‘I am not sure what the plan is’ – why are Everton no nearer the top four?

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November 10, 2021
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    MOTD2 analysis

    I know where Everton want to be, but they still don't look like getting there anytime soon.

    It is more than five-and-a-half years since Farhad Moshiri bought Everton, in February 2016 when they were 10th in the Premier League.

    I joined shortly afterwards and I know exactly how ambitious the club is – the Champions League was the aim.

    Since then, they have spent around £500m to try to get there, and gone through a good few managers as well – Rafa Benitez is Moshiri's fifth permanent appointment.

    Off the pitch, things are progressing and it's great that a new stadium is on the way, but they still look absolutely miles away from having a top-four team to play in it.

    There is no reason to think anything will change soon

    Snapshot of 10th to 15th in the Premier League: 10th Crystal Palace, 11th Everton, 12th Leicester, 13th Southampton, 14th Brentford & 15th LeedsEverton have lost three and drawn two of their past five league games. Only Aston Villa, with five defeats, have picked up fewer points in that time

    Sunday's draw with Tottenham left Everton in 11th place and you have to say mid-table is about right for them. You look at West Ham, who are third at the moment, and they are clearly a much better team.

    When I watch the Hammers, I know exactly what they are going to do. They are tough to break down, with some really dangerous players on the counter-attack and they have quality in certain areas.

    In short, they have a plan. The same goes for every team that is in and around the top of the table, but not Everton.

    I don't watch Benitez's side and think 'right if the plan comes off, they will win today' because I am not even sure what that plan is.

    I also don't think their squad is good enough, or big enough with as many options as the other teams above them probably do.

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    That lack of depth is really holding them back, especially up front. Every week I look at their bench and their attacking options are so limited – it's as if all their best attackers are on the pitch already, and there is no-one to bring on who could do something different and change the game.

    I also don't see a style of play which is sound enough to get them in the top six and keep them there for the rest of the season, let alone the Champions League places.

    They are not in a mess or playing terribly, and there is clearly no crisis. Ronald Koeman (in 2017) and Marco Silva (2019) were both sacked around this time of the season, with the team in the relegation zone.

    Things are nowhere near that bad now, but there is also no reason to think anything is going to change drastically for them in the near future, even when their injured players come back. I can understand why their fans are getting frustrated.

    'I expect more from Rafa's teams than this'

    Graphic showing Everton's XI vs Tottenham: Pickford, Digne, Keane, Godfrey, Coleman, Gray, Allan, Delph, Gordon, Townsend, Richarlison

    I watched Sunday's game for MOTD2 and it felt like Tottenham were there for the taking. Everton never looked like they would be able to do that, though.

    Spurs were so deep, and Everton were at home, but they didn't show any real intent to get at them to try to win the game.

    At the same time, they didn't sit back and try to hit Spurs on the counter-attack. It was a bit of in-between, and I am not sure what they were trying to do.

    Rafa is always known for being a great tactician, I am just not seeing it at the moment. I expect more from his teams than this when I watch them.

    He has a reputation for being a little bit cautious but he usually has a way of hurting the opposition too, and that was completely missing against Spurs.

    Everton seemed to just be hoping Demarai Gray would do something special, or that Andros Townsend scored one of his wonder goals from 30 yards.

    I was watching them wondering are they trying to get it wide to cross it, or playing through the middle?

    At the moment it feels like they are a team that is waiting for Dominic Calvert-Lewin to come back from injury to try to get them back on track. It's been a tough few weeks for them without him.

    I know why they miss him because he is such a big presence up front but, as good a player as he is, even with him in the side I can't see any argument for them making the top six this season, or being close.

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    Will Benitez get time to turn things around?

    Everton could not spend big this summer because they were restricted by Financial Fair Play rules, but they still made two excellent signings in Townsend and Gray.

    Then they made a good start under Benitez which settled everything down after all the noise about his Liverpool connections when he was appointed.

    That bought him a bit of time to implement his plan for the team but, like I say, I just can't see what he is trying to do.

    If the results don't pick up soon, the noise about his ties with Liverpool is just going to get louder again.

    We've seen in the past couple of weeks that every Premier League manager is only a few defeats away from the sack, and things are probably even worse for Benitez because some fans were disgruntled before he even started.

    He shouldn't be under pressure, because what Everton need is someone who can build success – it is not going to happen instantly, they should know that by now and changing their manager so often recently has definitely been a disruption.

    Benitez is a top-class manager and of course he could deliver that long-term vision, if he is given time.

    As a former Liverpool manager in charge of Everton, though, I am just not sure he will get it.

    Ashley Williams was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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