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.

Top 25 players in the USMNT pool right now

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The European season is back in full flow, Major League Soccer is hitting its stretch run, and we have USMNT calendar news.

Yet it’s the transfer market that’s inspired us to revisit our periodic ranking of the top 25 players in the USMNT player pool.

Sergino Dest looks destined for either Barcelona or Bayern Munich, while Weston McKennie is off to Juventus and is currently learning midfield next to Adrien Rabiot, behind Aaron Ramsey, over Arthur, and under the watchful eye of Andrea Pirlo.

[ MORE: How 7 Americans fared in Bundesliga Wk 1 ]

If you’re the swooning type, here’s where you swoon.

It’s been 10 months and 10 days since our first rankings hit ProSoccerTalk and there’s been a pandemic pause, restart of one season, and beginning of another since our second.

Where is the player pool now? As a reminder, here are some ground rules:

  • The ranking is meant to illustrate who would be most likely to positively affect a USMNT match, regardless of manager or teammates, right now.
  • Health doesn’t matter to our rankings if a current injury isn’t one that could drastically alter the player’s skill set moving forward.
  • Age/potential/experience doesn’t matter either, at least not much; It’s how likely you are to contribute to the team if put on the field right now. Obviously Konrad de la Fuente is a better long-term prospect than 30-year-old Jozy Altidore, but most would rather have the Toronto FC man in a big spot right now.

Obviously there’s been plenty of movement.

Top 25 USMNT players – September 2020 

1. Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (1)

2. Tyler Adams, RB Leizpig (4) — Just out here scoring UCL tie-deciding goals

3. Weston McKennie, Juventus (2) — Oh, hi there. This is cool.

4. John Brooks, Wolfsburg (3)

5. Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund (13) — This is 17 years old? Come on.

6. Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders (8)

7. Sergino Dest, Ajax (5) — Barcelona or Bayern Munich?

8. Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (18) — Midfield?

9. Zack Steffen, Manchester City (9) — First Man City start probably comes Thursday.

10. Antonee Robinson, Fulham (10) — Come on, Scott Parker. Put him in there.

11. Timothy Weah, Lille (14) — Working back to fitness and form. Came off the bench in first three Ligue 1 games.

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12. Tyler Boyd, Besiktas (21) — Looking good in second full season with the Turkish giants

13. Julian Green, Greuther Furth (12)

14. Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy (25)

15. Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf (7)

16. Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew (NR) — If you’re yelling at this, I get it, but you’re not watching MLS. He’s been wonderful.

17. Matt Miazga, Chelsea (17) — Rumors of a Trabzonspor loan are interesting.

18. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Spurs (20) — Crushed it at Luton Town. Is Bournemouth next?

19. Darlington Nagbe, Columbus Crew (NR)

20. Reggie Cannon, Boavista (NR)

21. Brendan Aaronson, Philadelphia Union (NR) — Credit to Gregg Berhalter, who saw it before any of us.

22. Matt Turner, New England (NR) — Incredible season alert.

23. Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls (NR)

24. Tim Ream, Fulham (13)

25. Henry Wingo, Molde (NR) — Unsure where the Norwegian league rates in relation to MLS, but Wingo’s moved from non-regular with Seattle to starting right back on a team knocking on the door of the UEFA Champions League group stage. Plus I had like nine names I liked for spots 23, 24, and 25.

() last ranking

Notes

  • Columbus’ resurgence this season has seen Zardes and Nagbe shine. It’s difficult not to place them higher than we initially planned.
  • Judging the center back pool has become fraught. Chelsea’s Matt Miazga and Tottenham’s Cameron Carter-Vickers are on a loan recycling program and have done well but we haven’t really seen them outside of the Championship. MLS regulars Walker Zimmerman, Miles Robinson, and Aaron Long are good on inconsistent teams. After John Brooks, who knows?
  • Dropping out are DeAndre Yedlin, Jozy Altidore, Cristian Roldan, Ike Opara, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Miles Robinson, Paul Arriola, and Jackson Yueill.
  • Small sample size, but if you’re the top rated player on Besiktas then you’re Tyler Boyd and you’re getting a higher spot than we anticipated when we started the post.

