With Everton in the bottom three and suffering humiliating defeats to the likes of Liverpool away and Norwich at home in recent weeks, Marco Silva has finally been sacked as manager.
After a mixed first campaign, the Portuguese turned things around in 2018/19, taking 13 points from five games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd and Burnley without conceding a goal. Hope was restored to the blue half of Merseyside.
However, despite another summer of intensive spending to try and finally push Everton back into English football’s elite, the Toffees have floundered and won just four of their 15 Premier League games so far this season, leaving them 18th in the table with just 14 points.
So, just how did we get here and what were the critical mistakes Silva made that led to his sacking?
1. Defending set-pieces
No Premier League team conceded more goals from set-pieces than Everton’s 16 last season and that trend hasn’t changed in this campaign either, with only Aston Villa (8) conceding more than their seven. Whether they mark zonally or man-to-man, the Toffees have been unable to deal with dead-ball deliveries.
During the early stages of Silva’s reign, it was the front post getting hammered with crosses, with no Everton defender taking charge or reacting to crosses into the box. Balls were getting flicked on at pace, with attackers wreaking havoc on Jordan Pickford’s goal in the confusion.
Toward the end of 2018/19, it appeared Silva had fixed the issue but this season, a new set-piece demon has reared its ugly head, with teams now hammering crosses into Everton’s back post, which has been left inexplicably unmanned.
Whilst the same seems to provide plenty of front end protection, there is an area of vulnerability towards the back post, as highlighted in green.
That specific area of the box is where opposing sides have been targeting. pic.twitter.com/E1Gs8zr4WX
— David Alexander Hughes (@DAHughes_) October 8, 2019
To blame the zonal marking system would be naive. At the end of the day, goals are scored from corners and free-kicks throughout the season and man-marking only gives you culpability for each individual error, but knowing who to blame doesn’t stop the goal being scored in the first place.
Still, Silva’s version of zonal marking has been an unmitigated disaster, offering the opposition a clear weakness to target and meaning Evertonians could never quite sit comfortably in their seats as their team lined up to repel attacks.
The sheer level of goals conceded from this situation has undoubtedly attributed to Silva’s downfall.
Last season, Silva had the luxury of choosing from Michael Keane, Kurt Zouma, Yerry Mina and veteran Phil Jagielka to form a centre-back pairing, meaning he was even able to loan Mason Holgate to West Brom. This season, those options have been greatly reduced, with Zouma heading back to Chelsea and Jagielka moving to Sheffield United.
While Keane and Mina have, at times, had some strong performances in an Everton shirt, neither has consistently convinced and both a prone to errors and lapses in concentration. Take a look at their horrific tracking of Liverpool runners during that Merseyside derby humbling for exhibit A. Holgate, meanwhile, is 23 years old now and no longer that fresh-faced youngster showing promise he was under Ronald Koeman.
Three centre-backs are clearly not enough to comfortably stay out of the relegation zone, let alone challenge for European places. Three sub-standard centre-backs are even worse.
“It’s not the best scenario to start just with three defenders but it is what it is and we have to manage the situation in the best way,” Silva said of his centre-back conundrum back in the summer.
To blame Silva for not securing the permanent signing of Zouma would be unfair. Chelsea are currently under a transfer embargo and hardly in a position to be selling players, while there are more levels of power above the manager at Everton when it comes to transfers.
That said, to put all the eggs in one basket by banking on Zouma was incredibly ill-advised and something must surely have worried about heading toward the summer transfer deadline.
Everton have started their last two games in a 3-4-3/5-4-1 hybrid as Silva sought to restore some defensive solidity to his side but make no mistake, this sort of tactical variety has not been a feature of his time in charge.
The Toffees had lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation for the vast majority of their Premier League games so far this season and predictability has been one of the biggest criticisms levelled at Silva.
All too often, Everton have had the same set-up, played at the same tempo and followed the same passing rhythms. Against some of the Premier League‘s elite, the Toffees have actually flourished in the space they’ve been allowed, hence the impressive performances at the end of last season and the way they recently took the game to Leicester in that heartbreaking 2-1 defeat.
But when coming up against some of the supposed “lesser” sides in the top flight, Silva’s side have really struggled. Everton’s lacklustre approach of slow build-up play and endless crossing. The Toffees rank third in the Premier League for attempted open play crosses (245) this season, but 13th in terms of accuracy (17.55%). The result? Everton are really easy to defend against. Sit in a low block and Everton can’t play through you, defend your own box competently and the ideas start to run out.
The best managers have variety, hence why Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City rank first and second respectively for attempted open play crosses despite being more renowned for their, say, their lightning counter-attacks or precision passing.
Silva has failed miserably in this regard.
4. Moise Kean
Everton’s long-standing issue of replacing Romelu Lukaku has been well documented and to be honest, it’s become rather boring. Not because it isn’t true, but because the club still haven’t been able to find a successful solution, two years later.
But wait a minute, Everton signed Italian starlet Moise Kean in the summer, right? Well, despite the fanfare around his £27.5m signing, you wouldn’t think that was the case.
If you want a more in-depth a look at Silva’s misuse of the former Juventus striker, take a look at the link below, but we’ll break it down very simply here.
Kean has started just two of Everton’s 15 Premier League games so far this season, made nine substitute appearances and failed to even make the pitch on four occasions. His two recent cameo appearances against Leicester and Liverpool very nearly yielded goals but his chance in the Merseyside derby especially stunk of a player lacking in match fitness and confidence.
Few are privy to what goes on behind closed doors during training and, yes, Kean was punished for being late to a team meeting.
At the same time, this is a 19-year-old forward who is desperate for a chance in his natural position, centre-forward. Yet, Silva insisted on fielding him as a winger and suggested that was, in fact, the position in which was most effective, a bizarre comment given 18 of his 19 career appearances as a left-winger to date have come during his time in the Juventus youth team.
Is Silva totally to blame for Kean flopping so far? No. The teenager still has a lot to learn. But did the manager give him the best chance of success and hitting the ground running? Absolutely not.