Everton Report Card: Assessing the Toffees' Performance in 2011
With the New Year slowly approaching, it’s time to look back at the first half of Everton’s 2011-12 campaign.
The Toffees began the season in financial disarray. The team parted with Jermaine Beckford, Yakubu and Mikel Arteta during the summer transfer window as a result, while adding unknowns on the cheap to fill their vacancies.
Now 16 games into league play, Everton currently occupies 11th place in the Premiership, seemingly destined for another mid-table finish. Already eliminated from the league cup and 10 points outside the top six, Everton’s only shot at silverware will be the F.A. Cup, a competition they have not won since 1995.
Before we close the book entirely on 2011, let’s hand out a few midseason marks.
As far as Premier League goalkeepers go, there aren’t many better than Tim Howard.
The American has started all 16 league games between the posts for Everton, conceding only 19 goals. That level of stinginess is fifth-best in the Premiership, and first among teams outside the top six.
Howard has only let two or more goals by in a game five times during league play, keeping Everton’s anemic attack within its limited striking distance. With 34 saves so far, including a memorable penalty denial of Dirk Kuyt during the Merseyside derby, Howard has proven difficult to beat.
Jan Mucha, Howard’s Czechoslovakian understudy, hasn’t had much to do outside cup play. Mucha made his last appearance against Chelsea in the Carling Cup’s fourth round, conceding two to the Blues as Everton were eliminated.
Barring injury, Howard should be a mainstay in goal for the rest of the 2011-12 season. His ability to keep the score low has kept the Toffees relevant, but there have been times this year when he could have done more to solidify wins rather than suffer draws.
Led by the effervescent Leighton Baines on the left, the Everton defense has done a commendable job so far. While Tim Howard should take some credit for the meager 19 goals Everton has let through, most of the praise should be forwarded to the back line.
On the left, Leighton Baines has proved to be an integral part not only of Everton’s defense, but also of its offense. Baines frequently adventures up the flank to push play forward and is one of the Toffees’ best distributors. His man-marking and interception skills have stifled many a move.
Phil Jagielka has been a mainstay in the middle, but his partners have not. At first, Sylvain Distin accompanied him in the middle, but recently Johnny Heitinga has filled that role due to Distin’s injury. While Distin has all but recovered from his knock, the Frenchman is out of form, allotting Heitinga an extended stay in the starter’s role.
Regardless of who has paired with Jagielka, the center of defense has bent but hasn't been broken. The center pair has ended more attacks than they have let complete, but they could mark a bit tighter going forward.
Jags in particular has gotten better and better as the season progressed, and his talents haven’t gone unnoticed. Fabio Capello has already started him during England’s international friendlies, and he looks to be a first-choice selection for the Euro 2012 national side.
On the right, Tony Hibbert has not distanced himself from the pack but has proved reliable on the flank. He’ll get no awards and little recognition, but he has been stalwart in defense. When Hibbert isn’t there, 23-year-old Seamus Coleman has moved back to fill the void, and there hasn’t been much drop off.
Overall, the defense has been a bright spot and will need to continue its adamantine play if Everton expect to stay in games.
The midfield has been a mixed plate for Everton during the first part of the 2011-12 season.
On the one hand you’ve got Royston Drenthe, a fantastic loaner from Real Madrid who has brought pace, flair and creativity to a relatively monochromatic midfield. After only appearing in 10 games—six as a super sub—Drenthe has established himself as a fan favorite. One only needed to see the club’s dip in quality when the Dutchman was absent to understand how much he means to this team.
With two excellent performances against Norwich City and Swansea, it would be madness for David Moyes to keep him out of the side. With the incoming services of Landon Donovan in the new year, a midfield featuring Drenthe and Donovan on the wings is a salivating thought.
On the other hand, you’ve got Diniyar Bilyaltdinov, a player whose time on the field has single-handedly kept Everton’s midfield from a higher grade. He initially felt hard done to when he wasn’t getting appearances, and then did little to earn himself more once Drenthe returned from injury. The Russian has showed little invention, poor distribution and inaccuracy toward goal. Moyes should make selling Bilyaletdinov a priority come January.
Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum lies Leon Osman, Marouane Fellaini, Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell. Osman headlines this bunch with three goals, tied for a team high. His performance against Swansea should only solidify his starting job.
After inking a respectable extension, Fellaini has looked to earn that money by turning in a handful of solid performances. Often a fixture in the center of midfield, the afro-clad Belgian is one Everton’s better passers and displays rare decision-making skills.
