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In the past 12 months a combination of astute transfer trading and tactical tweaking has reinvigorated an Everton team now earning rave reviews for its power, potency and panache.
But the Blues’ early-season form is nothing new. It has its origins in a masterful January transfer window, while that business has since been augmented by a shrewd, shrewd summer.
Here, with the help of an array of stats and some expert opinion from Joe Royle, we analyse why Everton are a team on the up.
DAVID MOYES is no fan of the transfer window. As a Premier League manager he is not alone in that respect – yet few handle them as well as the wily Scot.
But even by his standards, January 2012 was a tour de force.
Louis Saha’s goals had dried up, as had Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s early promise and Jack Rodwell was injured. What arrived was more than a tonic, it was a panacea.
The aforementioned, along with Tim Cahill and Joseph Yobo, have all since left the club, while last January’s arrivals – Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic – could now hardly be more influential.
In the following sections we look at the key factors fertilising the ripening sense of optimism at Goodison Park.
When both chairman and manager are so resolute in their advocacy of a player as Bill Kenwright and David Moyes were about Pienaar, it says an awful lot.
The proof with the South African is most certainly on the pitch.
Following his loan move from Spurs in January – a switch made permanent in July – he created more chances per game, set up more goals, won more free-kicks and completed more dribbles than any of his teammates in just four months. Also his ratio of minutes on the pitch to assists was the best in the Premier League.
In the chairman’s words, this summer ‘it had to be Steven’.
JOE ROYLE: “Pienaar just brings everyone on with him. He has always been terrific with Baines but I have never seen Fellaini in better form and both Osman and Gibson are thriving too. A lot of that is down to Pienaar’s influence. It was so clear last season when we were missing him at Wembley in a game where neither side really performed, yet a week or so later we were terrific against a very good Manchester United side at Old Trafford with Pienaar at the heart of it.”
A MAN ENJOYING HIS WORK
“I am here to score goals – that’s my job,” said Jelavic when he signed from Rangers in January. He didn’t disappoint.
The Croat scored 11 times in 13 starts to add to 17 at Ibrox, while a goal at the Euros took his 2011/12 total to a magnificent 29 in 51 appearances.
He got his first of the new season at Aston Villa with what has become his trademark – a ‘dummy run’ before checking out surreptitiously into a pocket of space and providing a lethal one-touch finish.
The first half of 2011/12 saw Everton bereft of a cutting edge. The previously reliable Saha had scored just twice in 20 games, while Cahill went throughout 2011 without finding the target.
Moyes was desperate for firepower and Jelavic was a revelation scoring a goal with, on average, his every 49th touch of a football.
The Blues have a 42 per cent win ratio of games in which he has featured. That rises to 50 per cent when he starts and 67 per cent when he scores.
JOE ROYLE: “In Jelavic they got someone with great movement and mobility. But more than that he is someone who wants to score goals and is a great finisher. That was so important because before you would see games Everton were on top in but they lacked that cutting edge that a goalscorer provides. Jelavic has been that man – his goals are a major, major plus for them.”
PANEL 1 – How Blues have improved since the January transfer window
Sept 1, 2011 - Jan 31, 2012.
Feb 1, 2012 - Aug 31, 2012.
Points per game
Goals per game
Goals against per game
Pienaar’s return and Jelavic’s arrival ended a particularly inauspicious spell in front of goal, and they remain integral to the Blues’ attacking chemistry.
But this summer has seen Moyes’ attacking arsenal replenished with the arrival of the exciting and versatile trio of Naismith, Mirallas and Oviedo.
Naismith is arguably Scotland’s pre-eminent footballer and a hat-trick in Tony Hibbert’s testimonial provided a telling glimpse of his eye for goal.
The 25-year-old can play all across the forward line, combines intelligent, elusive movement with neat link-up play and scores goals with his right foot, his left foot and his head.
He has a one in three ratio in his career and averages an assist every seven to eight games. Naismith also has a cunning knack of winning free-kicks in and around the box. In 2010/11 he was the most fouled player in the Champions League – despite Rangers’ elimination in the group stages.
Mirallas is another, like Naismith, who can play all across the forward line. A brace against Orient on his home debut gave a flavour but you get the distinct feeling there is so much more to come.
With 20 goals in 25 games last season Mirallas is a proven marksman with Champions League and international experience who – along with Naismith – should take some of the goalscoring burden off of Jelavic.
Less is known about the Costa Rican Oviedo, but at 22 he is a great age. A natural left footer, he’ll provide the cover and competition for Baines Everton haven’t had for some time while also giving an option on the left of midfield.
JOE ROYLE: “I honestly don’t know much about the new lads they have brought in but they come with pedigree and will give the manager options. Naismith has come in and started well after doing well in Scotland and is fitting in with the way Everton do things. New players need a little time but if you look at Everton’s squad now, it has a good look about it. They look as strong as they have done for a while.”
PANEL 2 – How Moyes has brought the age of his squad down in past two transfer windows
First-team players IN and OUT (September 1, 2011 - August 31, 2012)
Player/age when signed
Player/age when sold
Darron Gibson 24 years 3 months
Diniyar Bilyaletdinov 26 years 11 months
Steven Pienaar 30 years 4 months
Louis Saha 33 years 5 months
Nikica Jelavic 26 years 5 months
Tim Cahill 32 years 8 months
Steven Naismith 25 years 8 months
Joseph Yobo 31 years 11 months
Kevin Mirallas 24 years 10 months
Jack Rodwell 21 years 5 months 257
Bryan Oviedo 22 years 6 months
AVERAGE: 25 years 7 months
AVERAGE: 29 Years 3 months
*Only departing players to have featured in at least 10 league games included
**Not including James McFadden & Marcus Hahnemann who joined and departed club within stated period.
Everton’s lucky charm is more than just a lucky charm. The defeat at West Brom was the first time the Blues had a lost a league match involving the Irishman.
But the fact the game hinged on the injured Gibson’s 20th minute exit speaks volumes.
Likened to Lee Carsley for his selfless contribution, Gibson has become Everton’s fulcrum – a deep-lying playmaker who dictates tempo through an accomplished range of passing. Gibson’s completion rate was around 85 per cent last season and that was up to 90 per cent in the win over Villa and even higher before his early exit at the Hawthorns.
Without the ball he boasts tactical dexterity, sees danger early and gives the team an unshakeable foundation.
His presence also frees Fellaini to push on and the stats suggest the Blues pick up more points with the Belgian in an advanced role. Leon Osman is another who benefits from his presence with the perennially underrated homegrown star enjoying life alongside the former Manchester United player.
JOE ROYLE: “Darron Gibson came along and offered Everton something a bit different. He is always looking for the ball and always wants the ball – he is that important continuity player that a team needs. Plus the thing with Gibson is you get the impression there is much more to come from him. He can score goals and I think we’ll see more of that in the future as well.”
ROCK SOLID FOUNDATIONS
Such has been the strength of Everton’s back-line, Moyes needed only acquire some cover for Baines in the shape of Oviedo this summer.
The Blues have three proven centre-halves and just as much experience in the full-back areas. Phil Jagielka has started the 2012/13 campaign in exceptional form while the emerging Shane Duffy did himself no harm in pre-season. The Blues had the third best defensive record in the Premier League last season and you can’t see much changing on that front.
JOE ROYLE: “It has been a long, long time since anybody gave Everton the run-around. Nobody takes them apart. They have three top centre-halves and can choose two from three, while the likes of Neville, Hibbert and Baines are all so reliable. They are very good defensively.”
BIG JOE’S FINAL VERDICT: “Everton are looking strong. They are certainly a solid bet for the top six and if they can get their best team out every week and find some rhythm and continuity then you can’t rule out top four. The Manchester clubs have had funny starts and are conceding goals while Arsenal and Tottenham have made changes and don’t look overly convincing. I think there is an awful lot to be optimistic about for Everton.”
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