Marco Silva wasn’t afraid of making changes. Sam Clucas was moved from the flank and into the center, where he hardened and enlivened the midfield. Dieumerci Mbokani was dropped. Andy Robertson was summoned from his groove on the bench and made the left-hand side a prominent focus of attack.
Hull City went down. Silva’s reputation as he almost kept the Tigers afloat, however, enjoyed a rapid ascent from a virtual unknown to a coveted, young tactician. He enjoyed a similarly quick impact at Watford, and was drafted in for an exciting project at Everton for the start of this season. It was a good fit: Silva arrived at a club that matched his ambitions and had a fan base which yearned for an attractive brand of football.
But Silva’s rise has since plateaued. The 41-year-old is already in his longest tenure in the Premier League, and he’s running into difficulties. The results beyond the duration of his Hull and Watford spells haven’t improved, and Everton are a huge 16 points adrift of the top six.
|Club||League matches in charge|
Following vast player expenditure and amid spiralling stadium costs, Silva was merely buying time with the midweek win at Cardiff City. The manager’s position will turn precarious if the Toffees are comfortably beaten in Sunday’s Merseyside derby.
Flying out the blocks
Despite his encouraging work in Humberside and Hertfordshire, Silva presented a gamble for Everton.
“We did our homework and put a big bet on Marco and we stick with him. He has our total support,” club owner Farhad Moshiri said in early January at Everton’s general meeting.
In the opening months of Silva’s tenure, that “big bet” looked as if it would pay off. After 13 matches, Everton occupied sixth place in the division and boosted their shots per game from last season. And, despite Silva taking the helm from the cripplingly conservative Sam Allardyce, his team faced fewer shots per game.
In a short space of time, there were improvements at both ends of the pitch. Everton were only six points behind the top four.
The upturn was expected. With Marcel Brands overseeing transfer business rather than Steve Walsh, Everton belatedly applied common sense in the summer window. The surplus of No. 10s was resolved by offloading Wayne Rooney and Davy Klaassen, firmly establishing Gylfi Sigurdsson in that slot. Exploring Barcelona’s surplus backup brigade yielded the recruits of Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne – finally a left-back that didn’t leave Evertonians yearning for the Leighton Baines of three or so years ago – and Andre Gomes, the loanee gradually rebuilding his reputation with intelligent link-up play. Richarlison isn’t the rip-off he initially appeared at £35 million, his compatriot Bernard cost nothing, and Kurt Zouma was sensibly borrowed from Chelsea.
All six summer signings were aged 25 or under. Everton brought in players who were able to make an instant impression and potentially demand a significant sell-on fee. Former arrivals that were plugged into the starting XI, like Ashley Williams, certainly didn’t satisfy those remits.
The recruitment hasn’t been entirely seamless, with most concern surrounding the strikeforce. Cenk Tosun’s physical traits are usually an attribute in English football, but so far he’s failed; an unwanted piece of furniture left over from the Allardyce regime.
Silva hasn’t replaced Tosun during the two transfer windows he’s been in charge. In fact, Everton haven’t found a suitable replacement for Romelu Lukaku since he left for Manchester United in 2017. That means Richarlison, a natural winger, is often leading attacks – he, incidentally, is one of the few Everton players who instinctively looks to shoot rather than pass – while Dominic Calvert-Lewin is regularly kept in reserve for when Silva almost ditches slick exchanges entirely for aerial bombardments.
When Everton face lofted balls at the other end of the park, particularly from dead balls, there are problems. The Toffees have conceded a league-high 13 goals from set-pieces, almost double the sum let in by floundering Fulham.
Corners are a huge issue for Silva’s side, with his zonal markers continually caught out by deliveries to the near post. Teams with better communication can execute zonal marking at corners, and many teams do a combination of zonal and man marking. But at Silva’s Everton, his preference of having each player follow that strategy often leads to a disorganized huddle of blue shirts.
Lack of tangible results
The biggest setback in Silva’s tenure might have already occurred. Bill Kenwright, who has served as Everton chairman since 2004, outlined on Jan. 8 that the club’s short-term priority was to win the FA Cup. Two-and-a-half weeks later, Championship relegation battlers Millwall turfed Silva’s side out of the tournament.
Although the FA Cup no longer has the prestige of past generations, it is coveted by fans of clubs in limbo between the Premier League’s top six and bottom three.
Everton are now nearing the 24th anniversary of their last piece of silverware, which would equal the longest drought of their 141-year existence. That previous pursuit for honors was interrupted for six years by the Second World War.
For Kenwright, a devout Evertonian, it’s understandable that he’s desperate to see the club corral cups. However, for those with more financial interest, namely Moshiri, money-spinning European escapades must be the priority.
Not only is the gap behind the top six too big for this term, Everton’s recent home results and upcoming tests at Goodison Park are worrying. There may be little opportunity for Silva to lift boardroom morale and prove his ability to carry the club forward before the Premier League season is done.
Recent Premier League results at Goodison
|Dec. 5||Newcastle United||1-1 draw|
|Dec. 10||Watford||2-2 draw|
|Dec. 23||Tottenham Hotspur||6-2 loss|
|Jan. 1||Leicester City||1-0 loss|
|Jan. 13||Bournemouth||2-0 win|
|Feb. 2||Wolverhampton Wanderers||3-1 loss|
|Feb. 6||Manchester City||2-0 loss|
Upcoming Premier League fixtures at Goodison
|March 3||Liverpool||0-0 draw|
|March 17||Chelsea||0-0 draw|
|April 7||Arsenal||5-2 loss|
|April 21||Manchester United||2-0 loss|
|May 4||Burnley||1-0 loss|
With a transfer spend of around £300 million on new players since Moshiri effectively took control in February 2016 and the £500 million cost of the Bramley-Moore Dock stadium project, patience isn’t exactly a virtue in the boardroom.
There needs to be some return on investment. Silva must show he’s a gamble worth taking, and a positive result against Liverpool on Sunday will go some way to encouraging the club brass he’s a part of the future. But if Everton suffer a disappointing conclusion to the campaign, Silva will only corroborate the notion that he’s a short-term fix.