Kevin Mirallas, the source of the ‘lack’ in Everton’s attack

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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.

Arsenal hires Dortmund man who “found” Pulisic, Aubameyang

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Arsenal has a new head of recruitment, and he’s the scout who helped bring Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Christian Pulisic, and Ousmane Dembele to Borussia Dortmund.

The name is Sven Mislintat, and he’ll take the place of 25-year Arsenal vet Steve Rowley. Reports say Bayern Munich unsuccessfully recruited him in the summer.

[ MORE: Busy week for PL big boys ]

Mislintat also has perhaps the beck nickname of any scout in recent memory: “Diamond Eyes.”

Here’s Arsene Wenger on the move, from Arsenal.com:

“We are delighted that Sven is joining us. Identifying and developing talent is a core part of our philosophy and Sven has an outstanding track record over many years. We look forward to him taking our existing recruitment approach forwards.”

Congested schedule challenges Premier League big boys

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Every Premier League team will play two league matches in, at most, five days beginning with Leicester City’s trip to West Ham on Friday.

Throw in UEFA Champions League and Europa League, and this could throw a wrench into the Top Four ambitions the big boys.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked | What’s next for WBA? ]

The schedule and table status makes life a bit more forgiving for a number of the giants. Man City and Spurs have already advanced, while Manchester United is almost completely through the door. Arsenal’s onto the knockout rounds of Europa, too.

Liverpool and Chelsea can move on with wins over Sevilla and Qarabag, respectively, and the Reds get one more day’s rest before hosting the Blues. Traveling back from Azerbaijan and heading to Anfield makes life even harder for Chelsea.

The European competitions could be great news for all of next midweek’s opponents, but especially for Stoke and Swans. They’ll be getting Chelsea and Liverpool on the heels of two difficult matches each.

We’ll leave Everton out of this, having been eliminated from Europe and likely to start a very green squad from its deepest depth on Thursday.

Manchester City
vs. Feyenoord — Tuesday
at Huddersfield Town — Sunday
vs. Southampton — Nov. 29

Manchester United
at Basel — Wednesday
vs. Brighton — Saturday
at Watford — Nov. 28

Chelsea
at Qarabag — Wednesday
at Liverpool — Saturday
vs. Swansea City — Nov. 29

Arsenal
at Koln — Thursday
at Burnley — Sunday
vs. Huddersfield Town — Nov. 29

Tottenham Hotspur
at Borussia Dortmund — Tuesday
vs. West Bromwich Albion — Saturday
at Leicester City — Nov. 28

Liverpool
vs. Sevilla — Tuesday
vs. Chelsea — Saturday
at Stoke City — Nov. 29

PL Preview: Brighton vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke leads all-time 16W-14D-9L
  • First league meeting since 2006
  • Potters have won last 8 in series

Brighton and Hove Albion meets Stoke City for the first time in Premier League history when the two battle at the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Brighton is unbeaten in its last four PL matches, with a pair of away wins and two draws at home.

They’ve been led at the back end by Shane Duffy and in attack by Pascal Gross, but it’s been a well-traveled Premier League veteran filling the goals. Glenn Murray has historic motivation to keep scoring, knowing that a marker versus Stoke would make him the first Brighton player to ever score a goal in four successive top flight matches.

Stoke followed up its win over Watford with a draw against Leicester City. The Potters have two goals and four assists from Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, and three and one from Senegalese scorer Mame Biram Diouf.

What they’re saying

Brighton’s Chris Hughton on bagging wins“For a club like us to get back-to-back wins would show the level we are playing at. It’s tough. I remember being told by somebody with one of the promoted teams that they didn’t get their first away win until February-March. That can happen and it’s exactly the same for a team getting promoted to get back-to-wins. They are hard to come by. Any way we are able to do that would certainly be a major boost for us.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes on Xherdan ShaqiriHe is taking on more the role of the main instigator of our attacking threat. When he gets the ball, I think the whole team responds to that. You sense that maybe something’s going to happen. And I think the crowd sends it as well. And I know opposition team sense it too.”

Prediction

Few matches are more of a toss-up than this one, and there’s no recent match-ups on which to rest our heads. So we’ll side with the home team managing a point, and maybe a pair of old-timer goals from Murray and Peter Crouch, in a 1-1 draw.

Italy soccer chief resigns after failure to reach World Cup

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ROME (AP) Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio has resigned a week after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Monday’s announcement came following calls for a complete overhaul of the nation’s most popular sport, from the amateur leagues right up to Serie A and the national teams.

[ MORE: What’s next for West Brom? ]

Sweden’s playoff win over Italy kept the four-time champion out of the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was fired two days after the loss.

For the last week, Tavecchio has resisted calls to step down but he eventually lost the support of the federation’s board of directors.

Former federation chief Giancarlo Abete said as he left the board meeting where Tavecchio resigned that a new election would be held within 90 days.