Allardyce’s fearful approach doing Everton no favours
Risk-averse hosts miss opportunity for rare derby victory against weakened Liverpool
Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin reacts after missing a late chance to win the Merseyside derby against Liverpool at Goodison Park. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Long before he forged a reputation as a one-man insurance policy against relegation, Sam Allardyce was known for his fondness for facts and figures. He played the percentages in an essentially risk-averse brand of football. He has sought solace in the statistics. He still presents himself as a blend of old and new, traditional judgment and Moneyball-style metrics. “That’s the beauty of our matrix of statistics today, which backs up your eye,” he said.
His notion is the numbers support his case. His programme notes for last month’s defeat by Manchester City amounted to a blizzard of self-justifying statistics. It seemed a selective interpretation of the data available because after Saturday’s Merseyside derby stalemate made him only the third manager to register 50 goalless draws in the Premier League – and at times Liverpool threatened to render him only the second to suffer 200 defeats – other numbers were more unflattering.
Everton had four touches of the ball in the Liverpool box in the opening hour. They have mustered a solitary first-half goal since January. Under Allardyce, they have hosted Chelsea, both Manchester clubs and Liverpool. Over 360 minutes, they have recorded only three shots on target and one goal.
All of which suggests either a lack of quality, a surfeit of timidity or both. A €229 million outlay in the past 12 months ought to have injected ability, even if three-quarters of the spending preceded Allardyce’s appointment. Yet the fearful football that an often outspoken character has overseen may highlight his innate caution.
“It could have been that in the first seconds and boosh. The crowd get up,” Jürgen Klopp said, trying to mimic the blood and thunder of a stereotypical derby; this rather placid affair had insufficient thud, even if there were a few blunders as Everton mislaid a third of their passes and misdirected a couple of late attempts to break the deadlock.
“Let’s face it, they have got a terrific team, haven’t they?” Allardyce asked and when Liverpool are at full strength, the answer would be in the affirmative. Yet their front three included Danny Ings, whose last goal came more than 900 days ago, and Dominic Solanke, whose 23 Liverpool appearances have yet to produce any. Their full backs were Nathaniel Clyne, making his first appearance of the season, and the out-of-position central defender Ragnar Klavan.
His immediate opponent was Theo Walcott who, for 80 minutes, did his best work as a supplementary right-back before belatedly running at Klavan. A Liverpool team who had never played together before – and probably never will again – showed more cohesion and perhaps the most meaningful game of Everton’s campaign served as a microcosm for much of it: slow starters lost their way in the middle before seeking an uplifting ending. It eluded them.
A complication, on the day and over the campaign, has been Wayne Rooney. His reinvention as a midfielder has been a mixed affair, and he laboured again while Everton looked underpowered and poor in possession. Allardyce was asked if it is a concern the 32-year-old now struggles against the best opposition. “I can agree with you to a certain degree,” he replied.
It poses a question if Rooney’s appearances are rationed, if Everton’s biggest name is brought out only for the smaller games. They only gained a foothold in midfield when the more energetic Idrissa Gueye replaced him. Briefly, Everton resembled the side who had taken many a big scalp at Goodison Park before their 15-month drought.
An apprehensive approach was reflected in the rhetoric. Take the strange case of Davy Klaassen, a €27.4 million signing who has been granted only six minutes of Premier League football since September. He has been unimpressive but perhaps an enigma could be unravelled.
“If I had the opportunity to play him, I would but I haven’t because I’ve got to win,” Allardyce countered. Yet Everton, safe from relegation, do not have to win. They are one of the few teams who could experiment. “If we lose, it’s me that gets the stick,” Allardyce argued, a damage-limitation specialist seeking to limit the damage to his own standing. – Guardian