Everton in the Psychologist’s Chair: a Season Preview

New Picture (121)

By @nataliebargery

The season is nearly upon us following an eventful summer; the World Cup was brilliant, Chewy Luis inevitably manufactured a move to foreign shores and Evertonian’s have been desperately grasping on to any transfer rumour that rears its dubious head (even those suggested by TalkSport-we really must have been desperate.) Thoughts now turn away from the thrills and spills of our quadrennial international treat to our ‘bread and butter’, the Premier league.

This season we have the added addition of a Europa League (EL)campaign that many believe, to continue the food analogies; will be the coffee one in a bag of Revels! Martinez faces a tough task as he tries to better his debut season, players are returning with a point to prove and some are looking to continue their excellent form from last season. 2014/15 could be a pivotal season for the blues but there are many psychological challenges ahead.

The World Cup

Luckily for Everton only six members of last season’s squad played in the World Cup, although that figure has increased with the signing of Besic. The lack of World Cup action for the majority of the squad could prove important come the end of the season as tired bodies and minds can affect the run in. However, it is possible that the early season will also be affected by a World Cup hangover for our international stars who had varying success in Brazil. Any underperforming World Cup players are unlikely to be doing so because they are tired as they have just had a break and the effects of a shortened summer on their bodies – this is more likely set in around Christmas. In truth, the hangover will more likely be for psychological reasons.   

New Picture (123)

Our England trio of Baines, Jags and Barkley had the most disappointing summer. The question is can they ‘floosh’ (to coin a Martinez-ism) it out of their system quickly? All three players will have dreamed of playing in a World Cup since childhood. However, for Baines and Jagielka that may have been their only chance to shine in one. So, the disappointment of getting knocked out at the group stage and without a win could understandably be a difficult pill to swallow.

Baines omission from the 2010 squad, which left a bitter taste in the mouth, will have certainly increased his desire to succeed at the 2014 tournament. Barkley on the other hand will have more World Cups and the zeal of youth will probably leave the 20-year-old unaffected by any disappointment  from the experience.

However, both Baines and Jags spoke of the ‘gut-wrenching’ disappointment they felt immediately after England’s exclusion but a holiday with the family and returning home to the Everton lads can do wonders. At least we hope it can.

Players invest a lot of time, emotional and physical energy into preparing for a World cup. Some will move to a new club hundreds of miles away from their home 6 months before the tournament, resulting in massive upheaval for their family, purely to stand a better chance of getting into their countries squad. So, there are a lot of stressful costs. To then leave the tournament unsuccessfully after such a large investment is a huge disappointment. This can lead to an excess of anxiety and stress which can result in burnout.

Burnout is not simply lacking energy but a problem that causes withdrawal and a lack of interest in your job. However, both Baines and Jags will benefit from the support they will have received from the ultra-positive Bobby and the tight knit squad we have at Everton. Social support helps individuals threatened with burnout greatly. Nevertheless, Baines and Jagielka are both strong characters who I’m sure will not feel the effects of burnout at the start of the season.

Kevin Mirallas had an inconsistent tournament. A super sub appearance led to him starting the next game and an insipid performance followed resulting in him being dropped. Inconsistency has been a problem during the Belgian’s two seasons with us. He is regularly a top performer in big matches, particularly derby matches, but can easily slide back to mediocrity the next week. It is very difficult to pinpoint why a player lacks consistency. It can be down to lack of focus, needing a set pre-match routine or a player can struggle to psych themselves up enough for certain matches or that can become so psyched up they become tense. Mirallas appears to find it easier to play well in bigger matches which suggests he struggles to get himself fired up for the seemingly lesser matches. However, surely every game in Belgium’s World Cup run was a big game to Kev, so it doesn’t explain his non-existent performances in the games he started.

Inconsistency is difficult to manage as it can be so hard to discover the root cause of it. It seems unlikely that a player with a gold Bentley, flashy dress sense and seemingly unerring self-belief could in fact lack self-confidence. However, that could all be a façade. Alternatively, Kev may find it difficult to focus during certain matches and to sustain focus for more than one or two games per week. This may spell trouble for his chances of performing well in and around the EL. However, it is frustratingly difficult to truly understand why and I’m sure Martinez has been working to help Mirallas find more consistency. However, his World Cup has probably not affected him greatly for good or bad as his inconsistency will probably continue regardless, although we hope not.

One Everton player who did suffer at the hands of the World cup was Bryan Oviedo. As if, missing out due to a broken leg wasn’t bad enough, but to have to watch your teammates defy the predictions of every football fan and pundit and reach the quarter finals must have been difficult. Of course, part of him would have been thrilled at his countries exploits but the frustration of missing out on such a huge achievement will more than likely have been his overriding emotion. Sadly for Oviedo, he has to wait to begin playing again for Everton which will only increase his disappointment and frustration as he spends his time in Finch Farm’s physio room. 

Finally, Tim Howard returns an American hero. His confidence should be sky high. The only problem for Howard next season may be feeling the additional pressure of knowing that a man of the match performance might be followed by another awkward phone call from Barack Obama!

Returning from Injury

It is not only World cup stars who face potential challenges in the coming season.

Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone will be like ‘two new signings’ when or if they get fully fit and they will be needed with the EL in mind. We know Gibson is a good player and but for his injury record may well have nailed down a place in the blues midfield under Martinez. However, Gibson has had to watch Gareth Barry dominate in the holding midfield role and had little opportunity before injury struck to impress. Consequently, Gibbo has had to sit and watch as the new manager analyses his squad and decides who he needs and who is surplus to requirements which will have led to an uncertain 2013/14 season.

Arouna Kone was struck by injury last season too, but has the opposite problem to Gibson in that Martinez is fully convinced of his capabilities whilst fans are not so certain with the striker having had little chance to prove his worth to the supporters. An interview earlier this summer shows Kone is very aware of the need to impress:

‘It’s all about working hard so the fans can see the best of Arouna Kone. The season coming for me is where I have to prove my worth and I am ready to take on that challenge.’

This is a very positive statement and he may well be ready for the challenge or he could be a bit too aware of the need to impress, increasing the pressure on him. 

