During his tenure as Everton manager, David Moyes never really sussed out how to get the best from strikers. Despite having broken the club’s transfer record three times by bringing in centre-forwards James Beattie, Andrew Johnson and Ayigbeni Yakubu, none of the Glaswegian’s purchases were able to deliver goals and performances on a consistent basis.
Current forward Nikica Jelavic is another who falls into this particular bracket. After bursting onto the Premier League scene in his debut campaign with the Toffees, the Croatian international will be looking to bounce back from a classic case of ‘second season syndrome’.
The former Rangers man was snapped up by Moyes back in January 2012 to give his side some much needed firepower. Jelavic duly obliged, netting nine times in thirteen games before the end of the campaign and helping the Toffees to a strong finish.
But in his second campaign, somewhat typically for Everton strikers under Moyes, he toiled. Having been prolific in the opening six months of his Everton career, that goalscoring instinct seemingly deserted him in his second campaign, stuttering towards just seven goals in thirty-seven appearances. Jelavic cut a hesitant and frustrated figure throughout.
Despite his recent woes, Everton fans still harbor hopes that their striker, who remains universally popular with the supporters, can rediscover his golden touch. And it is certainly not unreasonable to think so, for at his best, goals did not come about as a result of ‘hit and hope’ strikes. They were cultured, classy finishes; goals that are arguably the true measure of a fine forward.
That sort of touch doesn’t evaporate overnight, or over a summer break for that matter. Last season, something was off with Jelavic, and Roberto Martinez will be hopeful of putting that right.
So what went wrong last year? And how can the new manager resolve it? The most pertinent issue was perhaps the initial dominance Marouane Fellaini had on Everton’s attacking play at the inception of the 2012/13 season. The Belgian was pushed forward as a second striker early on, but he is certainly not a classic No.10 and not a player that compliments Jelavic’s best assets when occupying that role.
Whilst showcasing some stylish football at the start of the last campaign, often the Toffees would mix things up and knock it long to Fellaini, who in turn would use his unorthodox frame to shrug off defenders and get the ball under control. This brought the likes of Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas into play from midfield, with Fellaini often finding himself with back to goal and back to any players in a more advanced position, primarily Jelavic.
The Croatian, who is at his most lethal playing on the shoulder of defenders and in the penalty box, found himself isolated. And because Fellaini had suddenly evolved into the attacking focal point of a winning Everton team, Moyes stuck with this approach. Jelavic was left chasing down lost causes, relentlessly pressing centre-backs and drifting into wide areas in a desperate attempt to get involved in the play.
Combined, these factors starved the Croatian of goalscoring opportunities and chances dropped to him, the sharpness just wasn’t quite there. Openings were spurned that he would have gobbled up a mere twelve months ago. Whilst on one hand you have to admire his industry and desire to see more of the action, this is not where Jelavic does his best work. He needs to be in the box and conserving his energy for when that chance does drop to him.
But under Martinez, and the manner in which he sets his teams up to play, you suspect if Jelavic is given opportunities, he may well fare a lot better. The Spaniard is a great believer in having genuine width in his teams, regardless of whether he chooses a 3-4-3, a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 system. In the manager’s preferred 3-4-3 especially, the two wing-backs hug the touchline in an attempt at overloading the opposition full-backs and pulling crosses into the box.
This should have Jelavic salivating, as a host of his early goals for the Toffees came from finishing low crosses into the box with one touch finishes. We have seen this in action as early as Jelavic’s first game back from pre-season, in which he netted from a burst and low cross from wing-back Seamus Coleman. When you consider Leighton Baines will be making his own forays down the left, Jelavic will have a twin source of dangerous crosses coming into the penalty area.
Not to mention, with Fellaini likely to operate in a deeper role, this will free up space for Everton’s typically creative players to play in more advanced areas. Again, this could play to the strengths of Jelavic, as the likes of Pienaar, Mirallas and new signing Gerard Deulofeu, all have the vision and quality to make the most of the striker’s predatory instincts.
Jelavic will have increased competition this season, as he will be vying with new signing Arouna Kone for a starting spot, not to mention the man who took his place in the side last season, Victor Anichebe. With Kone having been drafted in by the new boss, you suspect Jelavic will have a fight on his hands if he is to secure a regular starting berth.
But having bagged a brace in his first appearance of the pre-season, Jelavic will have made a strong early impression on the new manager. He needs to continue to take his chances when they arise. Do that, and we could see a rejuvenated striker taking to the field next season and that can only mean good things for Everton.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball