As the match preview on these pages indicated, it was difficult to overstate how important this match was for Marco Silva. Five straight defeats, six in the last seven Premier League games, and a further week at least in the relegation zone heading into a difficult trip to Brighton would have surely placed his job in dire jeopardy.
The clamour from the supporters has been for change and Silva delivered it today with five alterations to his starting XI (admittedly, some of them enforced by injury) while his team responded with an energy and determination that has been lacking for so much of the season so far.
That the Blues were still not guaranteed the points as the match moved into stoppage time at the end of the second half and needed Jordan Pickford to make a vital save late on was down to wasteful finishing and questionable decision-making in the final third; the issue that plagued them at times last term and a better kind of problem to have than dysfunctional systems and an apparent lack of the requisite spirit from the players.
The upshot was a 2-0 victory that should have been far greater. Manuel Pellegrini said after the match that had he been able to change 11 players at the half-way stage, he would have done; for all their talent and some impressive recent results, West Ham were dreadful but largely because Everton wouldn’t allow them to play their game. From the first whistle, there was a fire about Silva’s charges and while some of it was a little over-exuberant in the first couple of minutes, exemplified by Richarlison’s late slide tackle on Felipe Anderson that set up a free-kick that Manuel Lanzini despatched well wide, it was at least a sign that Everton were hell-bent on providing a response to their poor form.
Indeed, apart from a header by Pablo Fornals later in the first period, West Ham barely troubled the home side, who dominated the proceedings and could have been two or three up by the interval. Tom Davies, recalled to the side after Morgan Schneiderlin picked up a minor injury (we might never know if the England U21 man would have started anyway), will wonder how he didn’t open the scoring after seven minutes when Anderson inadvertently flicked Bernard’s corner into his path in the six yard box. No doubt focused on ensuring he put his first-time side-foot shot on target, he fired straight at goalkeeper Roberto Jiménez when it seemed easier to score.
In the 21st minute, Richarlison was released down the channel by Alex Iwobi and he cracked a shot off the outside of the post as the Nigerian revelled in his new central role playing instead of Gylfi Sigurdsson and the Brazilian ran the Hammers ragged in a fluid striking role that seemed to alternate between false nine, winger and centre-forward depending on the situation.
In between, Bernard had put Everton 1-0 up with a sublimely unorthodox goal in the 17th minute, ending a move that had started outside the Blues’ penalty area before slicing through the visitors’ left flank as Iwobi fed Theo Walcott and the latter threaded the diminutive Brazilian in. Not usually one to shoot early at the best of times, Bernard eschewed a first time shot from the angle, but instead cut back to his right, dragged the ball back away from Declan Rice, turned inside Arthur Masuaku with a drop of the shoulder and then just when it looked like he had overrun it and done too much, he prodded it under Roberto and into the net.
Goodison erupted as the No 20 celebrated with an unbridled passion and Everton were seemingly on their way to a comfortable victory. The second goal took an age to arrive, though it wasn’t for the want of trying. Everton have needed to put in a consistent display across 90 minutes and today they did, with Walcott a revelation in the wide-right role and Richarlison a constant menace across the front line.
Iwobi and Walcott both tried their luck from distance but weren’t able to unduly trouble the keeper, while Richarlison had a shot charged down just before half-time when Djibril Sidibé, another impressive performer on his first Premier League start, was probably the better option on the overlap to his right.
While Everton continued to assert their control over the contest into the second half, it wasn’t all plain sailing and while Everton’s aggressive pressing was hugely successful in harrying West Ham into mistakes and aiming balls forward towards Sebastian Haller, on the occasions that Pellegrini’s men were able to break the press, it opened up gaps in front of the Blues’ defence.
Fornals should have done better six minutes into the second half when he was picked out in a central position by a cross from the right but he bobbled his shot wide and when a poor kick by Pickford was headed forward to Fornals four minutes later, he failed to hit the target again, skying a half-volley into the Park End.
For the next 25 minutes it was all Everton, even after Andriy Yarmolenko, historical tormentor of the Toffees, was introduced by Pellegrini. Lucas Digne raked a direct free-kick inches wide of Roberto’s left-had post, Mina had two headers caught by the keeper and Walcott almost capped what would have been his best display under Silva when he blammed a rocket of a shot off the crossbar from 30 yards.
The best chance to put the game to bed before Sigurdsson eventually did in stoppage time fell to Iwobi, though, and, unfortunately, he failed to convert, instead toe-poking the ball at the keeper when, with a bit more composure, he could have tucked it either side of him.
Mina did have the ball in the back of the net from the resulting corner but, in a Collina-esque moment, referee Paul Tierney chalked it off for reasons best known to himself. The Colombian actually had to free himself of a shirt-pull to meet the dead-ball delivery and steer his header home and the only other remotely plausible situation was Gomes blocking off his marker. Either way, there was no deferral to VAR and a terrible decision stood.
Then, after Issa Diop had almost turned Walcott’s ball across the face into his own goal, Tierney doubled up on his incompetence with another mystifying decision, awarding a corner to the Hammers when Masuaku clearly took Sidibé’s legs challenging for the ball near the byline with seven minutes to go.
The result was the first set-piece of its kind that Everton had faced all afternoon and, in what was one of the few negatives from the day, they almost conceded in depressingly familiar fashion. Haller was unmarked to win the initial header that dropped to the feet of Angelo Ogbonna and he looked odds-on to score until his shot from close range deflected off Mina and Pickford reacted reflexively to kept out. It would prove to be a turning point in the match and Tierney was spared an angry inquest after the final whistle.
Thankfully, Sigurdsson would have the final word in a manner that will give Silva a greater dilemma moving forward than when the Icelandic international was sitting with zero goals to his name for the season. He had already forced Roberto into a one-handed save with his first involvement in the game a minute after replacing the exhausted Iwobi shortly after Moise Kean had come on for Walcott when he collected the ball outside the box in the second minute of stoppage time.
Feigning a shot with his left foot, he suckered Jack Wilshere into a lunging block before cutting the ball onto his right and sizing up an unstoppable shot that flew past the keeper and high into the net.
It was crowning moment of what was a well-deserved victory, one that vindicates the angst-ridden pleas for the manager to try something different. It was a day where the praise has rightly been spread throughout the team and a strong case was made for retaining that starting XI and formation for the next few matches.
Seamus Coleman will be eyeing an immediate return to the side after serving his one-match ban but Sidibé gave a very good account of himself in both a defensive and attacking capacity and there is no guarantee the Irishman will walk back into the line-up next weekend. Davies relished his first League start, offering a consistent route forward together with a tenacity in the middle of the park that was matched by Gomes. The Portuguese looked rusty in the early going, was a liability at times in front of his own box given his propensity to give away silly fouls and the heartbeat of the team, and yet had emerged by the end as one of the standout performers simply because of his calmness on the ball and ability to pick a pass.
Richarlison was a constant handful up front — the day he learns to stop throwing himself about might be the day he starts winning more free-kicks and penalties — his compatriot Bernard was his usual mix of inventiveness and profligacy but delivered what proved to be the winner, while Yerry Mina was again almost imperious at the back, the only nit being his inability to beat Haller in aerial duels.
It was the decision to move Iwobi into the No 10 role that made the most visible difference, however. The former Gunner was always showing for the ball in attacking areas and his movement, anticipation and forward thrusts really underscored what has been lacking with the more pedestrian Sigurdsson in the side. Silva cannot buckle to player stature on this one; Iwobi belongs in that position unless or until it becomes clear it isn’t working.
Of course, for all the positives, this was just one result and one performance on what needs to be a long road to redemption for the manager and his players. They set a benchmark today for the minimum effort, tempo and drive that his required in every game and they have to meet it now on a consistent basis because they proved how much better they are than recent form has suggested.