New Picture (122)

Both players experienced a season of turmoil and both had a choice as to how they responded. Common psychological consequences of injury include exaggerating the severity of the injury, personalising the injury; which includes doing a Balotelli and asking ‘Why always me?’, thinking of others who never fully recovered from injury and telling themselves they are no use to the team because they are injured. These thoughts will obviously have very negative consequences for the player but a good medical team and the opportunity to still feel part of the squad will help to diminish these thoughts.

Although both players are approaching a return to full fitness they still have psychological demons to face. Players often become very aware of the time and effort that has been invested in them and doubt themselves as they approach their return. Furthermore, they face the possibility of failure as they return to fitness, which can trigger anxiety. To reduce these issues players need to focus on the quality of their rehabilitation, recognise they are ready to return and remember their desire to play football. Alternatively, players can attempt to take a more positive approach and view their time away as a motivation which increases their desire to succeed on their return. This can be difficult for players during a long injury and in truth players will have positive and negative days during their lay-off. The key for Gibson and Kone now is to grasp the opportunity when they return and not become too bogged down with who they need to impress.

Cup Psychology 

Many of the issues players face can be diminished by their manager. It may be uncertainty over your role in the team or the need to bounce back after a soul-destroying World Cup. I don’t think it is too wide of the mark to suggest Roberto is one of the best in the league when it comes to these situations. His participative leadership style along with his innate positivity mean he can discuss problems with players and get them bouncing into training even if they have just been told they have to sit through videos of Michael Owen commentaries! Yet, Martinez’ undying positivity may face a stern test this season as he attempts to better a record points total and hopefully trump it by winning a trophy. We know how vital a cup triumph is to Evertonians but we always seem to falter just when it is looking likely. We can forget the League Cup – there seems to be a Benfica style curse hanging over us with that one – but an FA cup or dare I say it, a EL victory would be huge for the club.

A player and manager’s psychology must alter depending on whether the forthcoming fixture is a league or cup match. You only get one go at a cup match. Choosing the wrong tactics, prepare incorrectly or if any other minute detail goes wrong and you could be out. This brings an added pressure and motivation to perform. Our litany of hard luck stories in recent years adds even more pressure in this respect. Roberto has the experience of winning a major trophy with Wigan but they were underdogs in a number of matches during their cup run. However, he now has to deal with the weight of expectation. Last season saw the usual league cup disappointment at the hands of a dodgy Fulham side and a quarter final FA cup defeat at the Emirates. Although, the 4-1 score line flattered Arsenal and THAT Ross Barkley miss could have changed the final result dramatically, we still came up short.

It appears our players have frozen or choked in the past under the pressure to perform in one-off cup games. Choking is a symptom of anxiety when a player focuses too much on executing a skill rather than just letting it flow and as a result they begin to overthink something that should be natural to them.

Anxiety is a natural consequence of the need to perform in an important match. Viewing anxiety in this way can diminish any negative effects. However, interpreting anxiety as unwanted will more than likely disturb a player’s performance. Brazil froze so much during their World cup semi-final thrashing at the hands of Germany that they could have been chipped into ice cubes and served in every Caipirinha in Belo Horizonte that night. There was a large pre- World Cup focus amongst Brazil’s squad on staying calm and being at ease, hoowever they were then met with the stress and pressure of a country expecting great things. They were not prepared to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ or accept stress as natural and a petrol for performance. So, rather than avoiding stress, players should be encouraged to face stressful situations and learn how to deal with them. For example, the rest of the Brazil team should have been prepared to feel the stress of seeing David Luiz tearing round the pitch out of position and learnt to accept it! We do not know what sort of emphasis was put on our players build-up before cup games but potentially a stress-free approach may have not have served them too well. Although with Royston Drenthe around, prior to the FA cup semi-final in 2012, a stress-free build up was definitely not possible.         

New Picture (82)

The Europa League (The coffee one)

In contrast, we are also embarking on a cup campaign with a mini-league and two-legged ties in the latter stages. Combined with the challenges of playing Thursday and Sunday regularly, the EL provides a number of psychological tests. Many managers believe it has been a hindrance and has caused their side’s downfall in recent years. Extra matches for squads who may not always be prepared for European football and the lack of recuperation time between matches has meant team’s league form has potentially suffered. Indeed, there are many fans who may have wished that we hadn’t qualified for the EL. It will undoubtedly put a strain on our resources but I believe the right attitude can get you the right results. When we were regularly in Europe’s second competition a few years ago we approached it with a positive attitude. We wanted to be in it and  went on an unbeaten run in the league and UEFA cup between the 25th October and 20th December, the dates of the first and last UEFA cup group games. It appears the extra matches helped us build up momentum and we couldn’t stop performing well and winning.

This time around we will certainly continue with the positive mind-set under Martinez. Roberto has been quite bullish about our participation stating ‘whoever complains about playing in the Europa league hasn’t got a real love for the game’. This is great to hear and the fact that he won’t ‘accept that it (the Europa league) is going to affect our league campaign’ is even better.

The opportunity to gain momentum will once again be there. However, momentum is not always positive and as much as winning can become a habit so can losing. This is where a high number of games in a short time can be a problem. Research has argued as to whether momentum is real or illusionary but even if it is an illusion it is still very powerful. No one can predict or stimulate momentum. Instead, it appears to be a moment or period of time when everything comes together to reach its optimum levels for performance, such as skill level, motivation, anxiety levels and the crowd. This can happen in the opposite direction and everything comes together to provoke poor performance for negative momentum also. The confidence positive momentum brings then feeds to every member of the team stimulating continuous high performance levels. The ingredients are all there for Everton to succeed – we just have to wait and see if we can be as consistent as we were last season.  

The Transfer Window

The increased number of matches has demanded we add to our squad. To date, the additions of Gareth Barry, Muhamed (Messi in my back pocket) Besic, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Atsu, subject to a medical, after losing Deulofeu and Traore have left us with the same numbers we had last season.

