With the calendar set to be turned and unveil September, it’s up to you to decide whether it signals the dying embers of summer, or the beginning of autumn, and the point of change. Depends how much of a miserable get you are. Similarly, you can look at the start of our league season in a couple of different ways: we’ve a few new players come in, and we’ve 4 points from a tricky opening three games- or, you might be a bit concerned at the football we’ve seen so far. An acutely shite opening half against Stoke was momentarily lit up in such style that it may well have been from a pen brandished by Agent’s K and J from Men in Black. It erased all memory of the previous 45. It was abject misery watching a team devoid of any real idea, any discernible formation for that matter. In the interests of fairness, we were far better in the second half and were good value for the win.
Last Monday night was a pretty good away performance against a good side. Our resolute defence gave way late on courtesy of the kind of inexperienced mistake that is fair to expect every so often from a young player. Mason Holgate was excellent otherwise. But we have to be fair: we did ride our luck. At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, City are good team- so it must come in that context, but City finished the match having over twice as many shots as us (17 to our 8), and three times as many shots on target (6 to our 2, having played the entire second half with 10 men. A second half that you wouldn’t have believed City had a numerical disadvantage, such was their dominance).
Lastly to Sunday, and again we see a side with the shape and rigidity of a day old Come Dine With Me blancmange. There’s two ways to look at this again- Chelsea are going to be a good team again this season, but we didn’t even attempt to lay a glove on them. It was our third game in six days, tiredness was to be expected- a positive result was probably only marginally more likely than the suckers backing McGregor “only needs to catch him with a good left”. But the style of play was again, underwhelming. And that’s before we mention the Martinez-esque defending that allowed Chelsea’s lone striker to rise between three centre halves and nod home an unchallenged header that effectively ended the game as a contest.
I’m OK with the results so far, we’ve played good teams. As fans, there’s nothing wrong with thinking ‘ah we need time’, or ‘we’ll gel’- and to a certain extent that is right, we will definitely play better football than we have so far this season. But there are fifteen other sides having the exact same thoughts. It’s about what you do with it from here.
Too often there has been no plan other than to clip balls forward to Calvert-Lewin to contest out wide. Nobody close enough to support him. Players have, at times, looked confused and frustrated. Given the first of the really big buys under the Koeman/Walsh era was Yannick Bolasie, there has been a frustrating lack of width in his extended absence. With no guarantee of how Bolasie will look when he returns, to not invest in another wide player is a bit of a head-scratcher. Signing Gylfi Sigurðsson to play wide left adds to the confusion: a player who likes to drift inside toward goal leaves us with almost no width, given Leighton Baines can’t be expected to run the line as he did in years gone by- and we need to keep everything crossed that he doesn’t get injured, because there’s nothing behind him. This lack of width has been exasperated by Kevin Mirallas falling victim to his own hype and- from the sounds of things- falling out over a lack of game time.
The worry is, none of these problems are new, and while we’ve improved in some areas- massively so in a couple- we’ve stagnated in others.
Footy isn’t more complicated than this: get more of your players around the ball more often than the opposition can in a match, and you’ll probably do alright. At the moment, we’ve full backs who are struggling to get forward and offer meaningful support, central midfielders playing sideways, and isolation in front of them. After a full season thinking there’s no width or balance… We’re still thinking the same. We failed to register a single shot on target at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Same story the previous year at the Bridge. Again, not saying we should beat them. But given your mates had your ear in the pub before the Stoke game telling you how many characters/captains/winners we’d signed this season, it would be nice to see them puff their chests out and hold one another accountable on the pitch.
Koeman could play his compact style last year and rely on the fact he had Lukaku up top slotting more goals than you would reasonably expect with the chances he got. That’s the new xG thing you see on MOTD- as much of a high maintenance pain in the arse he was, he slotted goals. Koeman needs to breathe life and an identity into his team. They all need to be sure of their role, their purpose, and how it all knits together, because it’s all well and good being a tight arse down one end, you need the same kind of cohesion down the other end, too. People want a new striker, and while a top striker would obviously help us, it’s the play before it gets to the striker that we should be watching closest. I’ve said this before, but it needs saying again: for most teams, about a third of shots hit are on target. About a third of those shots you hit on target result in goals. If you’re blessed to have a Lukaku, you can get a better return than that- and that’s the difference between a pretty good season, and getting what your play deserves. We don’t have a Lukaku now. After 3 games this season, we’re averaging 7.67 shots per game. Only Swansea average less. We are averaging 2 shots on target. Only Swansea are averaging less. It’s really that bad.
Yes, we’ve been dealt a gobshite of an opening run of fixtures. Yes, like any side, we hope to improve beyond what other sides will want to improve themselves, and no, we shouldn’t write anything off three league games into the season. But there’s no bliss in ignorance. This team has to play better. The manager has to get more from them.
As always, for more nonsense, you can find me here: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings