Everton currently find themselves in the mire having lost four of their last five – including a 3-2 defeat to Millwall in the FA Cup – as pressure mounts on Marco Silva to start delivering the results.
The Portuguese has impressed in his last two roles – he couldn’t prevent Hull’s relegation in the 2016/17 season but ensured it went down to the wire, while he also did a good job at trigger-happy Watford the year after until a poor run led to his dismissal in January.
However, the 41-year-old is currently facing what is arguably his biggest challenge in the Premier League yet as he looks to take Everton to the next level – he is failing thus far.
Taking over from Sam Allardyce, who was sacked in May 2018 despite taking the Toffees from 13th to 8th, Silva has hardly been an upgrade on his predecessor from what we’ve seen despite there being such staunch resistance to the former England boss from those in the stands at Goodison Park. Win, lose or draw, Allardyce always seemed to end up the pantomime villain.
What could have been, then, if unpopular Allardyce was still at the helm?
Allardyce received criticism during his six months in charge of the Merseyside outfit for his direct approach, despite getting the results required to achieve an eighth place finish.
Say what you want about Big Sam, but one thing he guarantees when taking a job is that he will sort out the defence and it is highly unlikely that, had he been kept on for this season, Everton would be conceding in the manner they are under Silva.
The defeat to Millwall epitomised the struggles Everton have had at the back – all three goals were conceded from set-pieces as Silva opts for a zonal marking approach that clearly isn’t working.
Allardyce, while it might not be exactly what the fans want, would rather forego attractive football in favour of defensive solidity to avoid the kind of simplistic lapses that cost the Toffees so dearly against Millwall. Everton would likely still be in the competition with Allardyce at the helm, while also climbing the Premier League table.
The area most in need of improvement is Everton’s strike force – Richarlison has been deputising up front in the absence of a quality striker but a man of his talents should be on the wing, driving at players rather than occupying the centre-backs.
Silva brought his former Watford colleague to Goodison Park in the summer, with the Brazilian commanding a £50m fee. There is no doubt that he is a good signing and possibly the best they’ve made in recent years, but Marcel Brands and co would have been better served addressing the lack of a clinical centre-forward first – something Allardyce would surely have been keen to address as powerful front-men have been a hallmark of his most successful teams.
The Toffees have been crying out for a striker of Romelu Lukaku’s ilk since the big Belgian departed in 2017 and, had Allardyce still been in charge for the summer transfer window, it’s certainly less likely that Everton would have signed Silva’s golden boy, Richarlison.
Instead, that huge sum, or even half of it, could have been spent on a new centre-forward to lead the line and provide Allardyce with the kind of target man that suits his game-plan. Despite Allardyce’s reputation for defensive football, Kevin Davies, Andy Carroll and Christian Benteke have all enjoyed affluent spells under him.
When he succeeded Ronald Koeman in November 2017, Allardyce was presented with a squad that at face value was simply underachieving, but was a complete mess in reality.
The club had spent £145m on new arrivals, only two of which have been consistently solid performers – Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jordan Pickford – while others are no longer in Everton blue having flopped completely.
Allardyce managed to turn things around and guide the Toffees to an eighth place finish, despite the preconceptions about how his tenure would turn out.
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The former West Ham and Crystal Palace boss has garnered a reputation for being a relegation-beater and not much more than that. But had he been in charge of Everton for the 2018/19 season and kept getting the results, then that stereotype of his style of football would be getting debunked right now.
Ultimately, the aim at Goodison Park is to take the step up that would see them challenge the Big Six and, while Allardyce might not have done so in the most fashionable way, it is possible that he would be far closer to doing so this season than Silva currently is.