What has happened to Everton?

I thought today was as good a time as any to put some thoughts out there about my favorite soccer team, Everton.  And yes, I know I’m using the wrong term but when following both American and world football, it is easier and less confusing to call one football and the other soccer, so that’s what I do.  The timing works out well as this is sort of mid-season and in the heart of the January transfer window, not to mention a crucial semi-final match today against Manchester City.

I had pretty high expectations coming into the year with the addition of Deulofeu and the ability to keep a hold of the strong youth talent this team has.  And for the most part, the youth has performed reasonably well.  Lukaku is among the league leaders in goals.  Deulofeu seems to be serving up delicious crosses every time he touches the ball.  Barkley has had his ups and downs but is still electric.  Stones has been solid for the most part, although he’s had some rough games like any youngster will.  Even Brendan Galloway performed well in his replacement role while Baines recovered from his ankle injury.

The issue, or at least one of them, has been the performance of the veteran leaders.  Now some of this is certainly due to injuries (although every team gets them) but clearly the loss of Baines and Jagielka has hurt the team.  And even when they’re in the lineup, the loss of time has put them further behind the rest of the team.  Barry has not been the same pillar of strength he was, and lets just move on from talking about Howard.  It is no surprise that with Baines, Jagielka, and Howard all struggling that the Toffees are sporting a horrific defensive record and are especially awful late in games.  That trio of leadership and confidence used to ripple through the team, and without it we’re starting to see things crumble.

Another huge hole in this team is the midfield which has been pretty lackluster this season.  I’m not entirely sure what has happened to McCarthy this season, but he just doesn’t seem to be having as much impact as he has in the past.  Of late, our best midfielder (outside of Barkley) has been Besic, which shocks me as I had more or less written him off as a red-card waiting to happen extra body and not a contributing player.  Sadly I’m not sure there’s a real easy fix for this problem out there.  I don’t think Ryan Ledson is ready to step in, but at this point I’m also not sure there’s all that much to lose in trying him out.

The last piece of the puzzle that many are jumping on is the coaching, feeling that Martinez has run out of ideas.  I’m not ready to jump to that conclusion quite yet, but there certainly are some warning signs.  I feel it is always hard to really know what portion of poor play (in any sport) is due to the coaching and what blame should be laid on the players.  Usually, it is somewhere in the middle, however there are some things that are red flags for coaches.  When the same things keep happening over and over again, that’s not just poor luck or bad play, the coaching staff is not doing something right.  And in Everton’s case, not protecting leads is becoming a routine event.  I’m not going to claim to know all the stats, but I’m willing to bet they’re near the top of goals conceded in the last 10 minutes of the game, and actually probably pretty close to the top of those scored during that time too.  So while they’re great at late dramatics, it seems like they forget about defense once that happens.  Sure there have been some unfortunate calls (Chelsea) but to even allow that to happen time and time again is just bad coaching.

While this is a rather pessimistic look at the team, I still have hope for a productive season finishing in the top half of the table.  I highly doubt they’ll push high enough for Europe and I’m not sure they have the team depth to be able to handle it if they did qualify.  If they can get some more stability in the back, fix their late game disasters, and then bring in a couple young guys during these next 2 windows they could be right back ready to make a strong run next year.  As an avid Football Manager player, I do have ideas for how to fix Everton, but that’s for another post.  And who knows, they might be able to hold off Manchester City and get a shot to win some hardware this year!