However, the boost the whole club has received from the signing of Rom alone accounts for two or three signings! I believe, in recent seasons our summer transfer activity had a massive impact on our early season form. Our results dramatically improved when there was positivity surrounding the signings of, for example, Andy Johnson and Kevin Mirallas. However, we also had long barren summers with signings totalling little money which often led to poor starts. The negativity surrounding the club had a massive impact on the performances and I feel, contributed heavily towards our lack-lustre starts. Fortunately, Lukaku has ensured that will not be a problem this season.

New Picture (92)

 New signings increase competition for places and so, usually increase motivation. Luckily, we don’t have any prima donna’s who spit their dummy out if they see a bit of competition so friendly rivalry will more than likely be the overriding attitude in the current squad.

Moreover, we do not appear to be suffering from the usual pre-season attempts of newspapers to sell our best players. Martinez felt that the question marks over Baines and Fellaini last season made it difficult for us in the first three games of the season and this is understandable as the threat of losing key players affects the whole team. Players care about the future of the team they play for and about if their mate is leaving. So it is bound to distract everyone not just the player at the centre of the transfer. However, Barkley and Coleman’s new contracts mean the only player the papers can tout around is McCarthy. Although, I don’t want to jinx anything, it seems very unlikely that we would sell the man who made such an impact during his debut season for us. Consequently, the window should only provide positives between now and deadline day, although we are Everton, so you never know.

The season ahead promises much – ignoring our pre-season form entirely –  but there are challenges ahead. We need key players to perform and as few injuries as possible would help. Consistency will be vital to our success again this season, however, that is difficult to maintain in a season with potentially 50+ matches. Martinez’ capacity to keep players motivated through difficult patches or physically draining periods will be vital and represent a stern test of his capabilities.

Let’s just hope we are all munching on a bag of Polish Revels in Warsaw in May, even the coffee ones!

Thanks for reading

@nataliebargery

 

Everton Season Preview 2014/15

New Picture (91)

Welcome to the new season at EB and one of many pre season pieces coming your way in the next week or so until we inevitably get bored and normal service resumes. Plenty has happened since last time with the transfer record broken, our manager signing a new deal and most importantly no one jumping ship. Plus we have the added delight of the Europa League to pontificate over. This sort of preview to the new season will take a look at the current health of the squad and ponder what lies ahead over the next 9  months.

So then, has it been a positive pre season?

 Its a resounded ‘yes’ from this misery guts.

Obviously if problems with the new kit, thunderspunking money on any old shite as long as its done by June 1st, or pre season results are your bag then it’s not been a great one. But even an RT from Alan Myers couldn’t remedy any of that misery. The Europa League being shite narrative is also a load of old codswallop, as I go into more elaborately in this ramble.

Anyone looking for a reason to be cheerful should take a look at this pre season quote from 2007 from Moyes;

I think it will be as hard to get into the top ten of the Premier League this year as maybe it has been to get into the top four in the past. Blackburn, Villa, West Ham, Portsmouth,  Manchester City are all doing well, so it will be really tough.

Or this cracker from 2011;

I have said many times we are going to have a tough season, it’s going to be hard for us, but I’m hoping the experience we have got, the players we’ve got, will come through and show their quality.I am expecting us to push on if we can, but I have always thought this would be a tough season for us. I don’t know exactly in what way, but I have always thought this would be a hard season because we know what we have not got,’

Give me Martinez and his ridiculous over optimism anyday.  Anyway, I’m going violently off the subject.

For the first summer in a long time we’re not going into the new campaign minus a big hitting first teamer or one that remains albeit with a turned head, plus the club have secured last season’s key man Gareth Barry. We have also broke the transfer record for Lukaku and freshened up the midfeild with the potentially ace Besic coming in for relative buttons. The acquisitions of young tykes Galloway and (possibly) Henen represent a clear investment in youth. This, coupled with the long term deals secured for impish colts Barkley and Stones has given an ageing squad that had the whiff of a real ale society bore into a much more hip, bitchin gunslinger vibe.

How is the squad looking?

 In goal…

 Tim Howard will no doubt be energised by a decent, if perhaps  hyperbole world cup after arguably his best ever all round season last time. His deputy and newly installed boo boy figure Joel Robles doesn’t inspire confidence with the fans. Arguably it would be better to bring in an arl arse keeper with experience who could fill in for Howard and let Robles make the mistakes he needs to in less pressure environments than the FA Cup quarter finals. Whilst shaky he is still young and could be a good keeper for us, just not right now. U21 Czech keeper Jindrich Stanek will slot in as third choice keeper but is still to make a first team appearance either at Goodison or previous club Sparta Prague.  Previous third choice stopper Mason Springthorpe has been released.

Wing Backs…

Seamus Coleman has missed most of pre season due to injury as has Bryan Oviedo although  hopefully the Irishman will be ok for the big kick off next week. Tyias Browning has played in various positions across the back four in pre season and could be a versatile asset as we compete on 4 fronts this season. Tony Hibbert may feel lucky to have bagged a 2 year deal, and presumably this was in part due to our Europa League (EL) squad needing to contain 4 players UEFA classified as  “local club trained players” which means they must have trained at the club for 3 years between the ages of 15 and 21. Luke Garbutt impressed against Tranmere as well as in the spirit crushing Leicester pre season game and looks to have benefited from his various loans in recent years. Whilst Leighton Baines is unquestionably still ‘first pick’ young Garbutt could feature against either the EL bottom feeders or in the dead rubbers should we progress with games to spare. At 21 he also covers one of the 4 “locally trained players” slots.

Centre Backs…

Big things will be expected of John Stones given his impact at the tail end of last season which almost ended with a World Cup spot. The young Yorkie is obviously ace but does makes a fair few mistakes positionally and can get caught in possession as happened last week in the Celta Vigo friendly. The good signficantly outweighs the bad though, and I’d imagine he will start 15-20 games as cover to ageing senior duo Phil Jagaielka and Sylvain Distin. Fellow veteran Antolin Alcarez will be fourth choice followed by Shane Duffy at 5th pick and you’d imagine he’ll go out on loan again after his decent spell at Yeovil last season. MK Dons rookie Brendan Galloway has also been brought in for a fee which could rise to as much as £5m. A left sided centre half who can also play in a defensive midfield role, you would imagine the thought is he can be groomed into Distin’s slot when (or should that be if?!) the big man ever retires. I’d be surprised if he gets a sniff of first team action this season.

