Season Review: Part 1
By: Brian | May 25th, 2011
Afternoon everyone, over the next few days you are going to be reading some thoughts on the season from both the regular writers, as well as some new people we are looking to bring on board the the Everton Offside, Royal Blue Mersey. Today we have a review piece from Daniel, so leave your thoughts and comments below, and until next time COYB!
Rather than type out the usual boring negative stuff about the season past I thought it would be a little bit more germane to reconsider the season in the round. For all we hoped for, nay even longed and half-expected, a really big season, it’s clear that, right now, we don’t have the resources to sustain a serious run at the pinnacle – which many would argue is now 4th place (which can be up for grabs) and the chance of Champions League football.
The reality is we have a fairly tidy squad and some extremely good players amongst them but – sadly here’s the real problem – neither enough game changers (although you can only admire the progress of Leon Osman when all around him were out injured) and certainly not enough depth. The current financial problems all clubs face has at least been dealt with in a pragmatic fashion by Everton – namely by reducing the wage bill significantly – but that hasn’t helped us achieve the hoped for breakthrough after several seasons close to the ‘pinnacle’.
So perhaps with that in mind let’s turn to the season past. 7th place is by no means a poor achievement – even allowing for the fact that many observers would argue all the teams below Everton are weaker in many respects. I certainly would have been disappointed with much less than the 7th place we’ve achieved.
The Premier League is money driven (even if we allow ourselves to wonder how well managed the money is) – the so-called Big Three (Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal) awash with Champions League earnings, Tottenham joined that club last season and Manchester City need not worry (at least in terms of where the next fiver is coming from – if not their legitimacy in claiming a place in European football if the new UEFA rules are appropriately applied) and of course, without dwelling too heavily on our regard for our nearest foe you cannot ignore their pedigree and ability to compete close to the top of the table.
So, putting those (6) teams to one side then it’s clear that the remainder (Everton included) cannot rely on the bonus of European football as a staple diet and source of income. Many of these sides have extreme difficulty in attracting and retaining the best players not already snapped up by the aforementioned and therefore it seems almost inevitable that the season for many sides is all about ensuring the requisite 40 (or so) points to retain their PL status.
Now Everton have bigger ambitions than this – and with a great supporter base (many local) we have managed to eke out an existence and earn a place close to the top table where the rich pickings and trophies are on offer. The expectation levels have been raised in the past few seasons by an ambitious manager, a normally motivated squad and a fanbase desparate for some silverware. So what is it that seemed to go wrong at the start of the season – it wasn’t necessarily (at the time) a surfeit of injuries – that lead us to finish in 7th (pretty much par for Everton)
Perhaps it was a number of factors worth discussing with regard to the whole season -
1. Trying to play too much football against sides that aren’t willing to play football (our results against the top 6 were good).
Everton played some very good football this season – there were times we were excellent but then there were times we were pretty ordinary. I happen to fall into the category of a realist. I don’t want Everton to lose, or play badly but you have to accept that – right now – Man Utd for example are better than us. You also probably have to accept that sometimes the team will fall short but it’s not that many times our performances (if not always the results) have been that bad – I can think of Stoke and Bolton away, Newcastle at home as particularly poor. West Brom (away) was very ordinary – we just didn’t grab a point, home to West Brom was poor-ish (but don’t forget either the fantastic strike by Brunt nor the utterly abysmal refereeing by Mason in a game we were dominating until the 70th minute when, down to 10 men, we faded) There were of course some abject games and results like the 0-0 draw at home to Wigan and the unfortunate loss at Villa (more about bad luck later) . But I am prepared to accept 2 or 3 slips a season are inevitable and sometimes the opponents are better too!
2. Too small a squad
The perrenial problem – and this season not helped by the departure of Pienaar (at least we got a fee), Yakubu, Yobo and Vaughan on loan and limited number of arrivals. Perhaps there was an element of dissent in the camp leading to departures and poor performances as well but I’m not sure we have concrete evidence of this. The lack of fit players often meant we were down to 11 or 12 recognised first team regulars by the Spring but the results and performances at this time were mostly very good.
