Sign up to Miguel Delaney’s Reading the Game newsletter sent straight to your inbox for free
Sign up to Miguel’s Delaney’s free weekly newsletter
Just outside Goodison Park, there is evidence of the impact a goalscorer can make. Almost a century after his 60-goal season, more than four decades after his death, Dixie Dean’s statue is a sign he remains an iconic figure in these parts. It is safe to assume it will not be joined, at Goodison or Bramley-Moore Dock, of a sculpture of Neal Maupay.
A year into his Everton career, Maupay is only 382 Everton goals behind Dean, who got 383; at his current rate of progress, he could go past him early in the 2400s. And if it is automatically unfair to bracket anyone else with Everton’s record scorer, there is a stark contrast. Everton have never been less prolific than they were last season, when their total of 34 league goals was barely more than half the 60 Dean managed on his own in 1927-28. They began the new campaign with an exhibition of how not to finish, with a demoralising home defeat to Fulham and with indications that, unless they discover a clinical touch, another season of grim struggle beckons.
Maupay is the face of a problem, but not all of it. He was not the sole culprit; Abdoulaye Doucoure waltzed through the Fulham defence but Bernd Leno saved his scuffed shot while Nathan Patterson struck the bar. Yet his job description entails scoring goals and his drought has now lasted 29 games. When Bobby Decordova-Reid took his lone opportunity, he showed the perils of Everton’s profligacy.
For them, it was a tale of three strikers, two missing the match and one missing chances. The £12.5 million Youssef Chermiti was deemed not ready after only signing this week; so, for different reasons, was the oft-injured Dominic Calvert-Lewin, ruled not match fit. Without either, Everton scarcely felt equipped for the start of the season but this was not the first striking void at Goodison Park in recent years.
Enter Maupay, whose presence on the teamsheet may have disheartened Evertonians before a ball was kicked, whose movement was excellent, whose persistence was admirable and whose finishing was unconvincing. He ranks as one of the most damaging parts of Frank Lampard’s legacy, a signing the former manager advocated when others at Everton wanted Ben Brereton Diaz. He ended last season with one goal from 32 shots and an expected goals tally of 5.43.
But this is a time for fresh starts. New season, new Maupay? Not exactly. He could have scored after barely 30 seconds but shot wide. He twice spurned one-on-ones with Bernd Leno, the first from five yards, the second from about 12. Abdoulaye Doucoure cushioned a header into his path, Amadou Onana placed a pass, but Leno saved each effort. He had four efforts and got no goals. There were rousing cheers when he was replaced, though they were for the debutant Arnaut Danjuma; a winger could have been a preferable option as a makeshift striker.
But Sean Dyche’s options are limited. His side played with verve, Alex Iwobi and Doucoure allying running power with craft. But his starting 11 contained five players who may call themselves central midfielders and the closest thing to a career winger was a 38-year-old at left-back, in Ashley Young. They offered effort in abundance and encountered a defiant goalkeeper who made nine saves. The otherwise excellent Leno unpunished from his only error, a foul given when he spilled a cross and Michael Keane found the unguarded net. Yet the stark reality is that Everton began with a home defeat to a side who may end up in the bottom half themselves and a manager, in Marco Silva, who they sacked in 2018.
It is no slight on Dyche to say they have reasons to repent that decision. If Fulham’s win was a triumph of strength in depth, it also owed something to Silva’s intervention. He secured a second win of 2023 at Goodison when three substitutes combined. Aleksandar Mitrovic released Andreas Pereira to cross for Decordova-Reid to finish.
If it had the feel of a smash-and-grab raid, it had been threatened. In a Maupay-esque return, Raul Jimenez failed to score a Premier League goal in his last season at Wolves. He nearly marked his Fulham debut with one, volleying against the base of the post from a Decordova-Reid cross.
Fulham, though, have the confidence of a team who can score. To Dyche’s credit, he conjured goals from Doucoure and Dwight McNeil in the run-in last season. But if it was obvious a team who only got four from their out-and-out centre-forwards needed far more this season, it was an utterly unpromising start. And for a club whose motto is Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, its first word is the most worrying. Everton got Nil. Again.