For all the plaudits that Roberto Martinez’s Everton have collected for our new post-Moyes positive football, the hardest part of the game is still really very hard indeed for the neat and tidy Blues. As I write, we have 40 Premier League goals – that’s more than Tottenham Hotspurs (just how are they 5th?) but six fewer than the benighted Manchester United, three fewer than Southampton and only two more than Laudrup-free, relegation threatened, Swansea City. “We don’t get enough goals from midfield”, said my brother and I agreed. But what do the (Premier League) stats tell us?
Firstly, Romelu Lukaku is not the problem. He has ten goals (most of them crucial) in 19 starts (plus two as a substitute). That’s pretty much the goal every other game that marks out a top striker. He also hits the target with about half his shots too (29 of 62), a better rate (if not, alas, output) than a certain Luis Suarez (61 of 131)!
Go ten yards further back, and the source of Everton’s inability to convert possession into goals becomes more clear. Kevin Mirallas’ five goals have come from 70 shots, of which only 21 were on target. He has an almost direct comparator in Daniel Sturridge, whose 18 goals have come from just one more shot, but the Liverpool man has hit the target 33 times from those 71 attempts. If it feels like Kev is shooting on sight and often wildly, well, to a large extent, he is.
Ross Barkley likes a dig too and, with 62 shots, he has had a pop exactly as often as the Big Belgian, but Ross has just 3 goals, probably because he has been on target just 13 times (fewer than Jordan Henderson!). Barkley’s progress this season has been wonderful to behold, but he has to score more goals and to do so, he has to hit the target more often.
So – apart from practising (please practise!) – what’s the solution? One player may have it. Gerard Deulofeu sits third on Everton’s shots on target ladder with 16, but from just 23 attempts at goal (in 4 starts and 12 sub appearances). This confirms another “feeling” from watching him play. He can beat a man and sometimes tries to beat one too many, but when he gets a shot off, he’s usually manufactured a yard to play in, even close to goal. (The on-target : off-target ratio the Spaniard is producing is more characteristic of a defender who comes up for set plays, getting on the end of crosses).
This is why Deulofeu is so exciting and why Roberto must move heaven and earth to exercise the second season option on the loan. Next year, the young man will have that extra touch of composure, that little more experience of big matches, that growing-up that all strikers need (see L. Suarez and D. Sturridge mentioned above). The goals will come then – and how!