Last five out: Chris Richards, Bayern Munich; Duane Holmes, Derby County; DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle United; Timothy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt; Frankie Amaya, FC Cincinnati.

Keep an eye on: Ulysses Llanez, Heerenveen (loan from Wolfsburg); Cole Bassett, Colorado Rapids; Julian Araujo, LA Galaxy; Chris Mueller, Orlando City; Konrad de la Fuente, Barcelona; Indiana Vassilev, Burton Albion (loan from Aston Villa); Paxton Pomykal, FC Dallas; Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC; Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders; Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC.

MLS upcoming schedule, MLS Cup odds

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MLS betting odds and upcoming schedule: Major League Soccer still has six weeks left of fixtures left in the regular season after its long-awaited return from the COVID-19 shutdown.

[ TRANSFER NEWS: Dest to Barcelona? ]

A full Wednesday slate of games will be highlighted by a meeting of Cascadia Cup rivals Portland and Seattle in Oregon with newer rivals NYCFC and Toronto matching wits and a 5 pm ET kickoff between Thierry Henry’s Montreal and Bruce Arena’s New England starting off the night.

The regular season is currently scheduled to end on Nov. 8, with the playoffs beginning that same week and culminating with MLS Cup on Dec. 12.

All of the games are available to watch on ESPN+.

Click here for MLS betting odds and different odds on soccer and beyond from our new official sports betting partner PointsBet, as there will be plenty of selections to make each week with game lines and more available via NBC Sports Bet.

[ MORE: Five-subs rule again voted down by Premier League clubs ]

This page will be updated following the completion of every round of games in 2020, to feature the upcoming set of fixtures and MLS betting odds.


This weekend’s MLS schedule and odds (via PointsBet)

Wednesday, Sept. 23

New England (-154) v Montreal ( +340) / Draw (+275) — 5 pm ET
Atlanta (+130) v FC Dallas (+175) / Draw (+230) — 7 pm ET
NYCFC (+130) v Toronto FC (+175) / Draw (+235) — 7 pm ET
Chicago Fire (-106) v Houston Dynamo (+225) / Draw (+255) — 7:30 pm ET
Cincinnati (+200) v Philadelphia (+125)/ Draw (+215) — 7:30 pm ET
Columbus (-150) v Minnesota (+320) / Draw (+275) — 7:30 pm ET
Sporting KC (-125) v Orlando City (+270) / Draw (+260) — 7:30 pm ET
Inter Miami (-115) v New York Red Bulls (+260) / Draw (+245) — 8 pm ET
Nashville (-150) v DC United (+350) / Draw (+260) — 8:30 pm ET
Colorado (-167) v San Jose (+340) / Draw (+300) — 9 pm ET
Real Salt Lake (+118) v LA Galaxy (+175) / Draw (+260) — 9:30 pm ET
Portland (+150) v Seattle (+135) / Draw (+260) — 10 pm ET
LAFC (-556) v Vancouver (+1000) / Draw (+525) — 10:30 pm ET

Saturday, Sept. 26 (Odds forthcoming)

Nashville ( ) v Houston ( ) / Draw ( ) — 3:30 pm ET
NYCFC ( ) v Cincinnati / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET

Sunday, Sept. 27 (Odds forthcoming)

