The 2022-23 Premier League campaign is now suspended with a unique mid-season World Cup now interrupting the campaign for six weeks. So, how have Everton done so far?
It is tempting to immediately say badly, as Everton have lost three of their last four league matches and a Carabao Cup game, conceding nine goals and scoring just one in the process.
In addition, after Saturday’s defeat at Bournemouth they now sit 17th in the Premier League, just a point above the relegation zone.
In some ways it feels like it’s back to where this team spent so much of last season and while it’s probably too early to panic it does seem as though the campaign is in danger of unravelling. And the Premier League table ultimately doesn’t lie.
However, perhaps it’s worth trying to look as objectively as possible at the last few months and try to come to a dispassionate analysis of where the Toffees’ team really find itself.
In that frame of mind let’s start with the positives from the opening fifteen matches that the Blues’ have played.
This summer it was clear to all that Everton needed serious reinforcement in defence and Frank Lampard’s first signing in the window was the Burnley central defender Tarkowski.
He came on a free after running down his contract and with Burnley having dropped into the Championship and he was obviously keen to stay in the top flight.
Tarkowski has been an excellent addition to the squad providing very solid and consistent performances at centre-back so far this season.
And, he has been joined by another defender who’s acquistion represented something of a coup when he was signed: Conor Coady.
The Wolves player was unexpectedly made available for a loan when his then manager Bruno Lage appeared to no longer have any need for his services with claims Coady couldn’t operate effectively in his new-look back four.
The Toffees’ were able to snap him up and contrary to what Lage seemed to think, Coady has been thriving alongside Tarkowski in a two-man central defence.
Alongside these two centre-backs the Blues’ full-backs have also had a reasonably good first few months of the campaign.
Young right-back Nathan Patterson in particular had been a revelation coming in at the start of the season to play on the right with Seamus Coleman having been out injured again.
The former Rangers and Scotland star has always been considered a real attacking talent with his pace, energy and ability to cross the ball from the flank.
But he also showed a great deal of defensive nous and determination as well. And, his absence with injury again has coincided with the recent decline in Everton’s form.
While Ukraine international Mykolenko hasn’t had quite such a large impact and hasn’t been as consistent as he was at the back end of last season, he has been fairly solid and reliable enough defensively.
Between them they have at least for now, appeared to solve what had been a problem position for a long time in this Blues’ team.
More is needed from them when the campaign resumes (especially from Mykolenko in supporting the attack on his flank) but it’s an improvement to have two talented young full-backs in the squad.
However worryingly, that defensive improvement seemed to stall over the last few weeks with the Toffees’ backline having let in all those goals recently.
Better options in midfield.
Along with improving the woeful defence of last season, Lampard wanted to address the Toffees’ paucity of midfield options.
In particular, the lack of pace, energy and athleticism in the middle of the park, which had so often made Everton weak and easily bullied in the engine room.
The manager went into the market and added Idrissa Gueye who eventually returned to Merseyside after a long and very protracted transfer deal qwith PSG was finally concluded.
Lampard also swooped in and snapped up highly-rated young Belgian international Amadou Onana from Lille just as West Ham seemed certain to sign him.
Then finally, as the transfer window closed he added another young midfielder in James Garner who was lured away from Manchester United.
Onana and Garner cost a combined total of around £45 million. This outlay certainly raised some questions about the club’s priorities, especially as Everton so clearly needed more forwards after Richarlison’s departure to Spurs.
While the jury is still out on the two youngsters and Gueye’s form has dropped off after a solid start, overall it does give the manager much more choice and strength in depth, at least on paper.
And those players alongside Alex Iwobi, who has been the Blues’ best player so far playing in midfield, give some hope for sustained improvement in this crucial part of the team .
So, if those are the positives what are the negatives?
An attack not fit for purpose.
Let’s start with the single biggest problem obvious to us all: the team’s chronically anemic attack.
Last season Everton struggled badly enough to create and score goals. And, if you were to take away Richarlison’s ten league goals, then the Blues’ might well have gone down.
The Brazilian left early in the summer transfer window and despite having plenty of time to bring in at least one or two more forwards the Toffees’ only added Neal Maupay signed from Brighton very late in the window.
By the time Maupay signed – too late though to even play in the first game – Lampard had already lost Dominic Calvert-Lewin to yet another injury.
He and the club had seemingly gambled that the frail former England international would somehow stay fit and healthy and re-discover his best goalscoring form once the season kicked off.
Of course, none of that happened and Lampard has had to try and make do and mend without his main goalscoring threat.
Although Maupay, Anthony Gordon, Demarai Gray and Dwight McNeil have had their moments and scored a few goals, there’s been a constant lack of enough creativity and threat up front, all season long.
It’s been a particularly costly problem recently with Gordon and Gray badly out of form, Maupay hardly playing and McNeil still looking an real enigma.
Everton have managed just one goal in their last four games and now Calvert-Lewin is again out for who knows how long.
This issue makes it so much easier for opposing sides to press high and commit numbers to the attack, thereby overwhelming the Blues’ defensively, in the knowledge the Toffees’ don’t have any real threat to keep them honest and punish their mistakes.
That’s exactly what has been happening in recent matches. That combined with a drop off in form from several key players in midfield has left the Blues’ very vulnerable again.
If the club don’t do something substantial in the January window to strengthen the attacking options, this season is very likely to fall apart and could end with another desperate relegation battle.
And. I for one don’t think Everton can keep flirting with the drop and escaping by the skin of their teeth. Eventually this club will fall through the trap door.
So, in summary while there has been tangible progress and I don’t think this team is a bad as last season, much still needs to be done, primarily to considerably strengthen the failing attack which is dragging this side down.
If that doesn’t happen then I think the Blues’ will be back in the relegation battle come next February or March.
Fortunately, because of the World Cup break, Everton only have two matches before the window opens and apart from Manchester City, face four fixtures over that thirty days or so, which they could at their best possibly secure at least two or three wins from.
That period of the campaign could perhaps define the outcome of this season and of course Lampard’s own future.