That Old Cliché About Rome...

Everton have missed a few tricks in the opening weeks of Marco Silva’a first campaign in charge but time is needed for important players to become available and for things to gel as a whole

Lyndon Lloyd 13/09/2018 18comments  |  Jump to last

Like most Blues, I suspect, I came off the back of the Huddersfield game feeling pretty deflated and the international break has done little to dispel the nagging feeling that Everton have missed a few tricks in the opening weeks of Marco Silva'a first campaign in charge.

The Wolves result was palatable given the circumstances of Phil Jagielka's red card but the surrender of a 2-0 lead at Bournemouth and the failure to pick up another three points at home against the Terriers were just frustrating, particularly given the manner of the goals we conceded.

Regardless of the absent personnel the Saturday before last, Everton, at home, should have beaten Huddersfield and the fact that the team registered just one shot on target all afternoon doesn't even offer up the potentially mitigating argument that we battered them and the ball just wouldn't go in.

All-in-all, despite the attacking improvements in Everton's game that are demonstrable steps forward from Ronald Koeman's reign and that forgettable Sam Allardyce interlude, it was pretty uninspiring stuff, evocative of the frustrations from last season under the afore-mentioned managers.

With that foreboding sense that, in a macro sense, time is against Everton when it comes to cracking the ever-strengthening top six and establishing a foothold among that group, it's natural to feel a little antsy that Manchester United's unpredictable form under the mercurial Jose Mourinho and Unai Emery's uncertain start at Arsenal could be providing a big opportunity that the Blues might not exploit given the points already dropped this season.

As the old cliché goes, though, Rome wasn't built in a day and while there is very much a “results now” attitude prevalent in the modern age, it is still very early days in the Silva era. In the few months since Allardyce was turfed out, expectations of what the club can achieve this season have changed markedly since the doldrums of last term but they still need to be held in check by certain realities.

The first of which is simply a question of time. Silva may have come on board in May but he didn't get to start working with the squad until pre-season began in early July and even then there was the staggered return of various team members from the World Cup. Much of his focus was on building fitness and assessing what he had inherited with a view to reducing a bloated squad.

Roberto Martinez lauded his players for the speed with which they absorbed his methods early in his reign in 2013 and, that impotent attacking display against Huddersfield notwithstanding, there are signs that Silva's chosen way of playing has already rubbed off this season. Certainly Everton have made a better start than those worrying pre-season performances suggested they might.

When it comes to specific and significant changes, however — prime example: zonal marking — it's probably going to involve months and, perhaps, the further integration of certain individual players like Yerry Mina before the manager is happy that a chosen tactic has been fully taken on board. The interim period looks likely to test the patience, though, as opposition teams will, predictably, target that obvious Achilles heel.

Another reality is that Silva is essentially working with the same team as the one that finished last season, albeit with the additional challenges of unexpected suspensions and a slew of injuries to key players.

Richarlison is the only summer acquisition to have played more than one full game so far and his absence from the Huddersfield draw was keenly felt. As a creative and unpredictable outlet capable of chipping in with goals, he was an immediate upgrade to a team that struggled on those counts last season and there's a strong case for arguing that he alone could have made the difference against the Terriers.

Idrissa Gueye, meanwhile, has been struggling with a knee complaint, Theo Walcott was forced off last time out with a rib injury, Seamus Coleman sustained a stress fracture and Dominic Calvert-Lewin also picked up a knock on international duty this week, and all three of Mina, Bernard and Andre Gomes have been denied a debut, full or otherwise, to this point by injury. That hasn't allowed for much continuity in terms of team selection, an important ingredient when it comes to trying to build some momentum from week to week.

Then there's the fact that despite arguably accomplishing more than many were hoping over the summer in terms of squad pruning and recruitment, the lack of a reliable incoming striker has emerged as a concern and, perhaps, a priority for January.

Cenk Tosun has been conspicuous by his incredible work-rate so far but you find yourself wondering if a more rounded attacker capable of either creating something out of nothing, providing genuine pace in the central role, or simply being more clinical could compensate for a shortage of invention at times. Certainly, Oumar Niasse has been found wanting on his outings thus far and, given his tender age and particular skill-set, Calvert-Lewin was not going to be that kind of player for this season.

Perhaps Silva was banking on Richarlison to play that role as an auxiliary forward coming off the flanks and leveraging Tosun's industry, as was the case in the first couple of games, and he has been forced to punt while the Brazilian serves his current three-match ban.

Finally, though, there remain some question marks over the system at Everton and the personnel within the midfield particularly that, in concert with that defensive fragility, perhaps underpin what has been a solid start under Silva — the Portuguese is unbeaten so far, after all — but one which has left most Evertonians ruing the fact that the Blues didn't take a 100% record into the first international interruption to the campaign.

