Everton fell to their fifth Premier League defeat of the season against Manchester United on Saturday in a game which put the Toffees’ deficiencies under a glaring spotlight. On paper a single goal loss to the Premier League champions after a gruelling midweek Carling Cup match with Chelsea is far from disastrous, but the action on display throughout the 90 minutes told a different story.
The statistics suggest that David Moyes’ side were dominant over their illustrious opponents, but that is sadly a case of the bare numbers failing to tell the whole tale. Everton managed 18 shots to United’s seven, 11 on target to United’s six, four corners to United’s one and had only slightly less possession than United, 49% to 51%.
Yet what the facts and figures do not explain is that only once was David de Gea really troubled in the United goal, and that precious few of Everton’s shots on target came from controlled build-up play. Indeed, more often Everton robbed United of possession in midfield and broke, with an early shot straight at the goalkeeper or screwed wide the usual outcome.
Turning over possession in midfield is a useful skill, and one that can reap rewards. But the better organised teams do not lose the ball so easily. Everton struggled to break down a resolute United side and it told in the score line. Already short on creative inspiration when Mikel Arteta was at the club – by virtue of the Spaniard’s poor form and the sale of Steven Pienaar – Everton are now desperately incapable of unlocking a defence.
The loss of Arteta and Pienaar has not been accounted for. In their stead have come Royston Drenthe and Ross Barkley, the only new additions to the Toffees’ midfield since last season. In Drenthe Everton have a winger capable of the magical, but equally capable of carelessly misplacing possession. Barkley is an undoubted talent but has to overcome the foibles of youth, and at 17, is still unprepared for the responsibility of inspiring a Premier League team.
The burden could be eased by the forwards, yet there too Everton are lacking that special something. Louis Saha is able to create a goal-scoring chance from a hopeless situation, but is injury-prone, ageing and inconsistent with it. Denis Stracqualursi is a target man who needs the ball played in to the penalty area to be effective, while Apostolos Vellios is more like Stracqualursi than Saha. James McFadden could offer something different but shone only sporadically in his first spell at Goodison Park, and is recovering from a year on the sidelines.
This results in football that goes side-to-side and back again, with no players breaking the lines and little pace or invention. Combined with the lack of players flooding the box thanks to a static midfield duo of Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini, Everton are reduced to toiling in midfield without reward. The solution may be to focus on the flanks and pepper the box with crosses, but that would require Moyes loosening the shackles and perhaps deviating from the 4-4-1-1 formation that has previously served him so well.
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