if they weren’t there.
So, are Everton on target? What have we learned about them so far?
Read on to find out.
1. They’re still formidable at home
The way Everton salvaged some form of respectability at the end of the 2018/19 campaign was quite remarkable, taking 13 points from five consecutive home games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd and Burnley without conceding a single goal. This is the Everton that used to cause so many problems for the big guns when they were perceived as “plucky” under David Moyes, and the one which has been missing pretty much since the second season of the Roberto Martinez era.
But a combination of hard work from supporters groups, the Z-Cars Siren and Silva further embracing the fans and culture around the club has generated a real hotbed of an atmosphere, reawakening Goodison Park and making it a nightmare for visiting sides once more, continuing into this season with wins over Watford and Wolves.
Of course, the crowd only counts for a fraction of the work required and it would be unfair to laud the Toffees’ home form without giving Silva credit. Since the Merseyside derby on March 3, no Premier League side has kept more clean sheets at home than Everton (6), while they rank third in the division for tackles (131) and duels won (418) on home turf during that time. 2019/20 has only seen this improve, with Everton topping the Premier League for duels won at home (147) so far. It’s this continued dominance and ferocity at Goodison Park which has seen the Blues to sixth place after four games.
2. But away day woes persist
But for all their impressive home form in recent months, you must remember that Everton only managed to scrape an eight-place finish last season. Without a doubt, that is down to their away form, which continues to cripple them this season
Silva’s side have managed just one point from two away games so far, drawing 0-0 with Crystal Palace on the opening day before a hugely disappointing 2-0 defeat at Villa Park in late August. Two games, one point, no goals. In fact, their away form since the start of the 2017/18 campaign reads dreadfully for Evertonians, with just eight wins in their last 40 games on the road.
It’s tough to really pinpoint where the Blues fall down on their travels – they rank joint-third for possession won in the final third away from home (11) so far this term and sit only behind Manchester City (65.56%) in terms of average possession on the road with a 64.73% share as yet. They’re still aggressively winning the ball back and maintain control once they do so.
One area where Silva’s side really do fall down on the road, though, is finishing chances. During the defeat to Aston Villa, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Theo Walcott both missed glorious chances right when Everton were on the front foot and had they scored, the Toffees would surely have gone on to take at least a point home from the Midlands. In fact, so far this season, no side has a worse shooting accuracy (excluding blocks) away from home than Everton’s 28.57%, putting just four of their 14 shots on target.
If Everton are to truly test their strength against the upper echelons of the Premier League, they simply must be more cold-blooded and ruthless. Man City do it, Liverpool do it. That’s what sets them apart.
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3. Iwobi opens new possibilities
Calvert-Lewin and Walcott aren’t exactly flavours of the month at Goodison Park, even without those horrendous misses against Villa. However, in Alex Iwobi, it would appear that they’ve found a real spark who could make a long-term difference.
Iwobi was never clinical at Arsenal, scoring just 15 goals in 149 appearances for the Gunners, but already he’s setting that right on Merseyside with two goals in three games so far. The first came in their tumultuous League Cup win over Lincoln City (more on that later), while his second was a clinical header in the 3-2 win over Wolves just before the international break.
Even at this early stage, Iwobi looks far stronger in possession than Bernard, much more confident than Walcott and more adaptable than pretty much anyone else Silva has at his disposal, able to drift anywhere behind the striker and look totally at ease. This will be key in creating triangles and rotations with the likes of Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson and, long term, could make Everton a far more dynamic and unpredictable proposition in attack, regardless of whether they’re home or away.
4. They’re up for the cup
So, that cup tie at Lincoln. That was supposed to be an easy route into the third round, right? Anyone who has seen Lincoln’s rise in recent years would beg to differ and going 1-0 up against Everton after just 20 seconds showed why. Goals from Lucas Digne and Sigurdsson put the Toffees ahead but Lincoln hit back again in the 70th minute through Bruno Andrade and it was hard to escape the feeling that Silva’s side were about to repeat their FA Cup embarrassment against Millwall last term.
This Everton side are in a far better place than when they made the trip to the New Den, though, and honestly, they really look up for a cup run. From a team selection including the likes of Jordan Pickford, Sigurdsson, Digne, Richarlison and Moise Kean in the starting line-up, to their unwillingness to surrender their place in the competition through sheer force of will, Everton really wanted it and when things got tough at Sincil Bank, they bunkered in and got the win.
Starved of silverware since 1995, Evertonians would love nothing more than a cup run and a trophy this season and on the evidence of their first League Cup tie this season, Silva craves that just as much.
5. Selection headaches
Pickford is undoubtedly Everton’s No.1 goalkeeper, Digne, Sigurdsson and Richarlison all start, while the centre-backs pretty much pick themselves. That said, Silva still has two very big selection headaches to deal with once the international break ends: centre-forward and central midfield.
Calvert-Lewin is yet to get off the mark this season and let’s be honest, despite his usefulness in closing down the opposition and running the channels, he’s never going to be a clinical, 20+ goals per season striker. Thus far, Silva has been sparing in his use of Kean, handing him his first Premier League start against Wolves on game week four and allowing the 19-year-old time to acclimatise to his new surroundings.
But, even though he wasn’t the star in that win over Wolves, Kean’s energy and directness offered a new dimension to Everton’s attack and played a huge part in their opening goal. Silva will continue to play his balancing act but the sooner Kean is allowed a run of games to find his rhythm, the better it will be for Everton’s long-standing centre-forward issue.
An even more challenging conundrum for Silva is his central midfield combination. Sigurdsson will definitely continue in the No.10 role, while Andre Gomes is all but guaranteed to start behind him, but who starts alongside the Portugal international? So far, Silva has cycled through Morgan Schneiderlin and new signings Fabian Delph and Jean-Philippe Gbamin with varying levels of success.
Schneiderlin is neat and tidy but can often be quite laborious in possession, while Gbamin is still struggling for fitness and won’t be 100% for some time yet. Delph was excellent against Wolves, completing a match-high 57 passes, making four tackles and offering a brilliant level of control to the Everton midfield. He may just fill the void left by Idrissa Gueye but with Gbamin to come back and Tom Davies yet to get a real chance this season, he cannot afford to let his performance levels drop.
Silva has some real headaches to contend with, both good and bad. Either way, they all need resolving quickly to allow Everton’s season to progress unhindered.