There’s just a mile’s distance between Goodison Park and Anfield – a rather leisurely stroll across Stanley Park – so perhaps it should be no surprise that in addition to sharing the same geological radius, both Everton and Liverpool are enduring very similar problems this season.
Indeed, the Reds are currently in eighth place, a long way shy of their runner-up Premier League finish last term, whilst the Toffees are currently battling to make it into the top half, let alone retaining their Europa League status for another season.
Don’t let the superficiality of their localities fool you – it’s the same issues at the heart of both clubs’ demises this term. And just to prove it, here’s FIVE problems both Mersey outfits are currently sharing.
A wise man once said a football team can only be as good as their striker, so it’s unfortunate that both Everton and Liverpool’s front-men have struggled to hit top gear this season – especially when compared to their potency last term.
In the seemingly eternal absence of Daniel Sturridge through injury, for example, the Reds’ reserve forwards, Rickie Lambert, Mario Balotelli and Fabio Borini, have notched up just the single league strike this term from a combined 63 attempts at goal in 1498 minutes’ worth of Premier League action. Resultantly, youngster Raheem Sterling has been called upon as an emergency striker over the last few weeks.
Everton’s front-men, on the other hand, aren’t particularly short in terms of firepower; Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith, Arouna Kone and Samuel Eto’o boast 19 league goals between them, giving the Toffees the strongest goals scored column in the Premier League’s bottom half.
But none, with the exception of the ever-industrious Naismith, have been making notably productive contributions in open play this season, as detailed below:
Romelu Lukaku, for a £28million club-record signing, has been particularly disappointing.
Last season, both Mersey outfits were praised for their impressive brands of expansive football and the aesthetic attacking play it often resulted in. Consequentially, Liverpool were the second top scorers in the Premier League with 101 goals, whilst Everton were a respectable sixth with 61 goals.
This year however, Rodgers and Martinez’ idealistic philosophies have become rather dogmatic – especially at the back. As viewable below, Everton and Liverpool top the Premier League’s defensive errors chart this term with a joint 21, averaging out at 1.1 mistakes per game, whilst the Reds have the most leading to goals:
This is no great coincidence – compared to the average Premier League side, there’s huge pressure on both clubs’ defences to play out of the back instead of kicking it long. Rodgers and Martinez will be quick to argue that the benefits of such a philosophy are only seen over the course of an entire season, but it’s made their respective teams dangerously predictable to play against.
Take the Toffees for example; opponents have only become too aware that if they win a loose ball in the middle of the park, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman will be too pushed up to provide adequate cover. Likewise, Liverpool are often cursed by their demands on the likes of Martin Skrtel and Simon Mignolet to retain possession, despite their obvious discomfort on the ball.
In recent weeks, Rodgers and Martinez have both experimented with formations and systems, but until they adapt their approach into something more pragmatic, it’s unlikely Liverpool and Everton’s form will dramatically improve.
Of course, it’s become a bit of a fall-guy for any club struggling for form, but involvement in Europe has placed an unanticipated burden on both Everton and Liverpool’s squad.
Yes, they’ve had the summer to prepare but Liverpool haven’t been involved in the Champions League since 2009 and their only remaining players from that era are Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, and Lucas Leiva. Brendan Rodgers’ naivety in the competition really told as the Reds failed to escape Group B.
Likewise, although Everton soared through Europa League Group H, involvement in the competition – in part, combined with the ageing nature of their squad – has lead to huge injury problems since the summer. Seamus Coleman, John Stones, Phil Jagielka, James McCarthy, Gareth Barry, Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley, Tim Howard and Steven Pienaar have all endured extended spells on the sidelines this season.
Furthermore, as often debated in England and demonstrated on the info-graphic below (albeit, slightly outdated info-graphic now) playing on Thursday nights tends to have a notoriously detrimental effect on league campaigns.
They say standing still in the Premier League means you only move backwards. A perfect case in point then perhaps, that Liverpool and Everton both consolidated, rather than improved, in the transfer market this summer.
Take Liverpool for example; they spent £117million this summer to try and compensate for the departure of world-class striker Luis Suarez, but instead of replacing the Uruguayan directly, they’ve simply consolidated the quality of the rest of the squad by adding further depth. So rather than having one unexceptional right-back to chose from, Brendan Rodgers now has two, which can hardly be categorised as an improvement.
That may seem like a harsh analysis but the situation is even direr at Everton. Their biggest scoops of the summer were Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry, who were already on loan at Goodison Park last season. Constituting 79% of their £38million summer spend, the Toffees’ starting Xi hasn’t improved at all since last term.
There’s nothing wrong with attempting to strengthen the foundations of what you’ve already got. But whilst Everton and Liverpool have failed to improve their starting Xis in the transfer market, West Ham, Southampton and Swansea City, all of whom enjoyed considerably more productive and summers, are now soaring ahead of them in the Premier League table.
Not everybody will agree but in my opinion, every manager must know his strongest starting XI – who he’d want to start in the Champions League final, for example.
Unfortunately for Brendan Rodgers however, a combination of poor form and the sheer number of his summer signings, nine – bearing in mind that the only key player he lost this summer was Luis Suarez – has left the Ulsterman tinkering and tailoring with every fixture.
The Anfield gaffer has always enjoyed experimenting but he’s tested five different formations in just 19 Premier League fixtures this term, ranging from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-3, which is simply too many, whilst Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson’s roles are being constantly adapted. It’s clear Rodgers is yet to decide upon his strongest starting line-up and that inconsistency has had a detrimental effect on results this season.
Meanwhile, the collectively volatile form of the Everton squad has left Roberto Martinez continually searching for answers. His starting XI against Newcastle at the weekend, as detailed below, was arguably his most confusing and surprising yet as Goodison boss, with Samuel Eto’o at No.10 and Leighton Baines on the wing:
It smacked of desperation and Martinez’ choice of exclusions, namely Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley, were equally telling of the Spaniard’s diminishing faith in certain players.