Having dreamed of one another for so long, maybe the pairing of Marco Silva and Everton was destined to feel like something of an anti-climax. It is early in the season to make sweeping declarations about any team, but the Toffees look to be falling into a worryingly familiar pattern.
On a run of just one win from their first six Premier League games, Silva’s defining characteristic of ‘not being Sam Allardyce’ endeared him to the Goodison Park faithful at first. That good will is likely to wear off pretty quickly, however, if his side carry on as they are.
Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal was at least in keeping with one long-standing Everton tradition. It is over 22 years since they last beat the Gunners on the road, dating back to when Bruce Rioch was still in charge in north London.
The trouble is, little else about the current set-up is very ‘Everton’. There have been so many contradictions about the Farhad Moshiri era. David Unsworth bled blue and still nearly sent them tumbling into a relegation battle; they constantly require managerial changes, and all the while they suffer from a lack of consistency; they have spent in the region of £350million since the takeover and yet, there is still a tremendous amount of responsibility falling on the shoulders of players 21 or under.
Tom Davies, 20, was surprisingly given the captain’s armband at the Emirates. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has flitted between playing up front on his own and then fitting in behind Cenk Tosun. Mason Holgate and Jonjoe Kenny have also featured relatively regularly, though results like the home humbling at the hands of West Ham – the visitors’ only league victory of the season – will have done their confidence no good at all.
Such a depth of youngsters ought to enhance a club’s identity. At Everton, all it seems to do is abruptly curtail these players’ development. Even under David Moyes, there was a tendency to throw promising teenagers in at the deep end, a necessity due to a lack of financial muscle back then, meaning so many of them subsequently never fulfilled their potential.
A spine of young Evertonians, albeit several of them brought in from other academies, ought to at least enhance team spirit. This should be a squad, in theory, that cares deeply about Everton, despite its many new faces. Instead, there are reports of dressing room unrest and resentment towards Silva, who many feel is working them too hard in training.
The Portuguese, now in his third stint in English football in 16 months, has had this problem before. At Watford, he struggled to bring players aboard his vision once it became clear he wanted to leave. Similarly, at Everton, nobody is quite sure what he is building towards.
One of football’s oldest clichés is to take every game as it comes. Is that necessarily the best strategy, though, when the prospect of midtable mediocrity is already lurking and six games in, it looks difficult for Everton to meet their targets?
Speaking of which, what exactly is it that they are trying to achieve? The top six will likely be a closed shop, leaving the majority of clubs who aren’t battling relegation aspiring to be ‘the best of the rest’.
Even that is going to be difficult unless – and more spending awaits – January brings some astute signings. Phil Neville pointed out on Match of the Day 2 that since Romelu Lukaku left for Manchester United, his successors in attack have mustered 28 goals between them; that’s the combined tally of Oumar Niasse, Wayne Rooney, Tosun, Calvert-Lewin, and Sandro Ramirez.
Moshiri deserves credit, undoubtedly, for showing ambition, but it has come at the price of consistency and unity. Silva has not helped matters, not arriving with a clear idea of how he wants his team to play. It looks as though a 4-2-3-1 is how they are going to operate, but the manager must be questioning how effective such a system is going to be for as long as Tosun continues his goal drought.
There are positives to be taken from the new season. Silva knows how to get the best out of Richarlison, much of last season’s deadwood has gone, and some ostensibly very good players have arrived in their place.
Like anyone with new money, Everton are fast becoming a cautionary tale, uncertain quite what to do with it. In the meantime, they wander around the Premier League from week to week with no real sense of self, while nobody is entirely sure what they’re doing, or how they’re planning to do it.
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