New Picture (92)

Defensive Midfield…

As a centre midfielder himself, Martinez has overhauled this area of the pitch more than any other since taking office last summer. If you remember the Wigan cup debacle when square pegs Neville and Fellaini occupied the midfield engine room the situation now couldn’t be more transformed. We now have potentially 7 players who can play the 2 anchor roles, each with their own particular skillset enabling Martinez better options depending on the opponent.

Mo Besic is a potentially astute purchase in the holding midfield slot. His long range passing is very good and his positioning and awareness to plug gaps defensively seem good, plus as he can also play at the back which gives Martinez the option of moving from a back 4 to 3 to close out games without having to waste a substitution. Besic’s lean exterior, hunger and snide factor combined with his penchant for ruthless violence will hopefully see him ruffing up the bloated cheeky nando’s identikit prem midfielders in a similar fashion to Furio Giunta’s arrival from Naples in 2001.

The risk of course is that his desire to win the ball back can leave a hole in behind if he is bypassed. In the Paderborn game for example he made 5 fouls in the first 15 mins and was booked after 2 mins and I fancy he will bring an inevitable raft and pointless bookings.. The obvious caveat here is that he’s never competed in a serious European league before so it could take a bit of time to get up to speed.

New Picture (89)

As well as the first choice of Besic, McCarthy, Barry you have the returning Darron Gibson and you could also thrown into the pot the idea of Baines starting there (originally an idea put forward by the hapless Steve Round) and young Ryan Ledson could get some gametime in the EL. From the looks of his gait in pre season you wouldn’t fancy Gibson to be thrown into battle alongside fellow fatty – albeit on a lower scale – Barry and with Barry first pick Gibson’s chances of gametime look increasingly remote.

Attacking mids….

In the attacking midfield berths the situation is less clear. Ross Barkley can also play in DM but will more than likely play in the No 10 spot and his output will more than likely go up compared to last season. He will likely dovetail with  Leon Osman who you would imagine would continue to provide vital cameo’s as he did last season especially given that we haven’t strengthened numbers wise in this zone. Kevin Mirallas had a go here against Cardiff but is more effective in the wide spaces and he’ll be looking to improve again in terms of goals / assists as he did last season.

Gerard Deulofeu’s departure has left a hole which looks Christian Atsu shaped, but the Chelsea winger’s loan is still subject to a work permit. Atsu doesn’t possess the trickery of Deulofeu but could provide more substance than his predecessor certainly based on his outputs in the Dutch league. Although there is a gulf in the quality of the leagues we can draw conclusions that Atsu will put in more of a shift going back towards his own goal, is more of a team player and is also more erratic. The African Cup of Nations is the obvious fly in the ointment to this deal.

New Picture (88)

Steven Pienaar was peripheral due to injuries last season – and lesser so the style of play – and given his age it remains to be seen if he can scale the heights of previous campaigns. For me he’d still be a first pick and replacing someone of like for like quality will unquestionably be Martinez most difficult recruitment project in the next few years.  Aidan McGeady’s cameos pretty much won us 4 points alone against West Ham and Fulham last season and whilst he still probably doesn’t have the tools or consistency to be a first pick his trickery and ability to commit tiring defenders is a great option in the final thirty minutes of games.

In attack….

Up front, the protracted and ultimately successful purchase of Lukaku represented a ‘phenomenal moment’ for the football club. Big Rom has plenty of holes in his game, notably his link up play outside the box and attacking crosses in the air, but these are all coachable. If he can focus on ironing out these creases and not harping on about how great he is then the 1 in 2 goal ratio he brings to the table could be crucial in where we finish. Alongside him, Steven Naismith is probably the most serious alternative based on his many ‘unbelievable moments’ last season.

Arouna Kone is no way near as bad as some make out and if he can avoid injury should be good for 8-10 goals. Improving our scoring on the road is the principal development area for us this season and arguably the key component in us finishing higher than last season. Whilst we had the 2nd best defence on the road last season we weren’t even in the top six for goals scored away from L4 with a miserable return of just 2 goals from our trips to the other sides who made up the top six. Kone could be a factor here in supplementing the expected yield from Lukaku both in terms of goals and in applying serious pressure for his place and filling in when his form dips which it will at least once.

Beligan youth David Henen is a wide forward whose sum total of club experience is for Monaco B so I’d expect he will  slot into the u21 side if he ever actually signs. Some of the Moyes shrapnel like Velios and Gueye have been taken out the back and shot in the head .  Ressie strikers Long, and Hope and McAleny all got gametime in pre season but you’d suspect that if we bring in a final striker on loan that 2 or all 3 of them will secure loan deals of some sort.  Certainly after his excellent goal against Paderborn you would think that Long could be the one who stays and gets the most sniff of first team action.

Have we got enough bodies then?

Based on what the manager said earlier this summer its a resounding ‘No’ ,unfortunately.  Martinez stated that “You need around 27 players plus the keepers for Europe.”. I make it that we have 20 senior outfields players so we would be 7 short based on this logic.

Defenders: Coleman, Hibbert, Baines Distin, Jagielka Alcaraz, Stones Oviedo, Midfielders: McCarthy, Gibson, Barry Besic, McGeady, Pienaar, Barkley, Osman Forwards: Mirallas, Naismith, Kone, Lukaku

Garbutt and Browning have both featured in most of the pre season games and I’d be surprised if either was allowed out on loan so could supplement that figure to 22. Plus the final signing which we think may be Atsu or another winger would give us 23, so we would be 4 players short of Martinez magic 27 figure.

Surveying the terrain….

