The final nail in the coffin, or the start of an improbable revival? For Marco Silva, Wednesday night could well be one or the other.
The beleaguered Everton boss takes his side to Anfield for the 234th Merseyside derby knowing defeat would not only leave the Blues perilously close to the relegation zone, but that it could also spell the end of his 18-month reign at Goodison Park.
Silva has cut an increasingly forlorn figure in recent weeks, and no wonder. Everton, a club with stated ambitions to challenge the established order at the top of the Premier League, currently sit 17th in the table, having taken just 14 points from 14 games. There have been eight defeats – including three to newly-promoted clubs – only 14 goals scored and little for fans to get excited about.
Indeed, at the last home game - a limp 2-0 defeat to Norwich, one of the three sides below them - supporters turned their frustration away from their misfiring players and towards Silva himself.
“You’re getting sacked in the morning,” was the song, and it came from more than just a vocal minority. It was a loud, and unprecedented, show of dissent from one of the country’s most loyal fanbases. They aren’t happy, and few have faith that the Portuguese is the man to turn things around.
It is somewhat remarkable, given that backdrop, that Silva is still here fighting. Even more so given off-the-record briefings early last week that Everton’s board were “considering a change of manager” ahead of Sunday’s trip to Leicester, and that Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, as well as former Toffees boss David Moyes, were names under consideration. Hardly a vote of confidence for the man in the hotseat.
The word after the 2-1 defeat at the King Power – an unfortunate loss, in fairness – was that Silva would remain in charge at Anfield too. The Portuguese is effectively operating on a game-by-game basis, though surely a loss against Liverpool would be his last. For all the talk of unity and of recovery and of sticking together, if Southampton were to beat Norwich at St Mary’s then Everton would end Wednesday night in the bottom three.
Time to act, in short.
That is not what Farhad Moshiri, the majority shareholder, had in mind when he bought into the club almost four years ago. “We don’t want to be a museum,” he said, in a quote which chimed with supporters. The aim, he added, was to challenge for trophies and to qualify for the Champions League.
There has been investment since, and lots of it. Everton have paid more than £400 million ($519m) in transfer fees since Moshiri’s arrival. In terms of net spend, only Manchester United and Arsenal have spent more across the last five years.
But like those two clubs, they have little to show for it. Their squad, assembled by four different managers and two different directors of football, is talented but imbalanced, undermined by the lack of a regular goalscorer and a long-standing weakness at centre-back.
Fourteen players have been signed for £20m ($26m) or more across the last four seasons, but few could be described as anything like top-class. Some - Jordan Pickford, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Michael Keane, have shown promise but too little consistency. Others, such as Moise Kean, have yet to earn the manager’s trust. Others, Morgan Schneiderlin, Theo Walcott and Cenk Tosun, were over-priced gambles while two, Yannick Bolasie and Davy Klaassen, have already left, either permanently or on loan.
The turnover of players and staff has been remarkable. The club’s last set of accounts show that more than £14m ($18m) was spent on severance pay for previous managers Ronald Koeman and Sam Allardyce. The annual wage bill has rocketed to more than £145m ($188m) and they reported an operating loss for 2018 of almost £23m ($30m). Everton under Moshiri has been a story of one expensive mistake after another.
Silva, it seems, is just the latest chapter.
And so they limp on. To Anfield, a ground on which they haven’t won since 1999, when Walter Smith was their manager, Kevin Campbell was their centre-forward and Steve Staunton finished the night as Liverpool’s goalkeeper. A different era, a different world. Their last derby win of any kind came more than nine years ago.
Silva may reflect on his side’s defeat at Anfield last season and wonder if something changed that day.
Everton arrived in good form last December and played well for an hour, but Divock Origi’s ridiculous late winner triggered a winter slump; the Toffees won only four of their next 16 league games and were dumped out of the FA Cup by second-tier Millwall.
A springtime revival, featuring wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as a battling home draw against Liverpool, hinted at better things to come, but Everton always seem to get up for the big games, particularly at Goodison. Consistency is what they crave, and Silva has been unable to find any this season. Everton took four points from their first two games, but have lost eight of the next 12.
Luck has played a part. Injuries to summer signings Andre Gomes, Fabian Delph and Jean-Philippe Gbamin have left them light in midfield, while a questionable VAR decision cost them when leading at Brighton in October. Leicester’s winner on Sunday arrived in the third minute of stoppage-time, on a day when Everton competed admirably.
But excuses are wearing thin, and the sight of Liverpool riding high at home and abroad is only heightening fans’ anxiety. On Wednesday, they will head across Stanley Park fearing the worst. Bookmakers’ odds of 8/1 on an Everton win seem a little short, if anything.
A glance at their upcoming fixtures offers little respite; between now and January 6, they will take on Chelsea, Arsenal, Leicester, Manchester United and Manchester City, as well as Liverpool twice. Even the ‘winnable’ games, Burnley at home and Newcastle away, look troublesome.
Some feel it is only that schedule, coupled with a lack of obvious alternatives, keeping Silva in a job. There is no standout replacement knocking around, and fans were dismayed by suggestions that Bill Kenwright, the chairman, would prefer the return of Moyes. After Allardyce, that would be another slap in the face surely?
Silva, for his part, has remained bullish in the face of adversity. “I know what I’m doing,” he said at Leicester on Sunday. “I have no doubt I have the players’ backing.”
He may be right, but for how much longer? He doesn’t seem to have the fans’, unfortunately, and if they were to lose at Liverpool, he probably wouldn’t have the board’s either.
Anfield could well be his last stand.