The big question mark over zonal marking and defending set-pieces remains out there — Everton faced just two corners on the day and came very close to conceding from the first so defeat at Brighton next weekend, particularly if it comes by way of a soft centre defending dead-ball situations, would surely put Silva back under the microscope.
In the meantime, there will be a sense of relief and some creeping optimism that things could steadily improve now as fans, players and coaches alike spend the week reflecting on a job well done. Let’s see what transpires at the Amex Stadium and then against Watford in the Carabao Cup before we get too carried away.
Marco Silva goes into a match that he himself has declared as "must-win" against a talented but unpredictable West Ham side.
Marco Silva says it is a “must-win” game. It very clearly is — the Blues can ill-afford to lose five on the bounce and a draw would be hugely unsatisfactory — but, is his neck really on the line for a win against the Hammers?
How he sets up what's left of his first-team squad, missing Coleman through suspension, Gbamin after surgery on his quadriceps muscle, Tosun to a groin strain and Delph through yet another injury (this time his hamstring), seems critical to discerning fans, but his reluctance to change things or play up-and-coming youngsters instead of his old and tired favourites is now why Everton languish in the bottom three, with the Hammers looking to jump up into the top three on the back of a win.
Silva, it seems, has finally seen sense: Schneiderlin is not involved and Sigurdsson is finally dropped, with Tom Davies partnering Andre Gomes in defensive midfield, and Iwobi given the prime creative role with Bernard and Walcott on the flanks and Richarlison leading the line.
It was a slow start after West Ham kicked off, with Davies trying to get Everton on the ball, but the flow went the other way and a rash challenge by Richarlison gave the Hammers an early set-piece opportunity that was driven wide by Lanzini.
There was some danger from a Digne long throw but it was ultimately cleared but Bernard drove forward and a corner was eventually won, but kept away from Richarlison.
Walcott did very well to control a ball, turn and shoot but it was deflected wide, and a series of corners, Davies having a massive chance at the back post that was saved point-blank on the line by Roberto Jimenez, when better placement would have seen the opening goal.
Everton were at least taking the game to the Hammers but it was not convincing, and a duller pattern soon transpired, with the Blues having to defend and unable to get that far forward. But a neat, almost amazing piece of ball control by Bernard was rewarded by a goal when the chance seemed gone when he checked back after getting in behind, a deft flick past Jimenez from a very narrow angle crossing the line for a very important opening goal.
Richarlison made a great run down the left but ran out of room with no-one there in support, more corners produced no more chances. But some great interplay put Richarlison through on goal, only for him to hit the outside of the post with his opportunist shot. Iwobi wriggled into a shooting position but his low drive was saved. Walcott was next to shoot from distance.
Fornals got the better of Keane on a long ball but Pickford saved easily as West Ham made a rare move to threaten, Everton defending competently and looking to move the ball forward with plenty of effort but not enough guile.
There was some good forward movement and running by Everton but the incisive and accurate passing wasn't there to create meaningful chances before the break, with Davies picking up a stupid yellow card for stopping West Hm from taking a free-kick.
Yarmelenko replaced Anderson as Everton worked the ball around well but Richarlison was yards offside as he hammered the ball into the Gwladys Street net. A slew of more offside decisions disrupted the flow of the game, Richarlison and Diop having a bit of a battle. Fornals got into a good position but screwed his shot wide, a warning that Everton's lead was very slender.
Some better play won the first corner of the second half, Mina's header too soft to beat the West Ham keeper. Everton were still controlling the pace of the game, with spells of good movement and pace, but the Hammers kept coming back at them, without really threatening. Walcott was fouled but Everton were too quick for the referee, who called it back, for a moderate effort from Digne tha bobbled wide,
A good spell of pressure won another corner, and a better Mina header that was still saved by Roberto. A fabulous strike by Walcott smacked the frame of the goal with Roberto well beaten. A clumsy foul at the other end by Gomes gave West Ham a rare set-piece chance, Pickford equal to Yarmelenko's strike.
