A familiar pattern unfolded at St. James’ Park on Saturday as Everton fell behind in the first-half and then tried with increasing futility to regain parity in the second, ultimately failing against Newcastle United as they did Manchester United a week earlier. David Moyes now has a few weeks to examine everything that is going wrong at Goodison Park and to begin to put it right.
It is not enough to say that Everton’s poor form has been caused by a difficult run of games. The fixtures the Toffees have lost – away at Manchester City, Chelsea and Newcastle, and home to Liverpool and Manchester United – all produced points last season. Of course, they were not played in such a narrow timeframe but Everton still proved themselves the equals or the betters of their opponents, and these points have to be made up from somewhere if Moyes’ side are to be able to even match last year’s finish, never mind push higher up the division. The Premier League table makes no accounting for quirks of the fixture list. No asterisk will appear next to Everton’s name in May that says they had a particularly hard October-November.
The squad at Moyes’ disposal, although small, contains ample experienced Premier League players and full internationals to have recorded better than five defeats in six games. But too many of these same players are not pulling their weight, certainly not entering performances that justify some of their lofty accolades, be they substantial wages or appearances for their national team.
The number of players regularly in the first XI that are performing even in shouting distance of at their best is depressingly low and can even be counted on the fingers of one hand, maybe two if you were to be generous. Leighton Baines is his usual, reliable self, while Sylvain Distin, lately hamstrung by injury, is a commanding presence in defence. Marouane Fellaini is Everton’s standout player, Leon Osman is as always tidy and Tony Hibbert steadfast as usual. The remainder veer from adequate to woeful.
That said, Moyes must question his part in the club’s paltry points total, too. The manager’s preferred midfield pair has latterly been Fellaini and Jack Rodwell, two defensive-minded players intended to shield the back four, but with only one Premier League clean sheet all season they are clearly not doing so. Their presence is merely hampering Everton’s attack. The two central midfielders patrol the centre circle in such close quarters as to be almost joined at the hip. Changing up the 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1/4-5-1 that has dominated Everton’s tactics since 2004-05 is something Moyes must give much thought to, whether it’s a switch to 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or a more unorthodox system.
Everton’s position is far from terminal, and there is no need to call for the manager’s head or other such knee-jerk moves, but an acknowledgement from Moyes that the formation that has served Everton well for seven years may now be what is holding them back would help. It is certainly worth attempting. Meanwhile, some of the players must dig deep to rediscover their form, lest Everton spend the rest of the season mired in a relegation battle to match their current form.
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