Favouring, as first Martinez and then Koeman and Allardyce did, a formation dependent on twin holding midfielders, Silva has effectively deploys four defensively-minded players down the middle (Gueye, Morgan Schneiderlin and the two centre-halves) with the fullbacks given license to go forward when Everton have the ball. Ordinarily, you would assume that the manager would prefer one of those two midfielders to operate in more of a box-to-box capacity but, unlike Gareth Barry for instance, neither Gueye nor Schneiderlin are all that effective in the final third. Tom Davies is more in that mold but he, too, continues to struggle to find any consistency in his game.

That can be offset to a degree if the fullbacks are genuinely producing as attacking outlets but Coleman has been mystifyingly off-form thus far and Leighton Baines hasn't been a consistent outlet. Pleasingly, Lucas Digne has slotted in nicely at left back and looks to be in the process of levering Baines out of the first-choice left back role but it was noticeable how infrequently either fullback got behind Huddersfield's defence to the byline in the last match.

Then there's the well-worn issue of the “number 10” role, nominally occupied by Gylfi Sigurdsson at the moment but with mixed results. In Richarlison's absence especially, the onus for producing something unexpected, for creating chances and generally being the heartbeat of the team has fallen on the Icelander's shoulders but while he seemed to respond against Southampton, he was found wanting against Huddersfield. At the heart of the issue is the fact that, lacking genuine ability to consistently take a man on, spray the ball around or dictate the tempo of a match, he is not a typical playmaker, although he has shown flashes that he could be.

Given his price tag, the pressure to utilise him as a focal point of the side and for Sigurdsson himself to deliver is high but in his year or so at Goodison Park, the conundrum of how to get a player who was as much a Talismanic driving force behind Swansea City as he is for his country to reproduce that role at Everton remains unsolved. And the longer that continues, the greater the need to find a different solution to the Blues's periodic shortages of creativity.

The answers could eventually come from Messers Bernard and Gomes in combination with Richarlison when all are fit and available. Though the former Brazilian operated mainly as a left winger at Shakhtar Donetsk, he has the technical ability and vision to operate across the forward line. That makes him versatile enough to play wide on the left and allow Richarlison to move into a more central role, deputise for Walcott on the right or, if he proves capable of adapting to the Premier League, assume responsibilities in the No 10 position, possibly at Sigurdsson's expense.

Gomes, meanwhile, opens the door for a new approach in midfield whereby one of the defensive midfielders is dispensed with, particularly at home, and he becomes the playmaker in the middle sitting behind the forward line. Much like Mikel Arteta when he arrived from Real Sociedad 13 years ago, the Portuguese midfielder has enormous potential and a loan switch to Goodison Park could be just the catalyst he needs to relaunch his career.

Blues fans are having to wait patiently to see both in action but the possibilities exist when both Gomes and Bernard are on the field are genuinely exciting. Obviously, however, they just have to get and stay fit! If and when they do, only then can we really feel as though we have moved on from the team that bumbled its way through last season to one more suited to Silva and Marcel Brands' vision.

In the interim, as frustrating as it is, that old chestnut of patience will remain the watchword. Time is needed for Silva to further impress on the team his preferred way of playing; for the injured players to return; and for this Everton side as a whole to gel into something altogether more effective in all departments.

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Reader Comments (18)

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Jerome Shields
1 Posted 13/09/2018 at 23:12:56
Lyndon, a very good summary of where Everton are at. . . More questions than answers se ems to be where we are at. There have been changes for the better in the style of play but the areas of concern you have named throughout the team have left Everton with less points than we should have at this juncture.

The other factor is that we have a fortunate run of games against lesser opposition and areas of concern have not been addressed game on game. Silva has set up the correct framework of play and the areas of concern are easily identified. The next three games will show us, whether Silva has the coaching ability to address these areas.

Ironically he could end up with the correct selection of players by default due to suspension and injury. But he still has players who are playing below the standard required and there are questions whether they have the ability to achieve that standard.

The good thing is the questions are clear, but we all have to wait to see if they are answered. I do get fed up waiting for Rome to be built and hope that we don't have three years of Silva's contract to wait with patience while he pisses about trying to answer them or seems to not know the obvious questions that are being asked, which need answers.

John Raftery
2 Posted 13/09/2018 at 23:20:57
Lyndon, for me, you have highlighted just how poor the squad was and the size of the task facing Brands and Silva in transforming performances and results. I agree that Richarlison might well have made the difference against Huddersfield. His form and that of the other summer signings will be critical to maintaining our current position in the league. Anything better than that before January will be surprising.