Last season was the closest we have come points wise to 4th spot since 2009/10 when we also finished 9 points off this position, albeit last season we accured 7 more points. From 7th down the league looks weak and even if we did dip due to the EL –  which is in no way a given –  it’d take a rapid decline to see us finish any lower than 7th which would probably ensure at least europa qualification

In terms of the sides we were competing with closest last season, namely Arsenal, Spurs Man United,  2 of the 3 have changed managers, both appointing more credible stewards. All three squads are stronger than ours but in the case of Spurs and United both are unbalanced with one side having no credible strikers and neither having any really competent defenders. Arsenal’s relative stability and the capture of Alexis Sanchez combined with Libepewl’s loss of the racist will probably see these two swap positions so I’d expect the slog for 4th to be between us and those 3 sides with Chelsea and Man City followed by Arsenal ensconced in the top three.

Last season our main struggles and loss of points came when 2 or 3 of the first choice eleven succumbed to injuries just after Christmas when all of the back four plus Lukaku missed games due to injury. I’d say the squad hasn’t been beefed up enough for this to not happen again so hitting the 72 point marker could be tricky. That said I think a lower points total could get 4th this season so we could  conceivably fare worse points wise and still achieve what is the number one objective.

EB

Why the Europa League is a good thing for Everton

New Picture (114)

In some sections of the fan-base discussions about our impending voyage into The Europa League  carry the lingering whiff of human shit.

The narrative amongst the sceptics is that the injection of regular midweek continental dalliance to the toffee libido will violently distract us like some kind of nuclear bag of magic. Yes there are undoubtedly challenges to be faced with balancing these forays into European backwaters whilst simultaneously maintaining league form and avoiding the by-product of injuries , for me this unsavoury reputation is ill deserved and this lengthy ramble will try to objectively explain why.

Aside from the potential excursions to sunny San Sebastian and seductively salubrious Slovakia there are legitimate reasons why on the pitch the tournament should be viewed as a positive.  Being an incredibly contrary individual as I am, this piece will look at all the various scaremongering theories doing the rounds about how our season will crumble and assess the validity of these projections. There’s a fair bit of data to digest along with a lot of sweeping generalisations and also some unfounded  character assassinations, mostly regarding Spurs. There is also no mention of the term second season syndrome.

Theory #1 ‘Playing Thursday and Sunday means more injuries’

Using data from the excellent Physio Room website, we took a look at the injury records of top flight clubs from England over the last 4 years who have competed in the Europa League (EL) to see if there was an upturn in injuries in the season they competed in the EL compared to the previous season that they qualified. So for example, Fulham received 16 more injuries in the season they competed in EL compared to the previous season. The only snag with this data is that Spurs qualified for the EL in consecutive seasons, but we will zoom in on Spurs later on in this post.

New Picture (103)

The outcome above shows that on average sides from the English top flight competing in the EL have accrued x4 additional injuries per season (for info, the average injuries accrued per team in the prem is 24), so this would equate to an increase of 16% due to the EL which is why Martinez decreed at the back-end of last season that he wanted to bolster the squad numbers wise by 6-7 players this summer. So based on this there is a clear challenge faced, but it’s not an insurmountable one if managed properly.

New Picture (113)

Back in the pub by halftime. The Benfica drubbing was our EL low point.

Theory #2 ‘The Europa league affects league form’

 Moyes win rate as Everton boss over his 11 year tenure was 42%, however his record in the 24 games following European games, the bulk of which were played on a Thursday,  drops considerably to 27%. Does this mean our league form is at risk then? Not necessarily.

In a study of the last 13 assaults on the EL by clubs in the English top flight, a glance at the below graph will show that there is no downward trend in points differential for clubs competing in the EL based on their previous season’s points tally. If you take out the 2 glaring anomalies (pardew’s calamitous campaign & clown keck’s final meltdown season with the RS) overall side’s pretty much accrue the same points (+0.36) as they did the previous season.

Cock Piss Pardew has been particularly critical of the EL for the impact it had on the Toon Army domestically in the 12/13 season, however the following season in 13/14 they accrued 8 points less without the supposed distraction of European football, indicating that their Thursday forays into Europe were nothing more than a convenient excuse for his blundering mis-management of the situation.

New Picture (106)

* Birmingham and Wigan have been excluded from this analysis as they played their Europa League season in the Championship.

The EL equation tends to be that if you play an equivalent or better team away from home who hasn’t played midweek then you are screwed. Given this I’ve listed  below the games in bold that could potentially give us problems next season following EL games. You can see that there is an even split of 7 home and 7 away and that the draw hasn’t been favourable for us as we potentially have to play last season’s 3 biggest rivals all away from home. Dogleash would call that a conspiracy.

Potential EFC games impacted by Europa League 14/15

Group Stage

Last year the highest points haul by a team in the group stage to not get through was 7 points, so 8+points from our first 12 available should be enough to qualify. To this end its  conceivable (and yes I know this is everton) that qualification  could be assured quite easily with 2 games to spare. This would give us more flexibility with personnel prior to the potentially crucial visit to Spurs.

Crystal Palace (h)

Man Utd (a)

Burnley (a)

Sunderland (a)

Tottenham (a)

QPR (h)

Knockout Rounds

Leicester (h)

Arsenal (a)

Newcastle (h)

QPR (a)

Burnley (h)

Man Utd (h)

Sunderland (h)

West Ham (a)

The Spurs Case Study

My issue with a lot of the data we’ve chewed through so far is that it’s not exactly feasible to compare ourselves with sides like Swansea, Manchester City and Fulham as it’s not really a fair comparison in terms of league aspirations and squad quality.

Whilst EL regulars Spurs have a bigger budget than ourselves, there is little difference in terms of quality of the respective sides first 20 players and we have pretty much gone toe to toe with them over the last 10 seasons in the league give or take a few wobbly seasons. Analysing their points and injuries record then gives us a much better indicator.

Their ex boss – Bagpuss faced  illiterate Arry Redknapp – is one such manager who has been  derogatory about the competition and the negative impact it had on Spurs fortunes, but does the meat faced mutant have a point?  Suffocatingly informative analyst Raymond Verheijen certainly thinks so. The physio focused commentator  noted at the back end of last season that Spurs have played the EL on Thursday before 9 of their last 10 losses in the English top flight – this was on the back of a 27,000 game study he led on the subject.

