Deconstructing Everton: What’s gone wrong and stopping the rot

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This time last year Everton was undefeated with three wins to their name, quite a stunning difference to this season’s single victory that’s left them 14th in the table and one point from the drop.

Such a slide in form is typically attributed to the sale of key players or the acquisition of a new manager but for the Toffees, it’s quite the opposite. This summer business at Goodison Park was booming as the club tied up key players to long term deals (Seamus Coleman, John Stones, Ross Barkley), extended the contract of manager Robero Martinez and even convinced Romelu Lukaku to ditch uppity West London for the row-houses of Walton.

To say hopes were high for Bluenoses heading into the 2014-15 Premier League season would be an understatement: A strong, healthy core of players with an optimal mix of youth and experience. A young, likeable manager with creative, attacking ideas. A club with a distant, albeit foreseeable opportunity to achieve Champions League play through either a Top 4 finish or Europa League title.

Yet somehow, things have crumbled quickly for the Toffees. Below we explore four reasons for the early season woes and look at some potential solutions to stop the rot.

Howard’s Freshness

Tim Howard’s horror show against Crystal Palace last Sunday came at stark contrast to his performance just three days prior when he stood on his head making 12 saves in the 4-1 win over Wolfsburg. Bad matches will come and go but some believe Howard has lost his edge, as evidenced by the concession of a league-high 13 goals in five matches.

In fairness, however, the lion’s share of those goals have been the fault of slack defending among the back four rather than misjudgments by Howard. “I think the goals we conceded are quite soft and we got some basic errors and we lack a bit of intensity defensively,” Roberto Martinez said following the 3-2 loss to Palace. “On others we have been quite unfortunate – own goals, deflections – and you get periods like that.”

Nevertheless, one issue that’s cause for concern is Howard’s desire to play every match, even those like Tuesday night’s League Cup match to Swansea City where Martinez put out a b-squad and the Toffees were beaten 3-0. No question Howard is Everton’s surefire starter. But at 35-years-old additional recovery time can be a blessing meaning rotation with backup Joel Robles, certainly for non-league matches, feels like an obvious decision Martinez needs to make.

Back Four Shake-Up

Nine goals. That’s the difference in goals conceded between this time last year (4) and this season (13). And while all three goals from last week’s loss to Palace fall directly on the shoulders of Howard, the remaining 10 goals are almost entirely the fault of a disjointed back four.

The leader, Phil Jagielka, has been anything but that. In a matter of months he’s gone from a drill sergeant to vocally meek. With Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman eager to fly up the pitch the control factor rests with Jagielka, who needs to ensure the defense remains balanced. If that means keeping Baines or Coleman back, or hassling Gareth Barry or James McCarthy into a cover role, so be it.

Physically, Jagielka looks off-the-mark as well. Known as one of the best center-backs in the league at last-ditch tackles, the 32-year-old seems to have lost a good deal of his lateral sprite. The team has kept quiet on any injury but whatever is plaguing him needs to be addressed, and quickly.

As for his center-back partner, Sylvain Distin, age seems to finally be catching up with the 36-year-old. Despite having notable pace Distin has been caught flat-footed on a number of occasions while his nervy touch continues to let him down. Non-league matches and the occasional Premier League match will do Sylvain well but the time has come for John Stones to be handed the reigns alongside Jagielka. At 20-years-old Stones’ youth is a cause of concern but his positioning, intelligence and slick touch on the ball prove him wise beyond his years. At 6’2″ Stones has good height and seems to have grown a decent amount since last season. Continued work in the weight room could soon see him morph into a monster but even as is, Stones should be the starting partner alongside Jagielka.

At full-back an off season last year has seen Baines return stronger and more determined while Coleman continues to impress. As noted before, all-out attacks from both sides must be chosen wisely but it’s hard to knock this pair.

European Dedication

Roberto Martinez has made clear his aspirations for European glory:

“Last year we had to work so hard for 38 games to achieve that, it would be nonsense to say we don’t want to be giving it everything we’ve got. As long as people understand that making changes to the line-up doesn’t mean you don’t care about a competition. We really want to go all the way in the Europa League.”

With a Champions League spot on the line, it’s hard to argue with that kind of logic. Surely, Everton should try their best to win the Europa League. But that kind of dedication comes at a cost, as seen this past week when they thumped Wolfsburg 4-1 before succumbing to Crystal Palace 3-2.

Those kind of lopsided performances have to be overcome and Martinez could have benefitted from some fresher legs against Palace if substitutions against Wolfsburg had been made earlier. Notably, after going up 3-0 to Wolfsburg after 47 minutes, Martienz waited until the final eight minutes of the match to make two of his three substitutions. Lineup rotation can be difficult in such a small club but smarter substitutions will be key to preserving fresh legs moving forward.

