Some will point to simple bad luck and there may be a kernel of truth to that – who could have predicted Tim Howard would commit a rare blunder against Blackburn Rovers, or Marouane Fellaini would stumble over the ball on Sunday? But to suggest it is simply misfortune that has led to Everton picking up one point from a possible nine is disingenuous – one bad result can be down to chance, but three consecutive poor showings suggests a deeper problem. Everton’s current predicament is due to both tactical reasons and the club’s current stature as one of the best of the rest, and those two causes are intertwined.
Everton are a side routinely tipped as one of the most capable challengers to the usual top four’s hegemony, a position that has been usurped somewhat by both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, yet David Moyes’ managerial ability and Chairman Bill Kenwright occasionally providing some spending money for the Scot have kept the club on the heels of their wealthier competitors. But while Spurs and especially City can call on deep pockets and even deeper squads – evidenced by their respective substitutes’ benches, which seat strikers each of whom, bar Jo, that would improve Everton’s front line – Moyes works on a comparatively limited budget with a squad of rough diamonds and transfer market gambles, many of which have paid off, moulded into a cohesive unit through painstaking work on the training pitch and a great deal of patience. When faced with opponents who defend deep and ask Everton to break them down, as each of the Blues’ three league challengers have done, the current group has come up short each time. Any team that plays precise passing football, as Everton now do, will be frustrated at least once a season, maybe twice, maybe more, but likely not three times in a row, unless the players’ will is not matched by their ability.
As good as many of the Everton players are – and some are excellent – Everton have evolved to a point where sheer hard work is not enough – there has to be a finer-tuned edge at the end of the good work from midfield. Tim Cahill, a loyal and devoted servant to Everton for the last six years, usually lines up just off the lone forward, a position he has made his own. But Cahill is not the creative force that feeds the striker – rather the Australian is there to win headers and cause problems with his physicality and dogged determination, often dropping into midfield when Everton are defending and leaving his nominal strike partner alone. Whether there is still a place for Cahill in that role in an Everton side in limbo is becoming more debateable by the game, as Everton struggle to create clear openings when faced with a string of men behind the ball. A more cultured alternative – Leon Osman, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Mikel Arteta moved further forward – may be part of the answer Moyes is currently searching for. Drafting one of the aforementioned alternatives into that vital role would freshen the face of Everton’s attack and, if nothing else, would be worth exploring simply because it cannot fail much more than the current plan.
Cahill should not be cast aside however – far from it. None of Everton’s cadre of strikers have looked particularly impressive this season – Jermain Beckford is taking time to adapt to the Premier League, Louis Saha’s goals have gone missing since February and Yakubu has not even featured – and Cahill has scored the team’s only league goal of the season. With a creative force behind him and licence to play as a true striker, Cahill could be a short-term fix to the Toffees’ goal mouth reticence. What the 30-year-old lacks in speed he makes up for with clever movement and is reliable in front of goal – 52 strikes in 212 games is a good return from midfield. His combative nature would lend itself to hold-up play against the division’s best central defenders and the desire to win and inspiring professionalism mean he would not complain about playing out of position – he may even relish the challenge. Moyes has always made the best of meagre resources at Everton, and Cahill has long been an emblem of that. He may have to be again.