After a little over nine months out of the game, Sean Dyche is back in management with the arduous task of saving Everton’s status as a Premier League club.
He arrives at Goodison Park with little in excess to help him mastermind Everton’s escape from the relegation battle they find themselves in. They finished the January transfer window without making a single signing despite urgent pleas from Dyche’s predecessor, Frank Lampard, for the board to bolster the attacking options available to him.
In the end, over the course of the eight days which followed Lampard’s sacking on Jan. 23, Everton hired Dyche a day before the transfer window closed and sold winger Anthony Gordon for £40m ($48m) to Newcastle United on Deadline Day without having a replacement signing ready in the wings.
It has been reported that Everton were in the market but were limiting themselves to loan deals, having recorded a distressing pre-tax loss total of £372m ($448m) over the last three seasons, putting them at a disadvantage in their pursuit of key targets Danny Ings, Arnaut Danjuma and Andre Ayew – all three of which would join other Premier League clubs.
That has irked an already frustrated fanbase that has watched a team lacking quality win once away from home all season. The outlook looks bleak with the club in 19th, but in Dyche the under-fire Everton board have hired a coach who managed to do what was asked of him without asking for much in return during his ten years at Burnley.
Working with a modest budget, Dyche proved his acumen in keeping Burnley in the Premier League for six seasons until their relegation last May when he had already left a month earlier.
So, ahead of hosting league leaders Arsenal on Saturday, what does Dyche have to work with at Everton?
Amadou Onana showing promise but midfield often stagnant
Dyche’s decision to run the Everton squad through a Bleep Test in his first training session in charge may have fed the notion that he is an old school disciplinarian who favours a low-block 4-4-2, but under the tactics of Lampard the team had often failed to provide a platform to retain possession and launch attacks.
Prior to their defeat to West Ham last month, which cost Lampard his job, Everton ranked 16th in average passes completed per-game at 330.0 for the season – below the league average of 388.4 but higher than 20th-ranked Nottingham Forest’s 267.7. Add that to a defensive-line breaking passes per-game rank of 17th (3.9) and you can gauge how Everton have struggled to put their opponents on the back foot.
Furthermore, while a positive in one sense, midfielders Amadou Onana (51%/11th) and Idrissa Gueye (49%/17th) rank in the top 20 at their position in challenges won percentage. Three other clubs – West Ham, Leicester, and Brentford – can say the same, with West Ham and Leicester experiencing underwhelming seasons themselves in the bottom half of the table.
Onana, a signing made last summer from Lille, has been involved in more than the average number of challenges (205), while Gueye meets it square on at 157. The performance of the duo in these metrics would suit Dyche’s style when out of possession should he introduce his 4-4-2, Onana would be key with his 76.9 challenge grade (8th rank out of 119 midfielders).
How Everton have struggled for width
Here, the options are few and far between. The departure of Anthony Gordon to Newcastle leaves Dyche with the choice of only two wingers when selecting his squad: Demarai Gray and Dwight McNeil.
Gray is a player who needs to be utilised by Dyche as a player who has created 25 chances, above the average (17) for attacking midfielders. A lack of potency in attack means he has just one assist to his name despite a crossing grade of 79.4, which ranks 8th among 89 players in his position. McNeil and Gordon were both off Gray’s pace with 15 and 10 chances created, respectively.
Alex Iwobi could revert to the wing but has shown promise as a No.8 to offer something different to the defensive rigidity of Onana and Gueye. From his central role, the former Arsenal winger has attempted 28 dribbles, the sixth-most amongst midfielders with Newcastle’s Joelinton top with 42.
Should Dyche opt for a more narrow approach that could see Iwobi play behind Dominic Calvert-Lewin, he could suit that role having displayed an unrivalled work rate with his 1,199 attempted pressures the most by any midfielder while also leading Everton with five assists.
Wing-back support has been limited in that category with Vitaliy Mykolenko and Seamus Coleman failing to contribute an assist this season. The pair's cross grades also rank 44th and 45th among 74 players at their position.
Has Jordan Pickford been in form worthy of remaining England’s No.1?
Pickford has faced a high volume of saveable shots on target at 71, above the average of 55, but he has dealt with those poorly.
Taking into account the two other goalkeepers to have faced a higher total in that metric in Brentford’s David Raya (84) and Fulham’s Bernd Leno (80), all three have conceded 28 goals.
Yet, 54% of those goals considered saveable were conceded by Pickford, compared to Raya’s 36% and Leno’s 39%.