Loss of the Boss

When Ross Barkley went down in August with MCL ligament damage, so too did the hearts of Evertonians. Barkley was a revelation last year with his bombing runs, stunning strikes and playmaking ability, he was the attacking midfield cog that set Lukaku free.

Without Barkley, there is no true playmaker in the Everton midfield. McCarthy can create from the deep-lying role and Kevin Mirallas can break opposition off the dribble but both lack the consistency and transitional devastation that Barkley provides. In the 20-year-old’s place Aiden McGeady and Steven Naismith have deputized well but the former is more dangerous on the wing (and has yet to come into his own) while the latter has had a fantastic season but lacks the back-tracking and well-rounded ability of Barkley.

Along with Lukaku and Mirallas, Barkley is absolutely crucial to the success of the Everton attack. His return, currently slated for mid-October, will be a massive lift for the Toffees.

Transfer news: Liverpool line up double swoop, Morales in demand

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The latest transfer news continues across the Premier League and here’s a look at some of the juiciest rumors.

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Liverpool have been linked with a double swoop on Borussia Monchenglabach.

German outlet Express claim that Jurgen Klopp is keen on signing Denis Zakaria and Marcus Thuram from ‘Gladbach this summer as the deal could be close to $110 million for both players. Thurman, 22 and Zakaria, 23, have been mainstays as Monchenglabach have hung in the top four race in the Bundesliga and they are both coveted by many of Europe’s top teams as rising stars.

Zakaria is a Swiss international who is a holding midfielder, while Thurman (son of France and Barcelona legend Lillian) is a center forward who has scored 10 goals in all competitions.

Manchester United and Arsenal are said to be interested in signing Zakaria who is a tall, powerful holding midfielder. Central midfield is an area where Liverpool need to strengthen as James Milner is nearing the end of his career, while Fabinho’s 2019-20 has been impacted by injuries and a loss of form and Naby Keita’s Liverpool career continues to falter.

As for Thuram (his agent is Mino Raiola) he would be seen as a back up striker who could step in for Roberto Firmino. Any player arriving at Liverpool will know it will be difficult to dislodge the front three of Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah but a young forward like Thuram will be eager to play his part and wait for his chance. With Rhian Brewster, 20, out on loan at Swansea City and still developing, Liverpool only currently have Divock Origi as a back up striker.

Klopp loves recruiting players from his homeland in Germany and sporting director Michael Edwards is also keen on trying to sign Timo Werner and Jadon Sancho in the coming months. Zakaria and Thurman would perhaps be easier targets to sign given the fact they’d be fine with initially being squad players and working their way into this Liverpool side.


Colombian striker Alfredo Morales is reportedly set to leave Glasgow Rangers as Steven Gerrard is lining up a replacement for him, as Liverpool’s young striker Rhian Brewster could be a loan option.

According to talkSPORT, Leicester, Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa are all interested in a move for Morales, while Sevilla, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan are all said to be keen on signing the hot-headed forward. Morelos has been sent off five times this season alone, but he has scored 29 goals in all competitions for Rangers who are reportedly resigned to losing him when the transfer window reopens.

Morelos, 23, has been a huge hit in Scotland and was a big part of Rangers’ run to the last 16 of the Europa League before the season was halted. El Bufalo is a physical player with an eye for goal and his close dribbling and pace suggests he would be a hit for a midtable Premier League club.

Leicester seems like a good landing spot for Morales, especially as the Foxes look likely to be able to offer Champions League action next season. Jamie Vardy, 33, continues to defy father time with his incredible 2019-20 campaign so far but even though Ayoze Perez, Harvey Barnes, Kelechi Iheanacho and James Maddison have chipped in with goals, Leicester badly miss Vardy when he’s out. Morelos could also partner Vardy, as Brendan Rodgers has shown plenty of flexibility with his formation.

Liverpool reverse furlough decision

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Liverpool have announced they will no longer seek financial help from the UK government to pay non-playing staff during the coronavirus pandemic with the furlough scheme.

Over the weekend Liverpool announced they would take advantage of the furlough scheme from the UK government, which will pay 80 percent of wages of any staff impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Liverpool had announced that staff not needed over the next few weeks would be paid 80 percent of their wages by the UK government and they would make up the remaining 20 percent as part of the furlough scheme.

That decision by their billionaire American owners the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) enraged Liverpool’s fanbase.

