LEWIS STEELE: Everton look like they're already in a relegation fight

LEWIS STEELE: The crumbs of pre-season positivity have quickly vanished for Everton fans… after two woeful opening games, Saturday’s clash against Wolves already feels like a relegation six-pointer

  • Hope that Dyche could make Everton a hard-to-beat side is quickly evaporating 
  • The manager must strengthen his backline as well as sharpening a blunt attack 
  • WATCH: ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ – Episode 2 – Mail Sport’s brand new football show 

There was a post on the Grand Old Team forum earlier this week which sums up the ‘cycle’ Everton fans now follow seemingly every year. The first stage of the cyclical nature of being a Toffees supporter is optimism, to give the board time to make changes and transfers.

After a while, that becomes ‘get behind the players’ while the window is still open, then becomes ‘get the manager out’ after poor results see Everton slump to the bottom of the table. The process continues with ‘back the new manager’ and ‘what good will protesting do?’.

It sums up the last two seasons at Everton. Both have started with a hint of positivity. In 2021, it was early-season form of Dominic Calvert-Lewin that helped them to 10 points from the first 12 available. In 2022, fans were excited to give Frank Lampard a chance to build a winning team.

Now in 2023, under Sean Dyche, any pre-season positivity that the former Burnley manager could make Everton a hard-to-beat, well-drilled unit is quickly evaporating. Despite a good performance against Fulham on the opening weekend, the Toffees have zero points.

After crashing to a 4-0 defeat at Villa Park on Sunday – in truth, the scoreline flattered a calamitous Everton performance – Dyche’s side go into what feels like two season-defining matches against Wolves and Sheffield United.

Everton fans have got used to feeling optimistic at the start of what feels like a routine cycle of a Toffees season

But Sunday’s woeful performance against Aston Villa compounded a worrying feeling for fans

The loss of Dominic Calvert-Lewin will concern supporters with goals few and far between

Interestingly, those sides are the only teams to have played twice and have no points – Burnley and Luton have only had one game each – and already they feel like relegation six-pointers. Everton ended a day bottom of the league for the first time since 2010.

What is most worrying is the shambolic defending. Everyone knows that Dyche teams are traditionally strong defensively. With James Tarkowski the on-pitch captain, one thought that the Toffees would be stubborn and maybe frustrate opponents.

Judging by the first two games, that is not the case. Though Ashley Young has looked decent at left back, none of the other defenders leave with any credit. Nathan Patterson is often out of position, while Michael Keane’s best days at the club look to be in the past.

Looking at expected goals (xG) figures, Everton are not just conceding lots of goals – but a dearth of chances, too. Indeed, xG shows they have conceded less than they should have done, demonstrating that poor finishing or Jordan Pickford have perhaps bailed them out.

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Watching back their five conceded goals this season, most were preventable. Fulham’s winner at Goodison Park came after Patterson vacated his position and allowed Bobby Decordova-Reid far too much space to run into.

On Sunday, one goal was a clumsy penalty to concede, then the third and fourth strikes were calamitous. Leon Bailey’s goal came after one throw-in split open their defence and Keane lost concentration, while the fourth came from Young and Tarkowski needlessly losing possession.

Jarrad Branthwaite had a positive loan at PSV Eindhoven last season and the defender must back himself to improve the back four. Seamus Coleman is injured and will not play until after the international break. Midfielder James Garner could be considered as a right-back option.

Of course, the attack must not go without blame. If any of Everton’s players could finish, they would have beaten Fulham on the opening weekend and the outlook would have still had a hint of positivity.

Arnaut Danjuma and Lewis Dobbin were the only players to leave Villa Park with credit after positive cameos off the bench. It feels like one – or both – might have earned themselves a start against Wolves on Saturday.

Bobby Decordova-Reoid’s goal against Everton in their opener was eminently preventable

Lewis Dobbin (left) and Arnaut Danjuma (right) were two bright sparks off the bench and could have earned themselves a call-up on Saturday

Sean Dyche gave a brutal assessment of Everton’s matchplay after the full-time whistle

Injuries have not helped, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Alex Iwobi both leaving the field on Sunday and Dwight McNeil still sidelined. New striker Youssef Chermiti is yet to even make the substitutes’ bench, while Che Adams is one Everton are trying to sign.

‘We conceded a goal and then the group went soft very quickly,’ said Dyche. ‘Then you concede another one and it’s like everyone is looking at everyone else to do something. We had a couple of moments like that after I got here last season but generally, we stopped that feeling.

‘It looked too lackadaisical, people waiting for others to ignite. The body language and intent in and out of possession just weren’t there. Simple as that.’

Dyche must fix that quickly or Everton will face another relegation dogfight this season – and there’s only so many near misses one team can have. After 16th and 17th-placed finishes, both after a dangerous season of flirting with the drop, it could be third time unlucky.


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