Cahill has struggled to find his form, still goalless after netting nine during league play last season. For whatever reason, the Australian has not gotten it done in front of goal, but his threat in the air still garners respect from every defense he plays against.
We don’t know how much longer young Rodwell will be wearing Everton blue, with Chelsea reportedly angling for a January bid. The two sides are still far apart on what they believe the center midfielder is worth, but expect Everton to squeeze every pound out of the West London club should the deal go down. Andre Villas-Boas is playing it cool.
Rodwell’s play on the field has been inconsistent, but he’s shown flashes of the potential everyone believes him to have. Most notably known for his dubious sending-off during the Merseryside derby, Rodwell has two goals to his name in nine league starts. He will only improve if given more time, and at just 20 years old, time is on his side.
With American assistance coming, as well as some predicted positive moves during the January transfer window, expect Everton’s midfield to be much better than their average first half.
Partially due to their lack of funds, Everton’s strike force has been poor at best. When you’re relying on a 19-year-old sub to do your scoring, something has to change.
After making amends with David Moyes, Louis Saha was supposed to approach the 2011-12 season with a more attacking verve. Without Jermaine Beckford, Saha was Everton’s only real experienced option up front, but he has yet to take advantage of his featured role.
Often forced to be a lone striker up front, Saha no longer seems to posses the ideas in front of goal that once placed him among the best in England. The Frenchman would be much improved playing alongside a strike partner to alleviate the pressure he receives, but that doesn’t seem to be in Moyes’ plans.
Dennis Stracqualursi and Apostolos Vellios were the low-cost options Moyes brought in to replace Beckford’s production, but between the two of them, only young Vellios has caught the eye. While Stracqualursi spends his time mostly on the bench, Vellios already has three goals to his name, tied for the team lead. He’s tall enough to function well as a target striker but lacks the experience to be truly effective yet.
As a unit, the strikers have disappointed, but it’s not entirely their fault. Chairman Bill Kenwright did not spend on quality strikers over the summer, thus resulting in Everton’s weak attack. Of the 20 Premiership sides, only Wigan and Swansea have scored fewer goals than the Toffees’ 17, and Wigan is facing relegation.
Moves will need to be made in January to improve this woeful unit. Only Vellios keeps them from a straight F.
Without the expert management of David Moyes, this Everton team wouldn’t work. Few other managers have done more with less.
Though he has been promised funds in January, Moyes has had to make wholesale adjustments to keep this team afloat. Knowing he cannot outscore opponents with his abysmal attacking force, Moyes has often dropped six in defense just to keep games close.
The signings of Royston Drenthe and Apostolos Vellios were fantastic moves by the shrewd Scot, with both men exceeding their projected value thus far. Come January, the club will need to see such moves again.
While it hasn’t always been pleasing on the eye, Moyes has Everton primed for another mid-table finish amid cash problems, injuries and a lack of talent.
How long Everton will be able to keep him if they consistently cannot fund a competitive team is a prospect most Evertonians dare not think about.
After 16 games, Everton have won six, drawn two and lost eight. In their last five games, the Toffees have won two, lost two and drawn once.
Overall, their record features few losses to bad teams, with the exception of their season opener against Queens Park Rangers. Otherwise, Everton have beaten or drawn with teams they have been superior to but have not beaten a team they shouldn’t have.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool have all handed the Toffees a loss by a combined score of 6-1. Less-hyped but still talented teams like Newcastle and Stoke City have also dealt Everton a losing hand.
In a handful of cases, Everton has allowed inferior teams to deny them points, specifically against Norwich City and Aston Villa. In both cases, the Toffees dominated proceedings, but could only extract a single point when their performance deserved all three.
What the record displays is an exercise in mediocrity. Everton was able to pull off stunning victories or competitive draws against these types of opponents a year ago, but now lack the ability to pull any points from them.
It’s an average mark for an average record, nothing more.
Overall Grade for 2011: C+
Guided by the sterling leadership of David Moyes, Everton has not embarrassed themselves by any means, but they still seem lacking. A problem with the cash flow has stagnated the team’s growth, leaving them unable to build on their positive seventh-place finish a year ago.
The defense will need to stay at its intractable best in 2012, especially if Moyes gets his strikers and switches to a more attacking formation. It remains to be seen how many goals Everton will allow when they go positive against a top-six side.
Much will be decided for the rest of the season during the January transfer window. If Everton can address their attack needs correctly, they could make a push for Europe. If not, they should finish where they currently are.