DC United ( ) v New England ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7 pm ET
New York Red Bulls ( ) v Montreal ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7 pm ET
Philadelphia ( ) v Inter Miami ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET
Chicago ( ) v Atlanta ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET
Toronto ( ) v Columbus ( ) / Draw ( ) — 7:30 pm ET
Minnesota ( ) v Real Salt Lake ( ) / Draw ( ) — 8 pm ET
FC Dallas ( ) v Orlando City ( ) / Draw ( ) — 8:30 pm ET
Colorado ( ) v Sporting KC ( ) / Draw ( ) — 9 pm ET
Vancouver ( ) v Portland ( ) / Draw ( ) — 10 pm ET
LAFC ( ) v San Jose () / Draw ( ) — 10:30 pm ET
LA Galaxy ( ) v Seattle () / Draw ( ) — 10:30 pm ET


MLS Cup winner odds

Los Angeles FC (+450)
Toronto FC (+450)
Seattle Sounders (+800)
Philadelphia Union (+1100)
Atlanta United (+1400)
Columbus Crew (+1400)
LA Galaxy (+1800)
New York City FC (+1800)
Sporting KC (+1800)
Portland Timbers (+2000)
Minnesota United (+2500)
New England Revolution (+2500)
Orlando City SC (+2500)
New York Red Bulls (+3000)
Montreal Impact (+4000)
FC Dallas (+5000)
Real Salt Lake (+5000)
San Jose Earthquakes (+6000)
Chicago Fire (+10000)
Colorado Rapids (+10000)
D.C. United (+10000)
Houston Dynamo (+10000)
Inter Miami (+12500)
FC Cincinnati (+25000)
Vancouver Whitecaps (+25000)
Nashville SC (+30000)

Europa League: The biggest underdogs, how to watch, start time

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Tottenham Hotspur is hoping Macedonia is a bit kinder than Bulgaria.

A week after Spurs came back from a late deficit to beat 9-man Lokomotiv Plovdiv — a win in which many missed the key moments due to technical difficulties — Tottenham has to beat Shkendija in Tetovo to move within a win of the Europa League group stage.

Shkendija has become a regular participant in either the Champions League or Europa League but has been handled by most name opponents including AC Milan, Red Bull Salzburg, and Partizan Belgrade.

[ MORE: Europa League scoreboard ]

Ay, but here’s the rub: The home legs have all been close in those ties, all 1-0 losses, and this is a one-legged affair with the promise of a visit from either Rostov or Maccabi Haida on Oct. 1.

Mourinho branded Spurs’ schedule a ‘total joke’ but got some relief in a sense when Leyton Orient’s positive COVID-19 tests postponed Tuesday’s short trip across London.

It’s a 2pm ET kickoff on Thursday in Macedonia. Spurs are favored in a big way even away from home, with a Shkendija win paying off +1800 from some bookmakers.

Not bad considering Spurs have the second best odds to win the tournament behind (ducking) Arsenal.

A Shkendija win would not be the biggest upset of the day. Instead of talking about Sporting Lisbon versus Aberdeen or Galatasaray’s tough visit from Hajduk Split, let’s acknowledge the biggest underdogs of the penultimate round before the group stage.

NS Mura +1000 home to PSV Eindhoven

Underdog fun fact: The Slovenian hosts have technically only existed since 2013, having risen from the ashes of ND Mura 05, which itself began in 2005 by picking up the pieces of NK Mura. That club had been around since 1924.

Riga +1100 home to Celtic

Underdog fact: The young Latvian club was put together as a merger of two others and has already beaten CSKA Sofia, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Copenhagen in single matches during its European life.

Desna Chernihiv +1500 away to Wolfsburg

Underdog fact: Ukrainian side Desna handed West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko his senior debut at the age of 17. Yarmolenko scored four goals in nine appearances before signing for national giants Dynamo Kiev.

Shkendija +1800 home to Tottenham

Underdog fact: Once managed by former German national team striker Thomas Brdaric.

B36 Torshavn +1900 away to CSKA Sofia

Underdog fun fact: The White Tigers of the Faroe Islands have played in 51 European matches, winning just seven. Three of those have come this season.