Peter Moore, the chief executive officer of the runaway Premier League leaders, announced on Monday that the decision would be reversed after talks which included supporters groups, the Mayor of Liverpool and FSG.

“We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week to announce that we intended to apply to the Coronavirus Retention Scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar, and are truly sorry for that,” Moore said. “Our intentions were, and still are, to ensure the entire workforce is given as much protection as possible from redundancy and/or loss of earnings during this unprecedented period. We are therefore committed to finding alternative ways to operate while there are no football matches being played that ensures we are not applying for the government relief scheme.”

Moore added that Liverpool will be financially impacted by this crisis and they are trying to find ways to offset the loss of revenue due to the season being suspended.

“But in the spirit of transparency we must also be clear, despite the fact we were in a healthy position prior to this crisis, our revenues have been shut off yet our outgoings remain. And like almost every sector of society, there is great uncertainty and concern over our present and future. Like any responsible employer concerned for its workers in the current situation, the club continues to prepare for a range of different scenarios, around when football can return to operating as it did before the pandemic. These scenarios range from best case to worst and everything in between,” Moore continued.

“It is an unavoidable truth that several of these scenarios involve a massive downturn in revenue, with correspondingly unprecedented operating losses. Having these vital financial resources so profoundly impacted would obviously negatively affect our ability to operate as we previously have. We are engaged in the process of exploring all avenues within our scope to limit the inevitable damage. We thank the many amazing people in our club, at all levels, who are committed to helping us do just that, despite the complexity and unpredictability in the world and our industry.”

The backlash against Liverpool’s decision follows plenty of criticism for Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur who did the same, as many leading voices believe that the billionaire owners of Premier League clubs should be paying their staff during this unprecedented pandemic instead of getting help from the government.

Many Liverpool’s fans and former players slammed the initial decision so it is good to those concerns have been addressed, as the Reds recorded a pre-tax profit of $51 million last year alone and $153 million profit the year before that.

VOTE: Premier League March Madness playoff final

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Our Premier League March Madness tournament began on Monday and we had some early drama in the relegation playoff semifinals.

The opening two games of our bracket produced two surprise winners, as #20 Norwich City edged out #17 Watford after winning 50.48 percent of the vote, while #19 Aston Villa comfortably beat #18 Bournemouth with 62.14 percent of votes.

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That means Norwich will now face Aston Villa in the final, and Villa won both of their meetings in the Premier League this season. The first with a 5-1 win at Carrow Road, the second with a undeserved home win at Villa Park.

What do the winners get? If you win the relegation playoff final you are exempt from relegation and finish as the 2020 tournament as #17 seed, while the runner up will be relegated along with the two semifinal losers.

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final
Tuesday: Sweet 16
Wednesday: Elite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Plus, our own Nick Mendola handicapped the field and here is who he thinks will be the favorites to win it all and which teams you should look out for as dark horses over the next few days. His predictions are wild and Arsenal fans will want to prove he is correct and they pick up a first piece of silverware under Mikel Arteta.

Okay, vote below (until 3 p.m. ET) for the two relegation playoff finalists as our Premier League March Madness tournament continues!

Report: Premier League prepares for June return

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The Premier League is reportedly preparing to return to action in June as the current season remains suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Multiple reports across the UK, including this one from the Daily Mirror, claim that the government has given the Premier League the green light to return to action from June, provided the situation has improved as expected by then.

Per the report, Premier League clubs have been told that they should prepare for games to be played from June 1 onwards behind closed doors and there is a ‘tentative agreement for the top flight to resume behind closed doors after the 20 clubs mapped out a plan with senior officials on a resumption of matches.’

The report adds that ‘in principle, with government health officials hopeful of a coronavirus peak in the UK in the next few weeks, they will sanction games under strict guidelines.’ 

Plans are in place for players to be isolated together and away from the public, as they could begin training in May so they can prepare for the current campaign resuming.

With the situation in the UK deteriorating over the last week and the country on lockdown, these tentative plans can of course change quickly.

Premier League players have had differing views on what should happen to the 2019-20 season and Luke Shaw is the latest to say games should not be played behind closed doors. But if teams play two games per week in empty stadiums or training grounds from June 1, there is the real possibility the season could be finished by the start of July and then FA Cup and Europe competitions could follow.

The overwhelming feeling from Premier League clubs, the league itself and many other individuals is that the 2019-20 season should be finished whenever it is safe to do so. Recent PL club meetings came to that agreement and that is the official stance.

However, the next big question is whether or not fans will be able to attend games for the rest of the season and this report seems to suggest that is totally off the table and if the current campaign is concluded, fans will not be present.