Everton is Performing Better Than It Seems

The idiom “do not judge a book by its cover”, applies to football because we should not always judge a team’s performance purely on their league position. Sure, the team’s ranking at the end of the season is the only parameter that matters. Still, as football analytics develops, numerous metrics are available to assess different aspects of a team’s output, which can provide a better understanding than just using results.

Football is a game of fine margins. A team can dominate their opponents for most of the match to go onto drawing or, even worse, losing a tie within a blink of an eye after slight moments of inattention. Although that is the nature of the sport, when analyzing a team, we must try to account for everything possible to objectively measure between the referee’s first and last whistle.

Measuring those variables will help in identifying trends, be it an attacker’s blunt finishing, a goalkeeper’s dip in form, or other factors that are beyond the control of managers, and can lead club owners and directors to analyze their team better and improve decision-making than if they only considered the league ranking without surrounding context.

Brighton is a famous example that the data fanatics will bring up. In the 2020/21 season, the Seagulls finished 16th, which did not indicate much progress over two seasons under Graham Potter’s tenure. However, the ownership and the sporting director maintained their faith rather than indulging in a tempting knee-jerk reaction by passing the managerial baton to another coach.

The rationale behind the decision was that Potter had built tactical foundations that would ultimately pay off in the long run. Furthermore, the underlying numbers suggested that Brighton was not meeting the expected output, which, if they did, would have led to much better results.

Analysts identified that Brighton was converting fewer chances than they should, represented by a higher expected goals (xG) value over goals scored. It also applied to the defensive unit that conceded more than the expected goals against (xGA) value.

The dreadful form of Matthew Ryan and a poor showing by the Brighton attackers in front of the goal led to these two statistical underperformances, which were largely solved in the following campaign, leading to the club from East Sussex finishing 9th at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

A club from Merseyside is suffering from a similar period of underachievement whose league position does not reflect the reality of their performances.

Statistical Evidence 

While crunching the numbers, Everton seems to be experiencing a sustained period of underperforming the expected figures on the offensive front. The chart below represents the average xG and goals scored this season. To keep it simple, look out for periods where the red trendline is above the green, which represents underperformance, with the justification being that the players did not convert as many chances into goals as expected.

A similar examination can assist in analyzing their defensive unit. The graph below illustrates that Everton does not have an issue at the back since the goals conceded generally fall in accordance with the expected value, with Jordan Pickford looking assured between the sticks.

Interestingly, as of the first week of March, Sean Dyche’s side has one of the best defensive records in the league. Only Arsenal, Manchester City, and Liverpool – the three teams competing for the title – have conceded fewer goals than Everton.

The extent of the underachievement has significantly impacted the team’s league position. The expected points table calculates the number of points a team should have accrued by considering the underlying metrics.

It will come to most fans’ surprise that this table puts Everton in eighth place – eight places away from their current league position, which includes a six-point deduction. However, even when discounting that, Everton is still four places off where the expected points model suggests they should be.

What is causing the offensive underperformance?

To lay it out simply, Everton players have been disastrous in front of goal – scoring 11 goals fewer than expected – the worst record in the Premier League. Their main striker, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, in particular, has endured a dire goalscoring form – having not scored since his winner against West Ham United on 29th October last year.

Although Calvert-Lewin remains a key asset for Dyche, who has shown faith by consistently giving him minutes, the striker must begin delivering to alleviate pressure from the intense relegation scrap Everton find themselves in.

The Englishman’s teammates have not helped either, with Beto, Arnaut Danjuma, and Neal Maupay (on loan at Brentford) being wasteful in front of goal.

Everton has also faced a few first-rate goalkeeping performances, with Fulham goalkeeper, Bernd Leno. performing outstandingly in their first match of the season and Alphonse Areola’s impressive showing at Goodison Park are notable examples.

Positive Outlook

Despite Everton’s underperformance, Dyche would not be too worried since he knows those fortunes can quickly change at this level when the attackers can get into the groove of finishing chances. Moreover, the manager will be satisfied that his team is creating a sufficient volume of offensive opportunities in the first place – notably higher than the relegation candidates.

Under Dyche, Everton’s defensive resilience has also become a strength yielding rewards. Their rigid off-ball system is difficult to penetrate and capable of forcing high turnovers, making them one of the meanest defensive units in the league.

Furthermore, Everton’s proficiency in set pieces makes them deadly in dead-ball situations where they are arguably the most threatening side in the senior division alongside Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.

Despite a tense year, Dyche has performed remarkably and laid the tactical foundations to build a competent team that can strive for more ambitious targets next season when, hopefully, there will be no off-field disturbance.

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