One unfounded generalisation you could make here is that Spurs players have always been something of a flimsy bunch in terms of being mentally tough and that this poor record on the road following EL is possibly evidence that they simply don’t possess the mentality to handle the dynamic of back to back games on the road and the built in excuses this offers.

New Picture (109)

*the green dot indicates season Spurs competed in Europa League, Yellow dot when they competed in ECL and red dot when they did not compete in Europe.

Looking at the above graph we can see that Spurs accrued 70 points when taking 4th in 2010 to qualify for the ECL, although they racked their higher ever points tally in 12/13 (72) in a season when they competed in the Europa league. Spurs also finished 4th in 2011/12 whilst competing in the Europa league, and were only denied qualification to Europe’s top table by Chelsea’s somewhat improbable success in winning the tournament. The curve above shows that Spurs competing in the EL down the years has not negatively impacted their fortunes in the Premier League.

More so, spurs points per game following europa league games over the last 3 seasons is 1.9, slightly up on their season average of 1.84 over the last 3 seasons.

In terms of injuries in their last 5 Europa campaigns, Spurs have accrued more than the prem average in 4 of these seasons,  usually picking up 6 more injuries per season. Only on 2 occasions during the date range did we accrue more injuries than Spurs;  in 2008 when both competed in the Europa and in 2009 when we had a freak season of serious injuries en route to the cup final.

New Picture (111)

The question you could pose is whether we have a squad equivalent to Spurs to sustain the required edge needed in both domestic and continental competition. Spurs spending compared to ours is clearly not comparable, however in terms of experience and numbers there is little between the sides. Nine of our current squad have competed in the Champions League with a further 7 able to draw on experience from the Europa League. We also selected the same number of players (28) in the Premier League as Spurs last season.

Theory #3 ‘Its impossible to compete on both fronts’

Most fans would say that getting to the EL semi finals and replicating last season’s league form would constitute a good season for the toffees. We took a look at the league form of the last 16 semi finalists of the Europa League in the season they got to the last four based on their previous league campaign to try to understand if the increase in games associated with getting to the last four has a negative impact on the league campaign.

New Picture (120)

 

On average the semi finalists faired less than a point (-0.43) worse off the following season. Of these 16 sides who made the semi finals in the last four season’s 10 also qualified via their domestic league for the Champions League that same season so I’d say it’s definitely possible to compete on both fronts with the correct management.

Theory #4 ‘The Europa league is dog shit’

Bizarrely this is one that is trotted out by many football fans despite it representing a potential route to glory, foreign trips, ace food/ale and as from this season the prize of automatic qualification for the Champions League.

More so, compared to the Premier League its a more level playing field without the distortion of the likes of City and Chelsea to get past. Granted, Channel Five’s self harm inducing  duo Clark Carlisle and Jim Beglin are nothing to write home about  but  there is little else in the Europa League’s negative column.

In Summary…

From this unnecessarily long analysis I’d say we could draw the following qualitative and quantitative conclusions on the Europa League;

  • There is no comparable analysis to support that playing Thursday – Sunday impacts league form over the course of the season.
  • The Europa League is a very convenient excuse for shit management
  • In general, there is a small spike in the number of injuries accrued during the domestic season for Europa League participants.
  • Sides who do well in the Europa League (and play more games) aren’t impacted points wise in their domestic championship. infact, they are more than likely to qualify for the Champions League

Thanks for reading

EB

 

Analysing Everton’s likely Europa League opponents

New Picture (107)

This week’s third qualifying round results and subsequent playoff draw has made the picture much clearer in terms of our potential opponents in the EL group phase draw which is made in a few weeks. A total of 48 teams play in the group stage: 7 teams including us which enter in this stage, the 31 winners of the play-off round, and the 10 losers of the 2014–15 UEFA Champions League play-off round.

Here are the  playoff fixtures for both the Europa League & Champions League along with my expected outcomes;

New Picture (117)

New Picture (118)

The above teams in red would then join the automatic group qualifier like ourselves in 4 pots quantified by each sides coefficient, so Pot 1 are the top sides and Pot 4 the rubbish ones. Based on Bong’s colossal nerding and the above predictions, pot 2 would appear the likely destination for the Toffees. Let’s take a look at the pots based on the above predictions and the respected sides coefficient data;

New Picture (113)

So basically we will play one side from each of Pots 1, 3 & 4. Here is some ‘one dig’ analysis on these opponents;

Pot 1 Teams

Probably the biggest name in Pot 1 is Inter Milan, who elder Blues will recall knocked us out of the European Cup in 1963. The current roster of The Nerazzurri is a far cry from the  treble winning crop of 2010 nor is it close to the all-star Vieri/Ronaldo vintage of the 90’s and 00’s. Indeed,  a glimpse at their best eleven shows how far they have sunk and in their last few excursions into the EL they’ve not exactly shown an appetite to succeed. Argentine World Cup forward Rodrigo Palacio (below) is their key man, weighing in with 17 goals and 7 assists last season. His countryman Ricky provided the main creative output whilst they have also recruited the likes of  Vidic, M’Vila and Osvaldo in the summer.

New Picture (99)

Staying in Italy and old foes Fiorentina attack will be spearheaded by ex Man United goal getter Giuseppe Rossi who weighed in with 16 goals last season and former Bayern monster Mario Gomez. In midfield Borja Valero is the creative hub along with £20m kopite Aquilani who will sit deeper in their midfield engine room. Columbian World Cup trickster Juan Cuadrado also players for these cats.

Closer to home, Dutch Champions in 2010 under Steve McLaren Twente begin the season weaker following the defection of top player Tadic to Southampton – the schemer either scored or assisted 30 goals in a vintage campaign last season. He has been replaced by highly rated Kasper Kusk and they also  have the dangerous forward Castaignos in their ranks who got 14 goals last season. They  are a  formidable opponent at home, impressively going the whole of last season without losing on their own turf. Dutch rivals and former European Cup winners PSV reached the 1/4 finals of the Europa League (EL)  in 2011 and the round of 16 in 2012 but just as their league form has withered in the recent years so has their form in the EL, failing to progress from average groups in 2013 and 2014.Their hopes will rest with  on keeping hold of Dutch International Memphis Depay who weighed in with 12 goals and seven assists last season. Luuk de Jong – once touted as the next top Dutch ‘number nine’ during his FC Twente days – has also joined after a disappointing spell at Newcastle United which yielded 0 goals.