3. Lacking a fit proven PL striker for much of the season and the financial clout to find a replacement
The dirth of players in the squad was further emphasised by the lack of a fit striker – Yakubu seems to not be the answer post injury. Saha (always an injury worry) had a first half of the season to totally forget, did well in January and February and then promptly returned to the injury table. Victor (2011 version) seems to struggle to recognise the post and crossbar (and whilst he seems more willing to forage alone compared to Beckford we could just as easily play Brett Angell up front if it’s a body up front we want!) Beckford started badly, learned the difference between rugby posts and goal posts by poaching a few good goals as well as an improved positional sense and then promptly went into sulk mode at Wolverhampton – he needs 4-4-2 which suggests a place on the bench again within the current set-up. Cahill as a striker was, for a long period, the leading scorer in the PL in terms of games scored in but since sustaining an injury at the Asian Cup has not been the same player, although his cameo performances of late have surely been appreciated by the club and fans alike despite his obvious lack of fitness. As a final note I think it’s worth mentioning Vellios looks an exciting prospect with a lovely languid style (not dissimilar to Berbatov).
4. The inability to motivate except from a position of adversity in which we traditionally thrive.
This is a topic for a later discussion but I believe the management and players could consider a change of mentality and a different playing style. Winning is tough, winning regularly – especially on the road very hard (nothing is a given any more)
5. Poor team selection
The over emphasis on 4-5-1 can sometimes be a real downer to supporters – especially at home. Do you sacrifice the security 4-5-1 gives (especially if keeping it tight against better sides can pay dividends) in return for going for it – or is it more a case of not having the right players for 4-4-2 (or similar) plus the pausity of options with a small squad?
6. Some players off form
Mikel Arteta, Yakubu, Saha (1st half of the season) and many others have fallen short of their best. Perhaps this could be explained by:
7. Injuries and absences
and recovery from injury – to which you could add Fellaini who can be a major player for Everton – but again he’s been out most of the season.
Basically Injuries but many would argue Everton just aren’t a lucky team and never have been. Some teams win despite adversity. Others just get penalties and dubious goals… whereas Everton get Lee Mason v Wolves and West Brom, Anelka falling into Tim Howard and so on. Oh and Beckford turning up late meaning we had to go 4-5-1 vs Reading instead of applying more pressure on them earlier in the game.
9. 2nd Half Syndrome
Our 2nd half of most of the past few seasons has been excellent – is this because we thrive on adversity or is it some players are fitter at the back end of the season? Maybe but it’s a conundrum for the manager and players to solve.
Who played well:
Jagielka, Distin (a couple of errors apart), Baines, Osman (particularly towards the end of the season), Coleman (mostly), Neville (generally), Beckford (mostly), Howard (allowing for a few clangers)
Who didn’t play well
Johnny Heitinga – although I symphathise with a World Cup centre-back playing somewhat out of position – it’s clear he was press-ganged to fill a space – too often we’re down to 12 or 13 regulars and the solution can’t be to drop Distin or Jags to accommodate Heitinga. Billy – I wish he didn’t run away after he’s distributed the ball – he needs to be switched on for more than 3-4 minutes a game. Rodwell – suffers from not having a regular spot in the side – a regular position and, ultimately, injury and perhaps the confidence to take on players. Arteta – but we saw signs of a revival.
A lot of quality goals, some very good performances, some exciting players, some good prospects. Beating Liverpool at home. Some good games (Man U, Man C, Spurs, Blackpool at home for example) – a tremendous result at Chelsea in the Cup.
A number of poor performances (and not forgetting the two cup exits!) and a few players mentioned above. In additional the potential loss of players in the summer.
With an improved mentality going into next season, a bit more luck in front of goal, a few less injuries, some better refereeing and a following wind Everton could definitely pick up those extra 10 more points than this season. Perhaps if the players realised that their best performances in the past two seasons against each opponent would have netted almost enough points to win the league then a replication of those performances across just one season would see Everton get closer to the summit. If Mikel Arteta can rediscover his pre-injury self, Leon Osman maintain his recent form, Jack Rodwell find his true self, Ross Barkley break into the side (and get a run of games), Marouane Fellaini become a dominant footballer and Tim Cahill play a cameo role – all backed up by solid captaincy, a top centre-half partnership and another great season from Leighton Baines and we’ll be right there.. Some silverware in a Cup competition – especially if we don’t run into a big side with their first XI on the pitch could be a real possibility.
I’d like to see the likes of Gueye, Vellios, Barkley given a chance and perhaps a formation that puts our best players on the pitch (4-1-3-2 with Fellaini or Rodwell in the deep lying role – the midfield looks reasonably flexible and can accommodate Coleman or Cahill where injuries omit others ) - perhaps the sale of Yakubu, Vaughan and Yobo (and others) will bring in a couple of decent players and a couple of Championship level bench warmers.
Neville – Jags – Distin – Baines
Fellaini – Rodwell - Osman – Arteta
Cahill (or Beckford) – Saha
You have renewed that season ticket now haven’t you? Roll on August!!