Everton Club Focus – Drenthe underlines importance as Toffees again fail to keep a clean sheet

Everton’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City on Saturday confirmed two themes that had become apparent in recent games – first, that Everton’s attacking deficiencies have obscured their problems in defence, and that Royston Drenthe is vital to the Toffees’ cause.

With only one clean sheet in the Premier League this season – in the second game of the campaign against Blackburn Rovers, when Everton somehow avoided conceding despite Rovers having two penalties – Everton’s failings further forward have overshadowed and been exacerbated by a leaky defence. Norwich may have had just one shot on target but the ease with which Grant Holt held off John Heitinga and turned within the six yard box revealed a greater frailty.

The form of Phil Jagielka in particular has been much below his usual high standards, and the header Holt looped over the bar, having exploited the uncertainty between the England centre-back and Tony Hibbert, very nearly punished the back four for their combined hesitancy. It would not be a surprise to see Jagielka dropped against Swansea City and Sylvain Distin restored to the starting line-up.

As long as Everton go on conceding goals – the first goal especially – the strain on the team’s already-weak strike force will only increase. When Everton give away the opening goal the desperation in the next attack is tangible, and the players’ touches become heavy, hesitant and the crowd responds in kind. It is a vicious circle that must be broken soon.

The problems in both areas of the pitch cannot be viewed in isolation – the defence must offer a solid base from which the attack can build, while the attack must lift the pressure on the defence by pegging back the opposition. The midfield, meanwhile, has to use the ball better – Everton dominated possession against Norwich, with 75% of the ball around the half-hour mark, but rarely after going behind did Everton cut Norwich open.

It took until the introduction of Drenthe for matters to change. The Dutch winger exploded onto the pitch, created the equaliser and nearly scored himself, the first Everton player after the Blues’ excellent start to take the game to the Canaries defence. Everton started at a furious tempo and looked like scoring imminently, but the threat died out when Norwich took the lead and did not return until Drenthe took to the field.

Drenthe may be inconsistent – he struggles at times to replicate that form minute to minute, never mind game to game – but at his best he is bordering on unplayable. A mix of pace, power and unpredictability, Drenthe is one of Everton’s few impact players. In a static team, the on-loan Real Madrid player’s capacity to break from midfield and support the lone striker in an instant has become vital, and Everton are a far more dangerous proposition when he is in the side.

Fitness permitting, Drenthe is certain to start against Swansea. The change in attitude he brought from the substitutes’ bench is one that needs to be replicated across the field, as three points are imperative against the Welsh side, and Drenthe will be largely responsible for delivering them if they do arrive.

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