Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Bernard has the guile to help to solve Everton's creativity problem
Everton signed Bernard on a free transfer from Shakhtar Donetsk
Last Updated: 21/10/18 4:08pm
Everton had a creativity problem last season but could summer signing Bernard be the answer? Nick Wright delves into the statistics ahead of their Super Sunday clash with Crystal Palace.
Everton faced a myriad of problems last season. There was the summer spending splurge which left them with an imbalanced and one-paced squad. There was the failure to replace Romelu Lukaku with an out-and-out striker. And there was the rancour among fans caused by Sam Allardyce's appointment and the playing style he brought with him.
Everton eventually finished the campaign in eighth place, a long way clear of the relegation battle that at one point threatened them, but they did not win a single game against any of the teams above them. Everton conceded more goals than relegated Swansea and West Brom and registered their worst goal difference in over a decade.
The defensive failings were alarming but another problem somewhere near the top of the list was a dramatic drop in creativity from open play. In 2016/17, Everton ranked eighth for chances created from open play with 332, but last season that total plummeted to 219 - the third-lowest in the Premier League.
It was not just down to playing style. In fact, a closer look at the statistics shows it had more to do with personnel. Everton's top creators from open play in 2016/17 were Ross Barkley (56), Romelu Lukaku (47), Leighton Baines (37), Kevin Mirallas (29) and Gareth Barry (25), but all five of them either left the club that summer or featured sparingly in the following season.
Everton hoped their new recruits would fill the void, but Wayne Rooney (25), Gylfi Sigurdsson (16), Davy Klaasen (two) and Sandro Ramirez (one) created fewer open-play chances between them than either Barkley or Lukaku managed on their own in the previous campaign. Everton's striking issues received more coverage, but the lack of service was a bigger problem.
It has been left to Marco Silva to remedy the situation this season. The new head coach was backed to the tune of over £80m in the summer transfer market, with Richarlison, Yerry Mina and Lucas Digne the most expensive additions, but when it comes to creativity, recent evidence suggests it is a free transfer who could make the biggest difference.
Bernard had to be patient following his arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk on Deadline Day. The Brazilian, a one-time target for Arsenal and Tottenham, had not featured for his former club since March due to a shoulder injury. In his first month at Everton, he only made one brief substitute appearance.
Since then, though, there have been encouraging signs. Bernard completed 90 minutes for the first time in Everton's Carabao Cup tie with Southampton, and he was arguably the best player on the pitch in the 2-1 win at Leicester before the international break.
Bernard was the architect of Everton's opening goal at the King Power Stadium, collecting Idrissa Gueye's pass on the left-hand side of the Leicester box, jinking away from Ricardo Pereira and Daniel Amartey and lifting an inviting cross towards the far post, where the outstretched Kasper Schmeichel could not prevent Richarlison from firing home.
It was one of four open play chances created by Bernard over the course of the game - the most by any Everton player in 2018. Having also created opportunities in his substitute appearances against West Ham, Arsenal and Fulham, Bernard is now averaging more open play chances created per 90 minutes than any other Premier League starter this season. It is a small sample size, of course, but there were a further four in the Carabao Cup clash against Southampton.
There is a sense that things are beginning to come together for Everton under Silva, and overall creativity is one of the areas of improvement. Their total of 58 open play chances created moves them up from 18th to 14th among Premier League clubs. And while it is a relatively minor change, they can be confident of further progress now that Bernard is playing regularly.
"He is a quality player and he will help us," said Silva in September.
Silva was referring not just to his passing prowess but to his one-on-one ability, too. Against Leicester, Bernard completed five dribbles - the most by any Everton player all season. The same caveat applies regarding the sample size, but only the Adama Traore is averaging more per 90 minutes among Premier League starters this season.
Importantly for Silva, who demands high-intensity and high-pressing from his forward players, Bernard is also excelling without the ball. The 26-year-old has averaged more sprints per 90 minutes (18) and more ball recoveries per 90 minutes (12.9) than any other Everton player. Bernard may be small but he offers guts as well as guile.
The numbers suggest Everton have pulled off a coup by getting him on a free transfer. The early months of Silva's Goodison Park revolution have not been without setbacks. The problems of last season are not consigned to history just yet. But with the boy from Brazil pulling the strings, their creativity issues might soon become a thing of the past.
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