For all the rave reviews the Everton attack received over the first eight weeks of the season the well has suddenly gone dry, having went goal-less in the last two matches.
It’s a predicament that has the blue side of Liverpool justifiably nervous ahead of the November 23rd derby.
The holding pair of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy is rock-solid defensively but the rest of the attack has hardly posed a threat of late.
The Leighton Baines-Steven Pienaar linkup that was so devastating last season has gone silent.
Baines was impressive early on, most notably on his two free-kicks against West Ham, but the danger he presented was almost always a one-man effort. Lately his exploits have tailed off, perhaps due to his growing defensive responsibilities although continuing to hear the rumors of Manchester United’s interest can’t help the situation.
While Baines will inevitably kick-on the bigger issue is with Pienaar, whose timidity and indecisiveness is crushing their partnership. The South African is a player who tends to wax and wane throughout the season but if Everton are to press on and compete with top clubs he needs to begin asserting himself, and fast.
The skill and lateral movement that Leon Osman used to dominate opponents last year and earn himself a call-up to the England squad has faded yet still, Roberto Martinez prefers him over Ross Barkley. The decision is one that bewilders, especially considering the dominance and big-play ability that Barkley displayed as a starter early on in the season. Martinez is likely trying to ensure Barkley avoids burning out but the time off seems to hurt the Englishman rather than help. He may be 19-years-old but he is so physically mature and influential that Everton need him starting every league match.
Without a doubt the biggest punch in the Toffee attack is Romelu Lukaku, but after five goals in his first five games he’s put up two blanks. It’s not a major worry for the Belgian as much as it for the team, who need to work harder at becoming less dependent on Lukaku’s scoring prowess. If the club is going to compete for the Champions League – the goal set out by Martinez in the summer – they must find different, more creative ways of putting the ball into the back of the net and not rely so heavily on the Chelsea loanee.
Without a doubt the biggest offensive blight of the season has been Kevin Mirallas, who looks a shadow of his former self. Along with Marouane Fellaini, Mirallas was the Toffees biggest offensive weapon last year, earning admirers from Old Trafford to the Emirates. Everton did well to hold onto the silky-skilled attacker this summer, keen on maintaining one of the biggest hopes in Belgium’s golden generation.
Mirallas’ darting runs and ferocious appetite earned him widespread admiration among Evertonians last year but eleven weeks into the current season and that love is starting to wane. He frequently cuts a frustrated figure, with both himself and others, and too often drops his head after making mistakes. His devastating pace and bottomless stamina also seems to be on short order, not to mention his inability to unlock defenses with trickery and link-up play.
It’s possible that Mirallas is suffering from the sophomore slump where recent transplants to the Premier League get ‘figured out’ by their opponents. But I think there’s something deeper at work here. Mirallas is no flash in the pan or one-trick pony. He has the talent to be a dominant force in England and the prospect of what he and Lukaku could pull off remains mouthwatering.
For a player who led the Greek League in scoring with 20 goals in 2011-12, the former Olympiacos man’s drop in form is a massive worry on Merseyside. Perhaps it’s time to hand him some time off to straighten his head. Steven Naismith is by no means the answer, but the Scot’s infectious energy can fill the gap while Mirallas (re)convinces himself that he can dominate at the highest level.