Locomotive Tbilisi +4400 away to Granada

Underdog fun fact: The Georgian side stunned Russian mainstays Dinamo Moscow to make it this far. Safe to say the bookies don’t see them repeating the feat against La Liga opposition.


How to watch Shkendija – Tottenham + Europa League playoff round streams, start times

When: Wednesday and Thursday
Online: Bleacher Report Live


Europa League playoff round ties

All times ET

Wednesday
Apollon Limassol v Lech Poznan — Noon

Thursday
Ararat-Armenia v Celje — 10 am
KuPS v Suduva Marijampole — 11:30 am
Viktoria Plzen v Sonderjyske — Noon
Fehervar v Stade de Reims — Noon
Rostov v Maccabi Haifa — 12:30 pm
Riga v Celtic — 1 pm
Besiktas v Rio Ave — 1 pm
NS Mura v PSV Eindhoven — 1 pm
Sporting Charleroi v Partizan — 1 pm
Malmo v Lokmotiva Zagreb — 1 pm
Djurgardens v CFR Cluj — 1 pm
Rosenborg v Alanyaspor — 1 pm
CSKA Sofia v B36 Toshavn — 1 pm
FCSB v Slovan Liberec — 1:30 pm
Hapoel Be’er Sheva v Motherwell — 1:30 pm
Shkendija v Tottenham Hotspur — 2 pm
Galatasaray v Hajduk Split — 2 pm
Copenhagen v Piast Gliwice — 2 pm
Granada v Lokomotiv Tbilisi — 2pm
Standard Liege v Vojvodina — 2 pm
APOEL Nicosia v Zrinjski Mostar — 2pm
Sheriff Tiraspol v Dundalk — 2 pm
Sarajevo v Buducnost Podgorica — 2 pm
Klaksvikar Itrottarfelag v Dinamo Tbilisi — 2 pm
Wolfsburg v Desna Chernihiv — 2:15 pm
AC Milan v Bodo/Glimt — 2:30 pm
Basel v Anorthosis Famagusta — 2:30 pm
St Gallen v AEK Athens — 2:30 pm
LASK v DAC Dunajska Streda — 2:30 pm
Legia Warsaw v Drita — 2:30 pm
Floriania v Flora Tallinn — 2:30 pm
HNK Rijeka v Kolos Kovalivka — 2:45 pm
Sporting Lisbon v Aberdeen — 3 pm
Willem II Tilburg v Rangers — 3 pm

Reports: Ajax, Barcelona reach agreement over USMNT’s Dest

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Ronald Koeman couldn’t convince Sergino Dest to represent the Netherlands over the United States, but the Barcelona boss has reportedly talked the Ajax back into choosing the Blaugranas over the Bavarians.

Dest, 19, has been widely linked with Bayern Munich in recent weeks, though Barcelona was also mentioned with the caveat that Koeman would have to sell players to bring others in due to the La Liga outfit’s salary problems.

[ MORE: Mendy to Chelsea analysis ]

Wolves’ pursuit of Nelson Semedo and Atletico Madrid’s move for Luis Suarez may have opened the door for Dest, and multiple reports say Ajax and Barcelona have reached an agreement on a $22 million transfer with another $6 million in incentives in the deal.

Dest was named Ajax Young Talent of the Year last season and is also a member of the 2020 Golden Boy shortlist. He has two goals and six assists in 37 senior appearances for the club after coming through its vaunted academy. He’s also been linked with moves to Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur.

Capped thrice by the United States after the Yanks won a recruitment battle with the Netherlands, Dest went 90 minutes in eight of Ajax’s last 10 Eredivisie matches and came off the bench in their opening two Eredivisie matches of the 2020-21 campaign. That’s likely due to transfer issues.

Dest would become the second American to represent Barcelona on a matchday 18, just missing out on the honor of being first. Barca academy product Konrad de la Fuente signed a contract with the club this summer, and was an unused sub when the Blaugranas beat Napoli in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg on Aug. 8.