Everton got their own chance for a set-piece but the rehearsed routine was spoilt by Mina moving offside too early, while West Ham continued to pose a limited threat despite using all their subs.
Iwobi got free and looked certain to score but poked his shot straight at the goalkeeper, Mina's header in from the corner was strangely disallowed for no apparent reason. Diop was finally carded for his excessive attentions on Richarlison. A lively Walcott ne-two saw the winger lash in a low cross that spun goalward off a defender's leg only to hit the keeper's head and fly over the bar!
Masuaka fouled Sidibe but Tierney gave West Ham a corner and the ball was played deep to back post but somehow Pickford kept the ball out. Kean replaced Walcott who had put in some good work but, as ever, failed to score. Sigurdsson then replaced Iwobi, who had also tried but should have done better, the Icelander having a great chance with his first touch, a shot parried away by the keeper.
Ajeti got behind the Blues defence but Pickford made himself big as the flag went up for offside. The second goal finally came, ad it was a peach from Sigurdsson, a fantastic strike from outside the Dee.
Scorers: Bernard (17'), Sigurdsson (90+3')
Everton: Pickford; Sidibe, Keane, Mina, Digne; Gomes [Y:90'], Davies [Y:45+3']; Walcott (85' Kean), Iwobi (87' Sigurdsson), Bernard; Richarlison.
Subs not Used: Lössl, Holgate, Baines, Baningime, Calvert-Lewin.
West Ham United: Roberto; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Masuaku; Rice [Y:70']; Felipe Anderson (46' Yarmolenko), Noble (74' Ajeti), Lanzini, Fornals (63' Wilshere); Haller.
Subs not Used: Martin, Balbuena, Zabaleta, Snodgrass.
It's a measure of Marco Silva's confidence in his ability to pull Everton out of their latest rut that he went as far as making a rod for his own back by declaring that this weekend's clash with West Ham at Goodison Park is a “must-win” game. It very clearly is — the Blues can ill-afford to lose five on the bounce and a draw would be hugely unsatisfactory — but, wittingly or otherwise, the Portuguese has established the pretext by which his superiors could oust him if things go awry against the Hammers.
Whether Farhad Moshiri and Marcel Brands would act or not in the event Everton go down to West Ham remains to be seen but the pressure from supporters would inevitably be ratcheted up to an unprecedented degree, surely leaving Silva dangling by a thread going into a tricky away fixture at Brighton if he isn't sacked before then.
If Silva is to save himself, there is a broad consensus that he must, after months of frustrating intransigence, finally change some key elements of his team and tactics. There are no guarantees these alterations would succeed, of course, but unless he shows a willingness to adapt, his Goodison tenure will die in a similar manner to that of his similarly intractable predecessors.
Bin zonal marking
The arguments over the effectiveness and widespread adoption of zonal marking at set-pieces have been heard repeatedly since Silva took over and they have merit in the broader context of the European game.
What has become abundantly clear over the last year or so, however, is that no matter how successful the tactic can be, whatever implementation of zonal marking Silva and his staff are asking the players to deploy (be it a true zonal system or a hybrid as the manager has intimated), isn't working. Everton simply don't have the players to implement it consistently or successfully and Evertonians are fed up to the back teeth of watching their team routinely concede from dead-ball situations, sometimes in humiliating and predictable fashion.
It was a weakness that League One Millwall, arguably the most one-dimensional and “agricultural” side that a Silva team has faced since he took over, exploited with embarrassing ease last January and it was clear that Sean Dyche had done his homework prior to Everton's last match. Burnley had the luxury of a trial run in the first half of a corner delivery that would pay dividends in the second despite the visitors having been given a clear warning. Jeff Hendrick duly profited with a far-post finish where he had earlier been denied by Jordan Pickford. He even had the option of cutting it back to Ben Mee in a central position if he so chose, such was the space afforded by Silva's defensive setup.