Your appraisal of Sigurdsson is spot on. He flits in and out of games. When teams mark him tightly, he concedes possession far too easily. Without the pace of Walcott and Richarlison in the team, the limitations of his play become even more exposed. It is not his fault of course but it was ridiculous to pay £45M for a player who, even at current inflated valuations, is not worth half that sum.

Mike Gaynes
3 Posted 14/09/2018 at 01:39:59
Good read, Lyndon, and generally on target.

I would debate two points. One, there's nothing "mystifying" about Coleman's form – he's 18 months off a horror injury that usually requires at least two years for a full recovery. I say give him the additional six months he needs. I'm betting he'll be back to full speed.

And two, as I posted on the Sigurdsson thread, I don't think there's anything wrong with Gylfi that a little more time in the Silva system won't fix. He's not a virtuoso creator, of course, but he has shown with Iceland that he's a premier #10 in a system where he can mesh with his teammates. It's all about timing and rhythm with Gylfi but, having played under four managers in 13 months, he's had no chance to establish that. Everybody on the club needs to get fully comfortable with Silva's new system. I predict Sigurdsson and, by extension, Tosun will become more and more productive over the next couple of months as they get the hang of the Silva attack theory.

I think you're spot on about Bernard, Gomes and Mina... they will bring a new excitement to the pitch when they're healthy and fully integrated into the system. But of course some of what they accomplish will be mitigated by the regular-as-clockwork disasters defending set pieces. Personally I've started running to the bathroom or the refrigerator whenever we give up a corner, and just hope I won't return to the sight of the opponent celebrating. Too often, I have.

Terence Leong
4 Posted 14/09/2018 at 01:54:18
I agree with Mike Gaynes.

For Sigurdsson, I think it's fair to say that he hasn't yet been given a sustained run in the No 10 role. Even while Rooney was in and out of the team, our Icelandic playmaker was helmed in by Big Sam's defensive tactics. What I am at least comforted by thus far, is his willingness to run and fight for the cause.

Likewise, for Tosun. So I think both of them will come good, when we give them a sustained run, with some consistency.

It's unfortunate that Coleman has the injury, but it's probably the only way for now for Kenny to kick on. With I think he would. Kenny's raw, but he's brave, and he's shown a willingness to keep improving.

As with the case of our central defence, Holgate will have the opportunity to build on that sustained run. If we are thinking ahead of improving and qualifying, then we need that strength in depth. Jags is on his way out. We might not have Zouma next season anyways.

It's frustrating to drop 4 points, but as Lyndon rightly points out, we have signs of improvement. And we have 3 players who can possibly take us to the next level, still out injured.

Mark Andersson
5 Posted 14/09/2018 at 01:55:38
A very interesting sobering read...

I feel Silva is in a no-win situation... meaning bad luck with injuries and suspension. The pressure will be on from fickle fans if we don't start winning games and keeping clean sheets.

So many fans were deflated after the last game Was it a one-off bad game... we need a good performance and a win in the next game...

As always, though, you can only live in hope that it all gels and we as fans can have something to smile about and feel confident of a brighter future..

For me, I will take it one game at a time and reserve judgment until the end of the season...

Karl Meighan
6 Posted 14/09/2018 at 02:18:15
For all the talk of systems with Sigurdsson, quality is quality; if he's a good enough player, he will find a way to impress – ' what makes a great player and why they make the difference.

No gifted footballer should need a team to play a certain way; they may be more effective in a certain position but, if they're good enough, their quality will shine through, no matter where they're asked to play.

I don't disagree with anything written in the article as such; after all, we're still unbeaten and that's not a bad start.

Mike Gaynes
7 Posted 14/09/2018 at 06:57:12
Karl, thing is, he's not a great player. He's just very good. My point is that the best thing about his game isn't pace, or dribbling, or striking... it's the way he meshes with his teammates and makes them better. I am confident he will do that for us.
Mike Allison
8 Posted 14/09/2018 at 07:30:02
The three draws are frustrating, especially when we were ahead in both away games, but only the Huddersfield game is definite ‘points dropped’ from where we should be. We’re two points down from that but there are some good signs and it makes sense to think we’re going to get better with time.
Christine Foster
9 Posted 14/09/2018 at 07:42:16
Last season, we had him on the wing with Rooney in the middle and Barkley on his bike. Whilst Rooney had no legs by Christmas, he was leading scorer and playmaker.

The clamour for the No 10 shirt to be filled by Sigurdsson was justified because of his price tag, not his performances, and so far he has not justified either the cost or value to the team. The real discussion will be: Can he fit into Everton or can we get more from him?

Personally, I think he is a good footballer but lacks the power-house engine or mercurial skill to continually open up defences or score goals. Methinks he flatters to deceive somewhat...

