Yet another season has passed Everton by after their 3-2 embarrassment at the hands of Millwall on Saturday.
That FA Cup exit has effectively ended their season, with the Toffees now sitting 11th in the Premier League table, 14 points adrift of the Premier League’s top six, which they were supposed to gatecrash in this campaign.
However, that defeat and Everton’s current lack of form is simply another step along what has been a bumpy road for the club in recent years, with star players leaving without a replacement, an expensive hiring and firing policy of managers and constant restructuring at all levels above the Goodison Park dugout.
And while there is no questioning Farhad Moshiri’s commitment to the cause at Everton, the Iranian businessman has flushed an enormous amount of cash away on Merseyside so far with very little success to show for it.
So, of all the mistakes made at the club since his arrival, which have hurt Everton the most? And what must Marco Silva do to make sure he doesn’t get added to managerial obituary list in L4?
1. Not replacing Lukaku
You wouldn’t think it due to his inconsistency at Manchester United, but Romelu Lukaku is Everton’s top goalscorer in the Premier League era, netting 68 times during his four seasons with the club.
The giant Belgian might lack a little finesse with the ball but get him charging at a back four or one-on-one with a goalkeeper and he really can be a sight to behold, tearing through the opposition like a runaway locomotive.
His sale to Manchester United in 2017 had an air of inevitability about it and had been on the cards for some time, allowing for more than ample time for the Everton hierarchy to identify a suitable replacement on which to spend their £75m haul.
The only problem? They did anything but. Instead, they paid a cut-price £5.4m to bring in Sandro Ramirez from Malaga, with the Spaniard scoring a grand total of one goal in 16 appearances for the club. So, what happened to the rest of the Lukaku money?
Well, unlike the famed ‘Arteta money’ Everton did, at least, spend it on players, although ‘spend’ is probably a generous description; the Toffees squandered and frittered huge sums on a host of No.10s without actually replacing their main goalscorer.
To this day, Everton still haven’t filled that Lukaku-sized hole, with the likes of Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin struggling so much that Silva has been forced to deploy Richarlison as a makeshift centre-forward. As a result, Everton can often look bereft of ideas with the ball, recycling possession with absolutely no purpose, drawing more and more pressure from their supporters, leading to a nervousness throughout the squad which can be felt for miles around.
2. Over-backing Koeman
One of the first things Moshiri did when he gained his majority share at Goodison Park was dismiss Roberto Martinez as manager.
The Iranian was right to do it; despite a record 72 points in his first season, Martinez led Everton to successive 11th-place finishes in the Premier League, completely forgot how to defend in the most basic manner and blew two cup semi-finals in the space of a couple of months in his final campaign.
Following his dismissal, Moshiri made no secret over who was his number one target, going all out to prise Ronald Koeman away from Southampton. Initially, things seemed to go well; Everton finished seventh in the Dutchman’s first season and were a country mile clear of Koeman’s former employers in eighth.
However, that was a false dawn. Everton then went on a summer of unprecedented spending, splashing out a combined total of £206.73m to bring nine players to Merseyside and in one window, Everton went from astute buyers shuffling through the shelves of Aldi for bargains to taking an open cheque book to Waitrose and walking out with whatever they launched into their trolley.
As previously mentioned, not a single penny of that £206.73m was spent on an adequate replacement for Lukaku and was instead spent on signing three replacements for Ross Barkley, who was due to leave for Chelsea in January 2018. Everton fell to hopeless defeat after hopeless defeat, crashing out of the Europa League group stage in almost comedic fashion, while Koeman’s insistence on trying to field as many of his shiny new No.10s as possible into the same team smacked of a child desperate to justify to his parents that he really did need that many toys.
Koeman was sacked just nine games into the 2017/18 season, with the club still paying off his enormous salary to this day.
3. Steve Walsh
While his sacking meant that Koeman bore the initial brunt of the Evertonian resentment, it wasn’t long until attention was turned to the man in charge of the club’s transfer strategy: Steve Walsh.