Despite being a man down following Seamus Coleman's dismissal, Everton have five players floating in zones, leaving three Burnley players unmarked, with Jeff Hendrick allowed to steal around the back to slam home the winner
Silva's rigid adherence to a defensive system that cost both Hull City and Watford goals while he was in charge at those two clubs looks likely to cost him his job at Everton unless he decides to scrap it or can find a way for his players to adopt it successfully. It's unlikely that many are going to have the patience for the latter scenario to play out if results don't improve and the defence doesn't stop leaking preventable goals from corners and free-kicks. Few expect him to abandon zonal marking and all the evidence to date points to it being his eventual undoing.
Ditch 4-2-3-1, drop Sigurdsson… or both
It's both baffling and worrying (in terms of the manager's continued tenure) that Silva hasn't been willing to experiment more with formations and the personnel at his disposal given how poor the performances and results have been so far this season. Everton haven't put in a decent display yet in 2019-20, they have lost five of their last six Premier League games and have scored just six goals in eight matches.
Whether it's through stubbornness, a fear of losing, or pandering to some of Everton's most expensive and highest-earning players, Silva has persisted in infuriating fashion with certain personnel and line-ups, even in the face of worsening results.
Last season, Theo Walcott was the man repeatedly called upon despite showing no evidence he could be effective; this time around, Gylfi Sigurdsson is selected week in, week out despite looking like a passenger for most of the new season. Perhaps because of the massive transfer fee and wages that Everton have spent on the Icelander and the goals he contributed last season, Silva has felt like Sigurdsson is undroppable but, again, for the sake of his job, he is going to have to either find a new role for him or drop him to the bench.
Sigurdsson as a nominal No 10 — “nominal” because he spends most of his time drifting wide to the right rather than staying central where he can better influence play — isn't working. His confidence appears to be shot and games are simply passing him by at the moment, with the consequence being that the lone striker is left isolated with no one to link play in forward areas.
The former Spurs and Swansea man, greeted with open arms as a set-piece king when he was signed by Ronald Koeman, has failed to score from a free-kick since joining Everton two years ago, produces very little from corners, and has been unreliable from the penalty spot. He has no goals and just one assist to his name this season and currently offers no justification for the fact that he is in the starting XI on a weekly basis.
At the very least, trying Alex Iwobi in the No 10 role, one to which he is much more suited than Sigurdsson, would be a welcome change. The new signing already has two goals to his name and, while he hasn't yet found consistency in Everton colours, he at least makes things happen in the final third.
Fundamentally, though, the 4-2-3-1 system and its two holding midfielders has, particularly at home, been an albatross around Everton's collective neck all season (and long before, truth be told). Together with the insistence on working everything out wide and trying to cross rather than mix things up occasionally by going through the middle, it has stifled the team's creativity and chance-creation abilities and needs to be changed immediately.
Silva's stated preference in the past has been to play 4-3-3, something that adds some context to reports that Everton were targeting Abdoulaye Doucouré over the summer, and while he will no doubt argue that he hasn't had the personnel to use that formation (a situation not helped by Jean-Phillppe Gbamin's long-term injury lay-off), he is running out of options to the point where he has nothing to lose by trying it now.
Whether it is dropping Sigurdsson or Alex Iwobi back to play alongside Fabian Delph and André Gomes or recalling Tom Davies, Silva has some things he can try in an effort to change the way his team goes about things in terms of build-up play and attacking. Of course, with Delph missing this weekend with a hamstring injury, Morgan Schneiderlin would be the more defensive of the midfield trio but the former Aston Villa and Man City midfielder's absence shouldn't preclude the manager going with something new against West Ham, even if it's going 4-4-2 for a change.
