We highlighted on bwinbetting just last week after the 14th round of Premier League action that Everton were technically the most underachieving side in the top flight. From the same 14 fixtures in the last campaign, the Toffees were 11 points worse off this time.
So what has been the problem for Roberto Martinez’s men? Is it that Ross Barkley has only been fit enough to start six league games or Seamus Coleman’s early-season injury?
Only three clean sheets this season have certainly played a role. Stoke and Leicester are the only pair to have kept fewer. But in terms of playing personnel, Barkley isn’t even in the top two midfielders that Everton have missed.
James McCarthy has failed to start seven games in all competitions this season and Everton haven’t won any of them.
His energy and pressing gives Martinez a string in his bow that isn’t offered by Gareth Barry or Muhamed Besic. Furthermore, it is interesting that Besic hasn’t won a single aerial duel this season, compared to McCarthy’s 18.
The other notable absence has been Steven Pienaar, not directly because of his on-ball abilities, but more to do with the types of runs he makes off of it.
Everton scored twice in each of their opening two games of the season, with Pienaar on the left side ahead of Leighton Baines.
Against Leicester Baines created more chances than any of his teammates and then against Arsenal, the left-back was Everton’s most successful passer in the final third.
It is the regularity with which Pienaar drifts inside and takes the opposing full-back with him that allows Baines to be such an attacking force. He has extra space to run into and often is not tracked by his rival winger.
Everton are largely set up in a way to get the most from an attacking perspective out of Baines and have been for a number of years.
However, this hasn’t happened as much of late and a key factor seems to be the role of Kevin Mirallas.
Mirallas has filled in for the injured Pienaar but doesn’t seem to be fulfilling the duties that the South African does so well.
Over a six-week period from late September Baines looked to be getting up a head of steam. In the seven games between Crystal Palace and Sunderland, he had scored twice and helped himself to another four assists.
He has contributed nothing from an attacking viewpoint in the four games since.
Across the draws with Swansea and Sunderland, Baines attempted 19 crosses. In the latest four fixtures combined he has managed only 14.
This graphic compares his attacking involvement in that period to his fellow full back Coleman:
The big problem for Mirallas and this is slightly strange for a striker playing wide, is that his natural run is away from goal rather than towards the penalty box.
For example against Arsenal earlier in the season, this was a solid strategy to drag a central midfielder out to the wider areas, which in turn opened up space in the middle of the pitch for the likes of Romelu Lukaku to profit from.
What this means for Baines though is that the wide areas where he thrives is becoming more crowded.
Also it is interesting that two of Mirallas’ three goals this season have come from the edge of the 18-yard box, just to the left of centre, which is a position that he should be taking up more.
Against West Brom he received the ball in this space from Baines and although Ben Foster should have saved Mirallas’ low drive, it squirmed in. Then against Tottenham from an almost identical position he bent a beauty past Hugo Lloris.
Yet, his link play and understanding with Baines is far removed from that with Pienaar.
Another problem for Baines is that the Belgian seems to be stealing more of his set pieces in recent weeks.
Martinez has previously praised both for their dead-ball abilities and Mirallas has scored some notable free-kicks since moving to Goodison Park.
Baines hasn’t taken a single attacking free-kick in Everton’s last two games compared to three from Mirallas, while he has also been responsible for fewer corners.
Across the season, Baines has taken twice has many corners as Mirallas, yet his success rate is five times greater. When Mirallas soon takes over as Everton’s penalty taker, that could be the final nail in the coffin for the left-back.
So what next for Everton? Getting back into the top half would be a start, let alone challenging for the top six. However, it is the Champions League that Mirallas wants.
Maybe one option is to sell Mirallas, with the latest gossip suggesting that a January offer from Arsenal is in the pipeline.
It is 5/1 that he plays a Premier League game for Arsenal before June 2015, but of all of the players that Arsenal require, another wide forward has to be low on the list of priorities.
Granted there is every possibility of Lukas Podolski leaving, but with Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being options in these roles, and Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck also capable of doing a job, Arsene Wenger would be much better off focusing his search on a proper defensive midfielder or another centre half.
But for Everton, the deal would surely be big business and Mirallas has indicated previously that he had long discussions with the Gunners before deciding on a move to Merseyside.
Mirallas has made no secret of his desire to play in the Champions League again and this is unlikely to arrive at Everton, where he has 18 months left on his current contract, unless they win the Europa League.
A contract extension has to be considered unlikely if this doesn’t happen and so the decision for Martinez is really whether to sell in January or hold out until the summer.
Given the impact his performances seem to be having on Baines, the former looks the wiser idea and
up next for Everton in the Premier League is a home game with QPR. The Toffees are 9/20 to take three points for just the second time in seven league fixtures.