Looking at the Premier League table can, at times, seem like an utterly pointless exercise.
A quick glance at the table this morning shows me that Leicester are top and Chelsea are 16th – though on last Monday night’s showing that looks spot-on. Manchester United – that turgid night-nurse of a Louis van Gaal team – are fourth, whilst their slayers, Bournemouth, find themselves only two points above the relegation zone even after wins against Chelsea and United in successive weeks.
To look at Everton this season, you’d see a team who are on form. The fact that the spotlight’s glare is on Leicester’s dynamic duo of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy sort of takes the the focus off everyone else. It makes it easy to forget, for example, that Romelu Lukaku is the Premier League’s second-top scorer and has netted in six consecutive games. Meanwhile, Ross Barkley has six goals – a creditable return from midfield – and Gerard Deulofeu has seven assists – miles behind Mesut Ozil, but still joint-second in the charts along with Mahrez.
Yet, when look at the table, you find Everton in that congested area just under fourth place, stuck in the chasing pack, firmly part of the now established Premier League ‘middle class’ mediocrity.
But, although the glance at the table does throw up some strange tidbits, it also throws up some interesting morsels of piercing truth.
It shows, for example, that Roberto Martinez’s men have only lost three times in the Premier League this season. That’s the same number of defeats as Arsenal and fewer than Manchester City. In fact, only two teams have lost fewer games than Everton so far this season: Tottenham – whose first defeat since the opening day came this weekend – and Leicester, the league leaders.
But come May, that’s not a stat that will matter very much if Everton finish in the position in which they currently find themselves. If the Toffees finish 10th this season, it will have been a poor campaign from a team that can considers itself so much more now.
Football is a simple game, after all. In order to win the league you have to get more points than anyone else, and that generally means winning more games. Everton find themselves where they are in the table so far because they’ve drawn far too many.
That in itself is progress from a side who were laughably poor at times last season. Slapstick defending left Everton close to a relegation battle in February before they pulled away from it with some good performances towards the end of the season. What a difference a year makes. Or at least a few Europa League-free months.
There is no doubt that Everton suffered last season from trying to juggle a continental campaign with a Premier League one. Thursday nights seem to have a magical, mystical curse over Premier League sides. It chews them up and spits them out, leaving their form in shreds and their dignity in tatters.
This season has been a different story, but some of the same problems persist. Although Everton can at times look unplayable, the form of their attackers hides their fragility at the back. Having conceded 21 goals over the course of 16 games, Everton are in positive equity when it comes to goal difference only by virtue of their ability to score.
And that seems to be the crux of the reason as to why Everton are 10th in the table and not fourth. Half of Everton’s league games have ended in draws, they have the most draws in the league, yet usually when a team manages quite so many draws, it’s because their defence is so good at shutting out the opposition. Everton are so hard to beat simply by virtue that they can score so many goals. They’re just banking on outscoring the opposition.
Looking at the table after another Everton draw might throw up some interesting information, but the stats should be secondary to performances at this stage of the season, and some of Everton’s performances have been very good.
A team who can score goals is likely to do well, just ask Leicester City. And if Everton can turn some of those draws into wins thanks to tightening up at the back, they might expect to break from that pile-up of up and coming teams and mount a serious challenge to the top four.