Walsh was appointed as Everton’s director of football in July 2016 as a result of his success at Leicester City, where he helped to unearth title-winning gems such as Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante.
Walsh was supposed to bring a clear vision and market strategy to Everton, refining the way Moshiri splashed his cash to make sure the club maintained a clear identity.
Instead, the 54-year-old picked out Ferraris with flat tyres and huge price-tags and brought in a crop of players that robbed Everton of any of that aforementioned identity.
Koeman cannot be blameless for Everton’s floundering last season, his tactical and personal stubbornness drew the ire of Evertonians and left Moshiri with no choice but to swing the axe, but Walsh certainly pushed the Dutchman down the path and provided him with a squad of players with about as much balance as Jack Sparrow after a boat full of rum. Between them, Koeman and Walsh put Everton years behind the ‘big six’ when they were supposed to be the ones most equipped break their stranglehold.
4. Sam Allardyce
So, with Everton in a supposed crisis and in dire need of a captain to steady the ship, Moshiri turned to Sam Allardyce to steer the club away from danger.
On the face of it, the former England manager did pretty well, losing just six of his 24 games in charge at Goodison Park.
However, to truly understand just how bad Allardyce’s time at Everton was, a myth must be dispelled; the Toffees were in 13th place in the Premier League when the Dudley-born man took up the hot seat, not in the relegation-threatened position many think they were.
Yes, Everton climbed to the lofty heights of eighth, but ended the season with just 49 points – only Southampton have ended a Premier League season in that position with fewer points (46), in 2016/17.
Moreover, the blue half of Merseyside had the least shots (213) of any side in the division during Allardyce’s reign, while their passing accuracy of 72.9% was the 16th-worst record in the division, even though they had spent a hefty amount on midfield playmakers the previous summer.
Just at a time when Moshiri needed to maintain an air of calm and bring in a manager with a long-term vision for the club, he pressed the panic button. Instead of a visionary, he brought in a manager who clearly had no designs to stay and build a legacy with the club, had no tactical identity and was simply happy to labour the club to mid-table security, stroke his own ego and leave with his ‘fireman’ image intact for the next club running scared from the relegation trapdoor.
What Silva must do to ensure he is not another mistake
After a relatively promising start to life at Everton, Silva must be desperately searching behind his sofa for even a sign of a win.
The FA Cup defeat to Millwall on Saturday was a new low for a club which has craved a slither of success for years. The Lions have gone on to draw AFC Wimbledon in the next round, while Manchester United and Chelsea being paired together means a potential path to the final could have opened itself right up for Everton – none of that matters now.
Given the lengths Everton went to in securing Silva’s arrival, effectively going to war with Watford, it’s hard to imagine Moshiri considering his dismissal just yet, but things must change.
Zonal marking vs man marking
First and foremost, Everton must learn how to defend set pieces. There is a raging debate going on among fans at the moment as to the effectiveness of zonal marking and whether their side should scrap it in favour of man marking. In short, they shouldn’t.
Zonal marking has been proven time and time again to be the most effective way of defending set pieces by top managers such as Pep Guardiola, Rafa Benitez and Jurgen Klopp. What must change at Everton, though, is its execution.
On so many occasions this season, the Toffees have been beaten by the second ball or a corner whipped in at the near post, with opponents overloading them in that particular zone. Zonal marking relies on communication and understanding, with players shifting through these fluid zones as and when required. Solve this and you remove an incredible 30% of the goals Everton have conceded this season.
The other issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later is that big elephant in the room: replacing Lukaku. Despite heavy links with Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi, Silva has already suggested it will be tough to bring a player in during this window unless they manage to sell.
But that still leaves Everton relying on midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson and winger Richarlison for their goals, with the pair outscoring their current centre-forward options, Tosun and Calvert-Lewin, 20-9.
After crashing out of both cups and losing sight of the Premier League’s top six, Everton’s season is effectively over. However, to ensure they do not get dragged into a relegation battle, which they are currently 11 points clear of, the Blues must add a consistent goalscorer to their line-up.