New Picture (93)

In La Liga, Athletic Bilbao may no longer have the wacky management of Bielsa or the finishing of Llorente to call on, but they do have a very competent side. Markel Susaeta registered the 4th most assists (12) in la liga last season whilst Aritz Aduriz was their top scorer with 16 goals. Fellow Spaniards and our 2005 ECL conquerors Villarreal have made a comeback since relegation a few years ago and finished 6th last term, albeit 31 points behind champions Athletico Madrid. Nigerian striker Ucho and Giovani Dos Santos were their top scoring duo although the real key men were probably Argentine defender Mateo Musacchio  and midfield general Bruno. The third Spanish side who could end up in Pot 1 are three time winners and current holders Sevilla . In the close season they lost their key player with Croatian Ivan Rakitic – who slotted 12 goals and 10 assists last season – jumping ship to Barca. They still have Gameiro and rumoured toffee target Bacca in their attack – the duo bagged 29 goals between them last year.

Across the channel, Lille had the best defence in ligue 1 last season although were the lowest scorers in top 9. Former Chelsea forward Kalou got 16 of them whilst £10m libepewl signing Origi got 6. They have good stock having been Champions in 2011 and having qualified for the ECL in 2012 during the days of Eden Hazard. Staying in France and Olympique Lyon are one of the stellar names in the tournament and are very much a thoroughbred in European competitions. Last season they finished 28 points off the pace in ligue 1, leading to a 6th place finish and the sacking of coach Remi Garde.  Replaced by Hubert Fournier, the new boss still has  15 goal top scorer Alexandre Lacazette (1 in 4 career ratio)  and chief creator Henri Bedimo however Bafétimbi Gomis who got 14 goals last time round has moved to Swansea.

Heading east, and many will be familiar with Metalist from our 2007/8 campaign . The Kharkiv club qualified from the EL groups in their  last 3 attempts, getting to the quarters once. Perennially the bridesmaids in the Ukraine league, they have never finished outside top 3 in the last 8 seasons but have never took the title. They are also weakened by last season’s top scorer Marko Devich defecting to Rubin Kazan in Russia. Fellow Ukranian’s Dynamo Kiev have got out of the group phase in 3 of their last 4 EL excursions, with their best performance being in 2011 when they were defeated by Braga in the quarters. Key man Andriy Yarmalenko is their most famous current player with the chief goal threat coming from Dieudonne “Brzi” Mbokani Bezua. Familiar foes Spurs are my 12th and final side in Pot 1, however nation states cannot be drawn together at this stage so we don’t need to worry about them yet.

Pot 1 Team to avoid: Metalist Kharkiv – A saga of a journey and a dangerous opponent, the same applies for Kiev.

Pot 1 Ideal Opponent: Lille or PSV – Both relatively easy journeys and neither side are the force they were a few years ago.

New Picture (105)

Pot 3 Teams

Spaniard’s Real Sociedad were 4th last season in La Liga but have since lost key man Antoine Griezmann to Athletico. Mexican ex Arsenal man Carlos Vela was top scorer and top creator with 16 goals and 12 assists last season and has stuck around while left back Jose Angel is also a solid performer.After a 10 year exile from European football they returned to the ECL last season however they lost 5 of their 6 games and finished bottom of their group. They also struggled to defeat Aberdeen in the qualifier this week.

Maccabi Tel Aviv successfully retained their Israeli title last season, winning the league by 7 points. Top league scorer  Eran Zahavi bagged 29 goals and will be their main threat. Sheriff Tirapsol are Moldovan Champions and represent a decent well drilled outfit; they are organised, very tight at the back and gave Spurs a solid test last season. Top scorer in their domestic league was Henrique Luvannor, a Brazilian-Moldovan who racked up 22 goals. In recent years they have beaten more illustrious opponents like Dynamo Kiev and Dynamo Zagreb, so they are a legitimate dark horse.

Arguably the most dangerous side in Pot 3 could be Ludogorets Razgrad, the Bulgarian champions. Since promotion they’ve won the league 3 seasons on the spin and  last season in the EL they topped their group and knocked out Lazio in the 2nd round before bowing out in last 16. Slovenian forward Roman Bezjak was their top scorer last time round which included 6 goals in 7 EL games.

New Picture (102)

Moscow outfit Lokomotiv are a defensively well drilled side who finished 5 points off the winners CSKA in last season’s title rice. Ex Chelsea and Arsenal midfield loon Lassana Diarra is an extremely erratic tackler, sent off twice in his first batch of games after moving to Russia and he could be partnered by ex toffee snake Manual Fernandes in midfield. In 11/12 they got out of the group but succumbed to Bilbao on goal difference in the second phase. Hapless mono paced ex toffee winger ‘Billy’ used to turn out for them.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s old club Nacional are an established top half Portuguese side who will provide a decent test albeit they shouldn’t have the tools to really worry us. Venezuelan Rondon (not the one we tried to sign) is a good goalscorer for them and could do a job against the tournament’s weaker defences. They have been in the EL on two previous occasions, both ending in elimination at the group stage with just 3 wins from the 12 games played. Fellow Portuguese side Estoril Praia finished 4th last season in their domestic championship and  5th in 12/13. Top scorer Evandro has since jumped ship to Porto and highly rated manager Marco Silva has moved on to Sporting. Keeper Vagner da Silva had a great season last time out, keeping 11 clean sheets, and he remains at the club. They didn’t win any of their 6 group games in the EL last season and would be an ideal opponent for us.

Switzerland has a couple of sides in Pot 3.Anders Limpar’s old club Young Boys reached the second round in 2011 and represent a capable outfit. Their top scorer last season was 20 year old Swiss youth international Michael Fray and he will probably be the main man to watch if he remains at the club. 12 times Swiss league winners FC Zurich played in the ECL in 09/10, beating Milan on the way and have qualified for EL in 2 of the last 3 seasons, albeit they have never been past the group phase.

