What on earth is going on at Everton? David Moyes’ side have finished in the top 6 for three consecutive seasons but now find themselves languishing in the Premier League’s nether regions, having already lost at Burnley, Bolton Wanderers and Phil Brown’s Hull City. Not to mention the 5 and 6 goal spankings dished out to them by Benfica and Arsenal respectively. Up to now, Moyes’ Toffees were renowned for their commitment, spirit, organisation and defensive solidity; now, however, they’re shipping goals all over the place and were last night comprehensively outfought by Phil Brown’s Hull City. Sport.co.uk investigates…
1. Loss of the Jagielka-Lescott centre-back partnership
Everton’s success last season was founded on the clean-sheet machine that was this rock-solid axis. A long-term injury to Phil Jagielka and the departure of Joleon Lescott to Manchester City, however, has pulled the plug out from under the bathwater of solidity. Sylvain Distin looked like the perfect replacement for Lescott at first but, be it nerves or a lack of protection from the midfield, his partnership with Joseph Yobo looks about as assured as the Chuckle Brothers lugging a grand piano up a flight of stairs. However unimpressive Lescott has been at City, Everton miss him badly.
2. The continued absence of Mikel Arteta
…which, ominously, looks set to continue indefinitely. Everton showed in the second half of last season, by reaching the FA Cup final and finishing in 5th, that they can just about get by without their Spanish playmaker as long as alternative ‘go to guy’ Steven Pienaar is fit and firing. Remove the South African as well, as had been the case over the last few weeks, and the Toffees look utterly bereft of ideas and entirely dependant on the magnificent Louis Saha creating a yard of space for himself. An on-song Arteta in the middle of the pitch sets Everton apart from most teams in the division but fears are growing that it won’t be seen again this season, if ever. Can Diniyar Bilyaletdinov fill the void?
3. The lack of investment from boardroom level
No-one could blame Moyes if he jibbed all of this off tomorrow. Consecutive top 5 finishes should both have been springboards for better things but, on each occasion, the manager has been given nothing to spend in the summer. Marouane Fellaini may have cost a reported £15m, but he was only brought in after James McFadden and Andrew Johnson had been sold for a similar amount, while this summer’s business could only be conducted once Lescott had been sold towards the end of the transfer window. For two consecutive summers, Kenwright has got away pretty much scot free (no pun intended) with failing to finance the improvements necessary for keeping the squad upwardly mobile, and fans who criticise Moyes for only buying players towards the end of the window are missing the point quite spectacularly.
4. They can’t play 4-4-2
Moyes, however, is not exempt from criticism. Anyone who tries to argue that he hasn’t done wonders for Everton Football Club quite frankly needs their head testing but, now that injuries necessitate a revised gameplan, the team looks alarmingly unable to adapt. You’d think that a front two of Saha and Yakubu could plunder enough goals to see the side through this rough patch but the midfield gets so consistently overrun that they either don’t see any of the ball or have to drop deep to do so. The only threat on offer at the moment is Saha’s ability to conjure something out of nothing - witness his goals at Portsmouth, Bolton and West Ham, and the way he won last night’s penalty – and, if, nay, when he gets injured next, Everton will have to rely on a rusty and sluggish Yakubu. The woefully out-of-form Tim Cahill and Fellaini both look lost in a midfield four, Jack Rodwell is in dire need of a break, Johnny Heitinga is still finding his feet and Leon Osman, although most comfortable in the middle, requires a proper defensive presence beside him. Perhaps Everton are missing their captain more than many fans would have predicted.
5. Phil Neville’s absence
That’s right, Captain Pip, with his pointing finger and “rallying cries”, might have offered the organisation and encouragement so lacking from recent performances. When Tim Howard wellied a back-pass into the stands last night, before mouthing “what am I supposed to do?” at a puzzled Yobo, it must have occurred to a few Evertonians that perhaps the unglamorous Neville is the thread without which the jumper unravels. Or something like that.
6. It’s just what Everton do
In the 2007/08 season, it took Everton until around November to engender the form that got them to 5th place, fired by the injustice of a defeat at home to Liverpool. Last season, Everton’s results had started to pick up by around this time, but their performances hadn’t. Consecutive wins over Bolton (1-0), Fulham (1-0) and West Ham (3-1) saw them shoot up the Premier League table but the performances were not that much better than recent showings. They didn’t string an all-round good performance together until a 1-0 win at Tottenham on November 30th. This Sunday, they’re at home to Liverpool, and it will be November 29th: could the previous two seasons’ turning points merge into one here? Then again, we’re dealing with human beings made out of flesh and blood, not pre-programmed robots. Maybe the turning point was last night: Everton’s performances last season began to improve soon after the nadir of an utterly dreadful 1-0 defeat at Wigan. If going into half-time at Phil Brown’s Hull City 3-0 down doesn’t constitute this season’s nadir, then…well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
7. The Lescott saga’s effect on team spirit
Recent Everton squads have been characterised by unwavering unity and, until Manchester City came sniffing around the popular-by-all-accounts Lescott, that united front had not really been tested. The sour nature of events leading to his departure must have had some kind of knock-on effect, with players either wondering who would be next, casting envious glances at reports of £90,000 per week, or taking it as a sure fire sign that Everton can go no further.
8. The previous few seasons’ exertions taking their toll
This ties in with number 3; a lack of investment in the squad has left a lot of players playing a lot of games over the last few years and perhaps now they are running on empty. If they have gone past their breaking point, which the proliferation of injuries would suggest, then they could be in serious trouble given that they’ll have to play on through lack of any alternatives.
9. The players are embarrassed about playing in that kit
As well they should be. What a mess. Just how hard is it to design a blue shirt?
10. Some kind of voodoo curse
How surely can you rule out paranormal activity? The truth is out there. Sir Alex Ferguson has clearly been practising voodoo on Rafael Benitez; who’s got the Davie Moyes doll? Everyone’s a suspect…
Can i point out, i used number 9 as a reason in one of the other threads