Richard Duff
10 Posted 14/09/2018 at 10:14:19
Watching us last season was truly painful and although we had good players on paper and a better squad than say the dark days of Walter, the style of play and lack of ambition was nothing short of embarrassing. Slow, devoid of confidence, fragile and dull, I believe we were only saved from relegation by there being worse teams than us, the occasional home win driven through fan pressure debilitating the opposition, and the fact that even despite the tactics and atmosphere around the team, good players can still make a difference.

Nobody who makes it to the Everton first team is a bad footballer.

Fast forward to this season and its clear that, with new tactics, new impetus a faster tempo, greater stability and balance, greater team spirit and a collective group that has "survived" the cull, our squad is feeling confident and are looking up rather than down.

Yes, we have not yet seen the full end-product from Gylfi or Tosun or Coleman or Davies but from what we have seen, they are working with renewed confidence and that alone will bring to the surface better performances. They are good players and it seems they are now in the right environment and frame of mind to show it.

We will continue to lose some points, will frustrate from time to time but the squad is healthier and a far higher standard. There is excitement amongst us (imagine how cool it must be for guys in the squad to have such talent joining them!) and the team is working for the team.

Worth noting that Watford have played 4 and won 4 with the same starting 11. If we can get settled and avoid injury, the league is ours to attack and a cup is there for the taking.

Tony Everan
11 Posted 14/09/2018 at 10:58:46
A good write-up, Lyndon, I think Mina will have a positive effect too when he enters the fray. At both ends of the pitch.

It was frustrating for all that we couldn't make any inroads against Huddersfield. Walcott looked most likely to cause trouble and even he was nullified. Lookman looked half asleep but still made the only decent chance in the 2nd half. Too many of the other players were only average at the very best.

I want to see Sigurdsson more involved – he is more often than not a peripheral figure. He does need to make that No 10 position his own... battling, creating and shooting from around the box. He has got the talent and guile to take games like Sunday's by the scruff of the neck and make a difference.

As you say, Rome wasn't built in a day, and a strong performance and win on Sunday against the “Hapless Hammers” will go some way to getting the momentum back.

Pat Kelly
12 Posted 14/09/2018 at 11:25:50
Maybe we should try signing fit players? Just a suggestion. It has worked elsewhere.
Michael Penley
13 Posted 14/09/2018 at 17:02:24
Is the "old cliche about Rome" to do with Rome burning? Who is Nero? Kenwright? There are a ton of Rome cliches, being a very old city, so it might have been an idea to let us in on the secret...
Kieran Kinsella
15 Posted 14/09/2018 at 17:14:28
Michael (#13),

I assume he means the "Rome wasn't built in a day" cliché although Rome was apparently built in a mere seven days in which case we are way behind schedule.

John G Davies
16 Posted 14/09/2018 at 17:58:41
As always Lyndon, bang on the money.
We have no choice but to remain patient.
Anyone who thinks ANY manager can turn around what we watched last season in three months is kidding themselves.
David Currie
17 Posted 14/09/2018 at 22:33:13
Christine 9, Good post regarding Sigurdsson. I think Silva will be wanting better than him and Tosun. I don't think they are good enough to get us higher than 7th place. None of the top 6 would have them anywhere near their first 11.
Jim Bennings
18 Posted 15/09/2018 at 20:12:42
For all the talk of systems and coaching blah blah too much technical stuff goes on these days, it's football, and football should not be a complicated game to play.

The players we have still never replaced are Lukaku and I go back further than that even, Arteta and Tim Cahill.

We have not got a powerful quick bustling centre-forward anymore capable of scoring frequently with either foot or head.

We have tried and tried to replace Arteta... we hoped it was Barkley – it wasn't; we are still hoping it can be Sigurdsson but it isn't looking like happening any time soon. So we are all hoping and pinning our hopes on it being Bernard but we still lack that creative bit of genius in the centre of the park, a dead ball specialist with 6–10 goals in his game being a welcome bonus.

We haven't replaced Tim Cahill for that sheer warrior's attitude and dynamic uncanny ability to score goals and his mobility.

We can talk about system after system but, until you get players capable of fitting into these systems, then it'll never work.

Pat Waine
19 Posted 27/09/2018 at 10:21:31
A good read and I agree with most of it. We have had a bad start against poor sides and we now will have a few difficult games to come.

The stat that bothers me most is that we only have one of the new signings that has played more than one full game. Mina and Gomes need to come in and hit the ground running. The Goodison crowd will not give them long to settle. Buying injured players may come back to haunt Silva if we suffer a few defeats in this period.

I believe that Koeman wrecked the club and the job faced by Silva and Brands is a huge one and they should be given time to deliver.

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