Rapid Wein, the side we defeated in the ECW final in 1985, have decent pedigree; they’ve been in the EL group stage 4 times but never won through to the knockout stage. Ex players include majestic Milan forward Dejan Savicevic, bearded loon Trifon Ivanov and of course Hans Krankl who also managed the club for a spell. Unlucky Polish outfit Legia Warsaw won their league at a canter by 10 points and demolished Celtic in the qualifier before the result was overturned due to them fielding an ineligible player. Their Serbian winger Miroslav Radović was top scorer with 14 last season and they also have Vladimir “Lado” Dvalishvili  a Georgian forward who also got 10 goals. Their set piece expert is Tomasz Brzyski who got 10 assists in their championship season. Last time in the EL they  finished last in a crud group in 13/14. Finally, Slovenian’s representatives NK Maribor have won their domestic league 12 times  and are a decent outfit with a rampant attacking trio all of whom got into double figures last season. Bosnian Nusmir Fajić (16) Frenchman Mendy (14) and Brazilian tavares (13) bagged a colossal 43 goals between them. They also got out of the group phase last time, albeit in a poor pool that included Wigan, before narrowly losing to eventual winners Sevilla in the 2nd round.

Pot 3 Team to avoid: Ludogorets Razgrad – Something of a journey into the unknown and an opponent with a proven winning mentality who steamrollered their group last season.

Pot 3 Group C Ideal Opponent: Estoril Praia – Didn’t win any of their group games last time and with key players and their manager departed they appear in freefall.

New Picture (119)

Pot 4 Teams

Last season’s Slovakian Champions Slovan Bratislava won their domestic league at a canter by 12 points last season. The club have a bruise brothers strike duo in the shape of Robert Vittek and Pavel Fort, both of whom are six footers and got into double figures last season. Their best showing in the EL was in 2012 when they finished bottom of the group with just 1 point, so not very good then. Serbian side Partizan Belgrade lost their domestic championship by a point to Red Star last season. Sala ilic is their 36 year old  captain with the goal threat coming from  6ft 4inch monster   Petar Škuletić who was both last season’s top scorer (11 goals) and  main creator (9 assists).

Dynamo Moscow are a direct,  long ball outfit who will look to swing in crosses and put opponents under an aerial bombardment. The focus of their approach is one time toffee target Kevin Kuranyi and they also have towering goon Chris Samba in their ranks. Former Man Utd left back Alex Buttner also joined their ranks in the summer but their key player is definitely Russian International midfielder Alex Kokorin.  Romanian side Petrolul impressed in the last round with a 4-1 win at FC Viktoria Plzeň (who were expected to go into Pot 2)  to take the tie 5-2 on aggregate. One of the goals came from their controversial skipper Adrian Mutu, formerly of Chelsea and Fiorentina. They have a tough match up against Dynamo Zagreb in the playoff but given the momentum from the Plzen game I fancy them to win through.

European Cup runners up in 1979, Malmo’s ex players include Ibrahimovic and Litmanen, but there are few such stars in their current roster. Winger /forward Markus Rosenberg had a rubbish spell at West Brom but has sparkled in a less challenging league – he’s the division’s top creator with 10 assists. The goal threat will come from him and forward Guillermo Mollins. Fellow Scandinavian’s Aalborg of Denmark are likely to be the lowest ranked side in the EL Group Phase. Their finest hour in recent times in European competition was in 2009 when they reached the ECL Group Phase, finishing 3rd in their group with 1 win, against Celtic.

Belgian cup winners Lokeren finished 5th in last season’s Jupiler League and possess the league’s golden boot winner in Tunisian ‘hitman’ Hamdi Harbaoui who plundered an impressive 22 league goals last time round. They narrowly lost in the play off to the very competent Plzen last season but I reckon they will have a bit too much for Hull when the sides meet next week. Portuguese League Cup runners up Rio Ave finished a lowly 11th in their domestic league last season, just 8 points off the bottom and not much is expected of them this time round. They’re a physical side and pulled in the most yellow cards (109) in their domestic league last season.

Turin based outfit Torino rather fortuitously qualified for the EL after Parma were turfed out of the competition due to tax issues. Even then they only crawled over the line by virtue of a marginally better goal difference than Milan. Top scorer Immobile has buggered off to Dortmund so goal scoring responsibility will rest with key creative spark Allecio Cerci – rumoured to be in Martinez tractor beam – who scored and created freely last year.

Ligue 1 outfit En Avant Guingamp won the French Cup last season but only avoided relegation by 2 points, having suffered  a meteoric demise having been 5th at one stage. They are quite reactive and recorded the third lowest possession share in their domestic league and also the most crosses in the division. Their current outfit includes ex Everton full back Lars Jacobsen, which speaks volumes. Some of their more famous ex players include Drogba, Koscielny and Malouda, but this is no such vintage. Fellow French outfit Saint Etienne  finished 4th in the French top flight last season through in no small part to Turkish forward Melvut Erding who was Les Verts top scorer with 11 goals. The club’s finest hour in Europe was in 1976 when they finished runners up in the European Cup.

Finally, Feyenoord secured qualification for the EL but have since had to endure their annual squad shake down with key men Graziano Pelle (26 goals)  departed to Southampton and key defenders Martins Indi,Stefan de Vrij and Daryl Janmaat also been on the move to richer climbs. Attacking midfielder Jean-Paul Boëtius weighed in with 19 goals / assists last season and has been retained so will be the key threat, as will a whole host of new academy graduates from their seemingly endless pool of talent at Varkenoord. We met them once before in 1996 when they knocked us out of the ECW.

Pot 4 Team to avoid: Torino – If they can keep hold of Cerci then they will give anyone a game. A dangerous opponent.

Pot 4 Ideal Opponent: Aalborg – The lowest ranked side expected to make it through to the group phase and minus some of their better players from last season.

That’s all for now folks. Stay tuned for more Europa League nerding when the draw is made later this month and a reminder that our Europa League A-Z which details stadium information, attendances and logistical intel on the cities of potential opponents can be found here.

EB