Ahead of tonight’s League Cup clash with Manchester United the only news line that has been of any interest to Everton fans is whether or not James Rodriguez will be fit to take part in the clash at Goodison Park.
The Colombian international has missed Everton’s last three games due to a calf injury, following an impressive start to life in England and at the heart of Carlo Ancelotti’s impressive team.
However, Everton haven’t exactly struggled since James was resigned to the injury list and even before that there were murmurs from some quarters suggesting that what Ancelotti’s side may gain in the midfielder’s playmaking they undoubtedly lose in tactical stability and an ability to grind out results.
Those discenters may have a point. Since James picked up an injury Ancelotti’s team have gone from languishing in ninth in the Premier League table up to fourth, just five points off rivals and league leaders Liverpool.
And they haven’t done this with nine easy points against relegation fodder either. The first James-less match was at home to in-form Chelsea, where Ancelotti’s team put on a hit-and-run masterclass in stealing an early goal and frustrating their guests throughout the full 90 minutes. Then came a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Leicester City and then a 2-1 win in London against Arsenal.
Indeed, even when we include the 2-1 defeat to Newcastle that James missed out on through injury earlier in the season, we still find Everton’s points per game average standing at 2.25 without the Colombian midfielder. With James in the side this season that average drops down to 1.7.
Three goals and three assists in 10 league games to date clearly showcases a player with plenty of attacking talent and as such Everton do seem to score far more goals with James in the side. So far this season they’ve averaged 1.9 goals per game with James and just 1.5 without him.
However, as encouraging as that may seem for Everton fans, there certainly seems to be a downside to it as well. Particularly in the team’s ability to properly defend and keep out goals down the other end of the pitch.
While Everton’s goal scoring may improve with James in the team, their defensive stats get drastically worse. In four games without him this season they’ve conceded on average just 0.5 goals per game. With him in the side that number shoots up to 1.6.
Perhaps the most illustrative way of comparing Everton’s contrasting performances can be found in the fact that their goal difference with and without James is exactly the same - +3 - despite the fact that they’ve played 10 games with him and just four without.
Whether Everton are more exciting and entertaining to their fans with James in the team is unquestionably up for debate, but so far this season it seems to suggest that Ancelotti’s side are far sturdier in defence, harder to beat and far more productive in the league when he isn’t in the starting XI.