Early loser: Home strife derailing Everton plan for Europe

Ian Watson

For two neighbours that can barely stand the sight of each other, Everton and Liverpool have stood in solidarity over many worthy causes on numerous occasions in recent years. Even the Reds, though, cannot have expected the Toffees to be there for them during their current time of need.

Liverpool have had huge problems recently, having lost their last six at Anfield. But bringing some comfort to the reeling Reds, in their latest Hands Across Stanley Park gesture, Everton are eagerly showing Liverpool that they are not alone. The Toffees too are enjoying a miserable existence at home.

The 2-1 defeat to Burnley represents Everton’s fourth defeat in five matches and fifth in seven in the Premier League at Goodison Park. Carlo Ancelotti’s side sit in the top four in the ‘away’ table. In the home one, they would be in 14th place battling against relegation.

Which is the real Everton? The side so impressive on the road, or the one like we saw today that has surrendered not only to Burnley, but also Fulham and Newcastle in recent weeks. At least they scored against the Clarets, something they couldn’t manage against the struggling Cottagers and Magpies.

The truth, as it so often is, likely rests somewhere in the middle. Everton cannot claim to have been unlucky of late. In fact, the numbers suggest the opposite to be true.

In comparison to the teams with which they are currently scrapping for a European place, Everton are creating little and giving up plenty. This season, they are in the bottom half when it comes to shots attempted (17th); shots on target (12th); and expected goals (12th).

The race for the top four: Why they will, why they won’t

It is a similar story at the other end. The Toffees have faced the eighth highest number of shots, and the 10th highest number of shots on target.

Like most stats, greater context is perhaps required to give the clearest picture, but nothing about those numbers suggests a top-four assault is imminent.

Ancelotti has inspired Everton to overachieve in comparison to the stats so far, but perhaps the Italian’s tactics require some retrospection too.

As Burnley seemed to recognise, if their uncharacteristic adventurousness in the first-half is any indication, the first goal in Everton games is crucial. When the Toffees score first, they usually win, as they have on 13 of the 15 occasions they have broken the deadlock this term. With a lead to defend, Ancelotti likes to do just that – sit back and soak up pressure.

But if Everton go behind, breaking down opponents like Burnley is a problem. They have lost nine of 13 games when the opponent scores first and against Sean Dyche’s side, it was the same old story. Struggling to rein back in Manchester City and Chelsea lately can be explained somewhat by the quality of the opposition. Creating so little after falling behind to Fulham and Newcastle is a far greater concern, and the Clarets saw tonight’s game out with similar ease.

Such tight margins seem likely to cost Everton a top-four place, and they could end the weekend in eighth place. Failing to secure a European spot would be disappointing after a season of progress. Finishing below this Liverpool side would illustrate how some habits die hard, even with a coach of the calibre of Ancelotti.