When Sam Allardyce arrives at a club you think of one thing and one thing only: he’s going to shore up the defence.
That’s what he’s known for and with good reason – he’s really very good at it. But at Everton this year, something seems to have gone wrong.
I say “this year” advisedly: Everton have not kept a clean sheet in 2018, and indeed they last time they did was a 0-0 draw with West Brom on Boxing Day. At that point, Allardyce was still unbeaten, having conceded just two goals in his entire tenure. Since that point, they’ve won just two games – enough to keep their heads above water in the relegation battle, but not really much else.
In fairness to Big Sam, there’s not a lot else his side have to play for at the moment. Yes there should be motivation to try to finish seventh and get a Europa League spot for next season in order to build some extra optimism, and there should always be reason to give their fans some exciting football to cheer about. But you can see why a professional sportsman might not be extra chirpy about the idea of leaving everything on the field for the sake of seventh place.
What they can play for, though, is next year.
Allardyce was given an 18-month contract by a fairly desperate looking Everton board back in November and so as far as we know he’ll be in charge next season. So why not build for that?
The best way of doing that, ironically, is to do what Big Sam is known for: turn the defence into a solid force.
Strangely for an Allardyce team, Everton are leaking goals and when you put it into context it’s even more startling. A pragmatic manager like the former England boss looks at the teams around him in the table and prides himself on being in a better position than they are, plotting how best to climb the ladder by scoring more goals and conceding fewer.
But the teams around them have much better goal differences than the Toffees: Everton sit on -14, whilst Leicester are on -1 and Burnley on -3. They are the important ones because they’re the sides Allardyce should be targeting in the race for seventh spot.
In his defence, we know that when Allardyce comes into a club in the middle of the season there is always a bedding-in period before his ideas start to click and his team begins to pick up points. Perhaps this is just taking a slightly longer period for that to happen, and as Everton are fairly safe from relegation, maybe it doesn’t matter.
But for a Big Sam team to be quite so open at the back, and quite so far behind the teams around them on goal difference is out of character and slightly strange. Surely it should be a point of real concern.