Play your most effective players
As a follow-on to the previous mentions of Sigurdsson and Walcott as players undeserving of repeated selection, there are strong arguments in favour of giving the likes of Iwobi and Bernard an extended run in the side, regardless of the formation.
Iwobi has been thrust into a failing team but has shown glimpses of what made a section of the Arsenal faithful disappointed to see him sold. Not everything he tries comes off but he has shown a willingness to at least do something other than continually float balls to the flanks where moves ultimately break down through lost possession or a cleared or blocked cross.
Similarly, Bernard can be hit and miss and, despite his ceaseless work-rate, isn't the best on the defensive side but the tricky Brazilian is guaranteed to produce two or three moments of class a game that can potentially lead to goals. More importantly, he brings the best out of Lucas Digne, perhaps the most reliable attacking outlet in the team over the course of the first 10 games of the campaign (including the Carabao Cup matches).
It's strange that Silva has consciously broken up what has clearly been the best partnership in the team by keeping Bernard on the bench in recent games and that is another black mark on the manager's awareness and utilisation of the various pieces at his disposal.
Pick a centre-forward
If there is one area of the side that has hamstrung Silva, it's up front but, again, he hasn't helped himself by not experimenting in this respect… except to throw on as many attacking substitutes as he can to vainly chase a losing position. The Portuguese has rotated through Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Moise Kean and Cenk Tosun without ever giving any of them a real opportunity to gather some momentum — although, again, the forwards' job has been made all the more difficult by a lack of support and a lack of decent service.
Calvert-Lewin has exhibited strength and aerial ability, Kean has shown he has trickery and a precocious desire to be direct towards goal, while Tosun's strengths are as a finisher. None of them can really succeed in an isolated role so it would seem to make sense to at least try deploying two of them together to see how the dynamic changes. Silva won't want to sacrifice width so Sigurdsson would be the obvious candidate to make way in the starting XI.
But if the manager refuses to countenance going 4-4-2, he should just pick one striker and give them a go at leading the line for a few games, particularly if he goes with 4-3-3 which could potentially close those large gaps between the centre-forward and midfield. Given his mobility and superior movement, there is a case to be made for Kean being given the job so we can finally see what he is all about.
Failing all of that, perhaps Richarlison is the one who can bail Silva out of this current mess. After all, he plays in a central role for Brazil and has scored goals worthy of any centre-forward already this season.
This will not be an easy game for Everton, who will make at least two changes given Coleman's and Delph's unavailability. There will unquestionably be unease among the Goodison faithful and the players would not be human if they weren't going into this one without a certain level of trepidation. Silva has called on the fans to give their backing and on his charges to show real strength of character but it won't count for much if some of the issues raised above haven't been addressed over the international break.
After flattering to deceive last season despite bringing in Manuel Pellegrini and a clutch of expensive acquisitions, West Ham look a more settled and dangerous side this term. In Sebastian Haller, they appear to have found a reliable, goalscoring centre-forward in a very English mould while Andriy Yarmolenko, a player the Blues know all too well, is in good form.
They're not infallible, of course, as their home defeat to Crystal Palace a fortnight ago and their humiliation at Oxford in the Carabao Cup showed but they will have more than enough to cause problems for an Everton team that has been suspect defensively and psychologically weak when falling behind. It doesn't help that the Toffees' record in these early Saturday kick-offs is poor.
This really will be a test of Silva's powers of coaching and motivation and, in the wake of the all commentary and analysis of his persistence with a failing system since the defeat at Turf Moor, a litmus test of whether or not he has the capacity or the awareness to change.
Kick-off: 12:30pm, Saturday 19 October, 2019
Referee: Paul Tierney
Last Time: Everton 1 - 3 West Ham
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Sidibé, Keane, Mina, Digne, Schneiderlin, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Iwobi, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin
Preferred Line-up: Pickford, Sidibé, Keane, Mina, Digne, Schneiderlin, Gomes, Iwobi, Bernard, Richarlison, Kean