A sterile performance against Watford has left Sam Allardyce facing metaphorically sharpened knives in both press boxes and Goodison Park’s stands alike.
Poor results and an even poorer brand of football have left him being once more castigated as a relic of a deservedly forgotten era of British football.
It’s now been 16 games in charge for the former England manager since he was unveiled at the end of November. However, he’s only picked up two wins and nine points from the Toffee’s last 10 Premier League matches.
During this period, he’s used 22 different players in his starting line-ups and Everton have produced the fewest number of shots on target in the Premier League while his team failed to achieve his prime directive of keeping a clean sheet during the last eight of these matches.
With things clearly not working as intended, Allardyce needs to put his stubborn ideals to one side and look further towards the future to save his own reputation and, more importantly, to begin the inevitable task of rebuilding the team which now looks unavoidable.
Spoilt for choice
One of the first problems facing the Everton manager is the sheer number of players vying for a position in the first team.
Rather than satisfy egos, he should now show some faith in the younger players who can learn much from the higher-pressure matches approaching through the final stages of the season.
Players like Ashley Williams (33), Phil Jagielka (35), Morgan Schneiderlin (28) and even Wayne Rooney (32) have simply not delivered enough for the team in recent weeks and should be pushed to the periphery for at least the next few matches.
In doing so, they will be made to fight for their place, which can only improve training sessions, or quietly regress away from the pitch.
While it would be foolish to build a team consisting entirely of younger players, there would still be enough experience from the likes of Gylfi Sigurðsson, Idrissa Gueye and even to some extent Tom Davies in the centre of the pitch to guide the players around them.
In defence of Everton
While Everton had as many first-team defenders injured (5) as they had available for last weekend’s game, this has at least stopped Allardyce’s constant rotation of defensive personnel.
While Everton certainly need more fit defenders, they also need a stable platform to build from with regular partnerships formed on the field.
Mason Holgate was the player to miss out at Vicarage Road making it four consecutive matches that Allardyce has snubbed the 21-year-old.
While he’s far from the finished article, there has been enough to suggest that the England under-21 defender can grow with more games under his belt.
To partner him in central defence, Ramiro Funes Mori (26) is expected back in action soon and along with Michael Keane (25) Allardyce should be looking to those three during training to identify a partnership which he can nurture for next season and potentially beyond.
Holgate is not the only young player to have recently missed out in Allardyce’s selections. Beni Baningime showed a lot of promise during David Unsworth’s ill-fated reign to be given another chance while Dominic Calvert-Lewin deserves much more than the 82 minutes of action he’s picked up over the last 7 league fixtures.
Tom Davies is a player who has been in and out of Allardyce’s plans but, having started three of the last four games and being called from the bench to steady the ship in the Arsenal horror-show, he now needs to build on this with a regular starting place which benefited him greatly last season.
While the recent arrival of Cenk Tosun means it’s highly unlikely that the Turkish striker has already been forgotten, perhaps Allardyce needs to remember the role he played for Beşiktaş.
Having been given severely limited service during his four appearances so far, it’s perhaps of little surprise that the player Allardyce described last month as the “best in the world for his price bracket” has failed to hit the ground running.
The need to impress
One of the reasons Sam Allardyce has recently pushed players like Tosun and Calvert-Lewin to the outskirts of the team is that he claims he needs to get his team to safety first.
This, however, is a case of backward logic. Without actual game-time, especially in competitive matches, these players will be slow to develop to their full capabilities. The increased pressure and need to impress will serve to test them and push the forwards for the good of them and the club as a whole.
Furthermore, saving these players for matches which will effectively be dead-rubber games in which his under-performing senior players are likely to be even less motivated, the players of Everton’s future will not be given a fair opportunity to succeed.
Everton made a huge investment last summer in bringing talented youngsters to Goodison Park, therefore, it’s clearly an avenue which the club wishes to follow in the coming years.
What does the future hold?
While Allardyce continues to insist that he will stay on as manager beyond the end of this season, he will clearly have to win over the club’s board that he can pull them in the desired direction.
He may have signed an 18-month contract at the end of last year. However, he’s currently failing his own remit.
“I’ve never played the same way at any club and I’ve managed seven in the Premier League now. All I’ve tried to do is live the club’s philosophies," the Everton manager admitted recently.
“(I’ll bring) a winning brand hopefully. We can’t play the same way every game, that’d be naive.”
To his credit, there is stability at the club now in a sense. Where Everton were five points above 17th-placed Huddersfield when his appointment was made, they now find themselves in roughly the same position being seven points above 17th-placed Swansea and four ahead of the Terriers.
If he’s to prove himself pliable within the club’s over-arching plans though, his own promise of winning football will need to come sooner rather than later.
It will also need to include reasons for the board and the club's fans alike to believe he’s tangibly building towards success next season.
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