Whisper it quietly, but Everton have been performing quite well recently. We sit pretty atop of the form table over the last five games and fourth in the table concerning the last ten.
There’s a mixture of reasons for the fact we’ve only lost one game in those ten. Firstly, our central midfield has become a pillar of strength, with Koeman spoiled for choice amongst new signing Morgan Schneiderlin, young star Tom Davies, the ever-consistent Idrissa Gana Gueye, improving Ross Barkley, livewire James McCarthy and the experienced Gareth Barry. We found success while Gueye was on international duty using a 5-3-2 system, but the Senegalese rock’s return has seen an indifferent return to the 4-3-3 with Barkley on the wings rather than in the centre. Hopefully the, by all accounts, lacklustre draw away at Boro is the end of that.
Secondly, and what I want to focus this blog on is the improvement at the back. Mason Holgate and Ramiro Funes Mori have come in to replace Phil Jagielka, and Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman appear more at home as wing-backs rather than full-backs but neither of those changes have made the biggest difference.
That, instead, lies with the goalkeeper. First choice at the start of the season, Marteen Steklenburg got injured in the Merseyside Derby, and was replaced by Joel Robles. Many Everton fans, myself included, as harsh as this sounds, were relieved because, quite frankly, Stek is a liability and Robles is something of a rock.
In his ten matches this season, nine in this current run, one against West Ham earlier, Joel has kept six clean sheets. He’s conceded seven goals. Ok, so seven goals in four games isn’t a great record but looking individually at the goals it’s hard to pinpoint any of the blame on Joel.
In 16 matches earlier this year, Stekenlenberg conceded 20 goals and only kept two clean sheets. He became a little bit of a hero against Manchester City with two penalty saves, but that was more of the exception than the rule.
With Joel between the sticks, our defenders look much more solid. And that allows our attacks to be more fluid. Which, unsurprisingly, has led to better results. Joel makes an average of 3 saves per match, Steklenberg only 2.1. Joel’s seven goals conceded in ten matches is the fewest of any goalkeeper to have reached double figures for appearances this season. There’s no question that Joel deserves to be, and should be for a very long time, Everton’s number one.
Personally, I’m a massive fan of the Spaniard. When Everton were collapsing last term, he was conceding three or four goals every time we played away. And yet he was consistently our best player. Without him, our goal difference last season would have been negatively astronomical. That went unnoticed by most, so I’m glad he’s now starting to prove himself with a decent defence who actually want to play for the manager.
And just to top it all off, his celebrations are boss.