In the previous decade, we could have asked this question about Aston Villa, West Ham, or Newcastle. All of those clubs are of the same size as Everton, all should be comfortably in the second tier of the Premier League behind the big six, if not breaking into the big six themselves. And yet, the latter three have all been relegated at some point in recent history. Everton seem desperate to join them.
Everton lost their fourth straight Premier League game yesterday to Wolves, and looked insipid doing so. They created just 0.35 xG, in a game they trailed for basically half of. They had just two shots on target all match. It was their fifth loss in six league games since appointing Frank Lampard as manager. His only win in the league was against a Leeds side that had already given up on Marcelo Bielsa and was providing all the defensive resistance of a puppy requesting belly rubs. Lampard has added two wins in the FA Cup, and one of those was against a semi-professional side. No, seriously.
All of it has left Everton in 17th, just one spot above the relegation zone, with the same amount of points as Watford below them and only goal-difference saving them from seeing a red square next to their name in the table. The Toffees do have three games in hand on the teams around them, but those only matter if you get any points out of them. Can they? We’ll come back to this in a bit.
While Lampard had one good season as manager of Chelsea before it all went wrong, this idiot claimed he was a touch hard done by, thanks to the struggles (or inertia) of his goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. In that one season when Chelsea had a transfer-embargo, Lampard got some plaudits for being tactically flexible and switching his team to whatever system was required. He’s tried this at Everton, but the feeling is more that he’s clawing and scratching to find anything that will work in the fashion of someone watching the water level rise more than just solving the problem of the opponent in front of him.
Lampard has tried all of a 3-4-3, or 4-2-3-1, or 4-4-2, or 4-4-3 formations, and none of it has really worked. In the six league games Everton have played under Lampard, they’ve averaged just 0.75 xG per game. And that includes that game of laser-tag they got against Leeds. They’ve only scored four real goals, three of which came against Leeds. Their last four games have seen just four shots on target combined. Take away that win against Leeds, and they have six shots on target in five games. Remember when Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck would bend Elmer Fudd’s rifle back toward him? That’s basically what Everton are taking the field with.
Meanwhile, at the other end, things aren’t any better. They surrendered 20 shots to Newcastle, 19 to Southampton, 13 to Man City (which was far and away their best performance), 14 to Spurs, and 14 to Wolves yesterday. And Wolves are about the tamest offensive force you can find in England.
They’ve surrendered over 2.0 xGA in three of their six matches under Lampard, and that’s pretty astronomical. And Newcastle, City, Wolves, and Spurs have all managed to outscore what the expected numbers suggest they should have, making one wonder if Lampard is just a curse to any keeper under his view.
It’s bad when you can’t score and you bleed chances against. So how bad can it get? If there’s salvation to be found, it might be in the distance. Thursday sees a revived Newcastle visit Goodison Park. After the international break, Everton travel to Watford, and a win there would vault them away from trouble. But a loss would have them looking something like this. They still have to see West Ham and Manchester United, and both will be chasing the last Champions League place. They still have to skip across Stanley Park to see Liverpool who will be trying to chase down City for the title. Chelse still have to visit, though they have their own problems. It’s not a bright picture. There’s another crunch game against Burnley that is yet to be rescheduled.
If there’s any semblance of light, it’s that there’s a game against Crystal Palace at home, and Palace won’t have much to play for. The last three games might be where Everton can really save themselves. Leicester City’s season will be well and truly over by then. Brentford likely will have saved themselves from relegation. And on the last day of the season. Arsenal could (and should) have the last Champions League spot secured. That’s three games against opponents just finishing out the schedule, possibly. But if Brentford aren’t saved, and Arsenal still have to lock up 4th, then it gets real icky in a hurry.
Everton could be saved by the teams below them just being that bad. Burnley are currently at Beavis and Butthead levels of scoring. Watford can’t really defend. Everton don’t have to be good, they just have to be less clueless than those two.
That might be all Everton supporters can hope for. With Lampard’s indecision is a fear that there is no answer. The additions of Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek was supposed to liven up things. Alli can’t get on the field regularly. Van de Beek has generated 0.1 worth of expected assists while averaging one successful tackle per match. Richarlison’s attacking stats have plummeted and he’s struggled to get any shots on target as he’s bounced between the wing, central striker, or #10. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has returned from injury but is nowhere near full strength, and might already be measuring the drapes in various condos in North London.
There is nothing to be unearthed in defense. Séamus Coleman is past it, Yerry Mina can’t stay healthy, leaving Mason Holgate and and Ben Godfrey to try and hold down the fort. Which is hard to do when there’s a runway right to them through van de Beek and whichever goofus between Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré is crammed into the midfield.
So yes, Everton can absolutely get themselves relegated. The three extra matches they have are all they have to cling to, and those are against Leceister, Burnley, and Newcastle. You can easily see a scenario where they get skunked on those.
Villa, West Ham, and Newcastle all didn’t think it was real until it happened to them. Reality is getting awfully big in the rearview for Everton.