Not strengthening the squad felt was a strange flex for Everton but it doesn’t alter the fact that Sean Dyche may give them their best chance of staying up.
On the morning after the night before, Everton supporters may have awoken feeling a little left out of all the festivities.
Of the 20 Premier League clubs, theirs was the only one not to buy anybody during the January transfer window, despite any surface-level reading of their season leading to the inevitable conclusion that the playing squad needs a complete overhaul.
There were moments of low comedy, with the lowest of them all being the non-signing of Arnaut Danjuma on loan. Danjuma had already tweeted his loyalty to the project of keeping the club in the Premier League for another season before having his head turned by Spurs, a sequence of events which seemed to encapsulate the mood around Goodison Park.
But while it may have been slightly surprising that the club didn’t take the opportunity to bring in fresh faces and it can be argued that they’re weaker for the loss of Anthony Gordon to Newcastle United, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s time to start writing obituaries for their seven-decade-long stay in the top flight. Because, all their multitudinous problems, Everton may have given themselves their best chance of staying up with their choice of new manager.
Sean Dyche may not be everybody’s cup of hot gravel, but he is at least as experienced as they come in terms of Premier League relegation fights. Over the five seasons prior to his departure from Turf Moor, Dyche led Burnley to relative Premier League comfort, finishing in the top half of the table twice. And he may not even be that fazed by Everton’s lack of January transfer activity.
If Burnley were among the poorer relations of the Premier League family, then the situation into which he’s walked at Goodison Park will look very familiar in some – though by no means all – respects.
Everton aren’t Burnley. Indeed, the biggest part of the reason why new players weren’t brought in during the January transfer window likely had as much to do with the amount of money they spent in previous windows. And that raises a question. Did Everton really get the wool pulled over their eyes over practically every signing they’ve made over the last few seasons, or might it even be that their squad still has enough talent to pull through?
The defensive unit would appear to be in reasonably good shape in terms of personnel, with the England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford behind a central defensive partnership of James Tarkowski and Conor Coady. This is reflected in the statistics. They’ve conceded 28 goals in 20 Premier League games, three less than fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur. Whatever hard work he has to do with the rest of the squad, at least he doesn’t have to completely rebuild a sieve-like defence.
Everton’s biggest issue this season has been the fundamental act of scoring goals. Only Wolves have scored fewer in the entire division, and it’s this that makes their decision to sell Anthony Gordon – their joint top goalscorer in the league, albeit with a fairly feeble three goals – look all the more perplexing, especially considering the conspicuous lack of a replacement for him.
But it should be emphasised that the margins in the Premier League are narrower than ever. Just one win could lift them to 14th place in the table. And regardless of the future, as a winger it was never Gordon’s job to be Everton’s top goalscorer this season. That he was says more about the problems that Frank Lampard had elsewhere in attacking positions than about Gordon in particular. If Dyche can fix Everton’s attacking dysfunction, the loss of this one particular winger might not be felt quite as sharply as many seem to believe it will.
Dyche has worked with Dwight McNeil before at Burnley. Neal Maupay scored 68 goals in five years for Brentford and Brighton. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is back to fitness and has been starting regularly again. Amadou Onana, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Idrissa Gueye are all decent midfield players. In modern football we’re all conditioned to be constantly thinking of the next big thing, but at Everton the raw materials might already be there for the manager to work with if he can get them playing in a coherent system.
One of the biggest issues with Frank Lampard’s Everton was that it was so difficult to ascertain what they were trying to achieve, with a playing style that seemed to simultaneously fall between several stools while achieving very little. If a lack of playing identity was an issue under Lampard, it seems unlikely that this will be the case under his replacement.
None of this lets the directors of the club off the hook. Should Everton stay up this season, it will be in spite of their atrocious decision-making over a period of years rather than because of their decision to bring in Sean Dyche to dig the club out of the hole in which they’ve found themselves. The case for the defence of Farhad Moshiri remains as gossamer-thin as ever.
That Bielsa and Dyche ended up as the final two for the job in the first place is further proof of just how muddled the club’s decision-making has been in recent years.But it should be clear that the idiosyncratic stylings of Marcelo Bielsa were never going to work with Everton in their precarious current position. That would surely have been a gamble too far.
But Sean Dyche is an appointment that gives them a chance of pulling through this season’s funk and should he fail to do so, well, the seeds of that catastrophe were sewn a long time before he arrived at Goodison Park.
And the question of what Dyche may or may not have been told at the point that he was appointed into this position is certainly a tantalising one. Was he previously informed that Anthony Gordon would be leaving and that no-one new would be coming in? Did he believe at the point that he accepted the job that the squad that he’s inherited is good enough to stay up? It’s a big ‘if’, an ‘if’ so massive that it will hang over Goodison Park until the end of this season, but if Sean Dyche can get the players already at his disposal organised and disciplined, and if he can build a little more confidence amongst them, then relegation absolutely doesn’t have to be an inevitability.
There are no guarantees, of course. The squad has shortcomings that have been visible from space and the senior management of the club has been a shambles.
But if Everton are to be relegated this season, it should be clear that the rot has been running deeper than any one manager for several years and at least this manager has been there, seen it, and done it before. It may well not turn out to be enough, but should the worst happen to Everton come the end of this season, no blame will be thrown at Dyche.