What’s up with Jelavic?

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By  @Footballfactman

The Croatian striker has gone 12 Premier League games without scoring now and even his greatest admirers must be worrying about his form. I’ve heard numerous theories – he’s been found out, he’s being grocked out of games, he’s working the channels too much or his confidence has gone. Instead of mere speculation let’s have a look at his Premier League numbers.

Last season he scored 9 times from 18 shots on target. In the top European leagues, that’s the kind of level only the likes of Van Persie, Messi and Falcao can keep up. Forwards worth fortunes, playing alongside team mates worth fortunes.

So apart from the fact the odds were stacked against him from the off this season, what has changed? Well, right from the start against Man Utd this season, Fellaini became the focus of Everton’s attack and it’s stayed that way. Fellaini’s huge influence on play last season was more often from an orthodox midfield role. He continues to touch the ball around 70 times a game but from what is now a regular advanced position. In sharp contrast, Jelavic’s involvement in games has gone from around 42 touches per game to around 28.

Fellaini’s back to goal style doesn’t particularly suit Jelavic’s need for having the ball played in front of him. Fellaini doesn’t particularly like to flick on to no one in particular like Duncan used to – we’ve all seen his preference for chest control and lay-offs. Fellaini’s one assist to Jelavic this season was the cheeky back heel flick through a Sunderland player’s legs when the Belgian’s eyes were still firmly back towards his own goal. Fellaini to Jelavic and vice versa isn’t a big passing feature in Everton’s game. Everton complete about 350 passes per game and less than 10 ever go between these two.

On top of this Everton’s crossing has increased. It was always a feature of our game – we were ranked 6th biggest crossers last year. This year we’re joint 2nd. An increase in crosses is liable to suit Fellaini’s game rather than Jelavic’s – especially the big crosses from way out wide that Everton deliver a lot. Pull-backs from inside the box to the Croatian have all but disappeared due to lack of accuracy or composure – he’s still pulling a yard off defenders and finding space. His team mates just aren’t finding him.

Despite Jelavic lack of involvement he’s still managing to get roughly the same amount of shots off per game as he was last season. What he’s not doing is getting them on target at the same rate. He’s down from around half on target to about a third.

We can rate the quality of his shots by position. The graphic below shows the average number of shots it takes from the various zones to score. These no’s are consistent year on year and cover thousands of shots:

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Jelavic has stayed consistent in taking the bulk of his shots from the “good” zone coloured in green in the graphic. Here it takes an average of 6 shots to score a goal in the Premier League. Both this year and last he’s taking around two thirds of his shots from there. He takes 80% of his shots inside the box. This is high compared to a lot of strikers who wastefully shoot from all angles and distances.

Mapping each of his 104 shots for Everton in the EPL to these zones we can see how his conversion rate compares to the hypothetical average over his 40 games to date:

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Despite not netting since his 28th game, Jelavic remains above the league average. This season he’s taking exactly the same number of shots from the same kind of positions. He’s simply not getting as many on target.

It’s how the ball is arrives to him that’s different. Put the ball on the deck in front of him and he’ll slot. Pinging a long ball over his shoulder, or slinging hopeful crosses in isn’t utilising him in the best way.

As long as Fellaini remains the focus, Jelavic will have to feed off the scraps left over. As I’ve stated before in this column, I think Everton would benefit all round from dropping Fellaini back into midfield. I think Jelavic would too.

Follow me @footballfactman on Twitter and visit my site here (especially if you want to know how good or bad Tim Howard is at saving shots from long range).