The Goodison faithful although demanding, are always willing to offer leeway to their young players. It is inevitable however that many academy products simply will not make the grade. It therefore makes it all the more satisfying when blue’s fans see not one, but three young players make a significant impression upon the first team. Tom Davies, Mason Holgate and Ademola Lookman all stood tall on Sunday, carrying out each of their respective roles to levels that exceeded expectations.
Davies was the undoubted star of the day. Orchestrator of the first goal and finisher of the third, the 18-year-old was the most influential and assured player on the pitch. His goal was simply unforgettable. Picking the ball up in his own half, collecting possession after another perfectly timed interception from Holgate, Davies strode forward. He breezed past Clichy, only to be chased down by Yaya Toure and the recovering Frenchman. His reaction to the impending pressure was inspired, as he chopped the ball inside, somehow evading the bodies of the helpless City pair. A quick give and go and he was through on goal. A dinked chip over Bravo and Goodison went wild, and Davies celebrated like all fans would, throwing himself into the Lower Gwladys.
Memories were evoked of Jack Rodwell’s goal against City’s rivals United seven years ago, especially in the run and consequent celebration. Rodwell, now at Sunderland, is one of a number of former Everton youngsters who failed to establish themselves at Goodison Park. His career, a valuable reminder to all young players at the club of how a promising start needs to be consolidated with hard work and dedication. Evertonians know only too well, a few good performances from a young player does not guarantee a successful career.
A fearless performance from the youngsters, combined with their assured technical prowess was inspiring. And none should be more inspired than Ross Barkley. Now 23, Barkley finds himself at a transitional period in his career. He is neither a young player, having been a first team regular for three and a half seasons, nor is he a one of the senior pros. He is at a critical period where he could go one way or another, an observation that many have been quick to highlight this season.
Sunday’s performance was near enough faultless from Barkley and indeed from all 14 players that were involved. It is clear that the authoritative displays of Davies and Holgate brought out the best in him and his teammates. For Barkley and co. to look around in the first half and see Davies run rings around Yaya Toure and Kevin De Brunye, whilst for long periods Holgate effortlessly dominated Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling; it filled them with infectious confidence. And it is confidence in particular that Ross Barkley requires.
Barkley’s best campaign for Everton perhaps came in his breakthrough season. Given a free role by Roberto Martinez in 2013/14, Barkley shone, scoring some spectacular goals of significant importance. He was thriving under a manager who believed in him. Even when he is playing well, he still needs to be informed of his worth. An example of this was seen after his infamous goal at St James Park in 2014, where he ran the full length of the pitch and rifled the ball into the top left hand corner. His first thought was to text the late Sid Benson, his close friend and the man who scouted him, asking what he thought of it. Evidence of not only his eagerness to please but also of his insecurity; his need to be valued and justified was clear.
Since then his form has been up and down. One day he is at the centre of every positive move, the next he is seemingly incapable of holding onto the ball, with every touch looking laboured. This merely adds to the scrutiny and frustration from fans and the media alike.
For Barkley to thrive he must rediscover his arrogance, and against City, he displayed the swagger that we all know he possesses. He looked comfortable in midfield, dictating the play and controlling the game alongside Davies and Barry. His two assists were beautifully threaded passes for Mirallas and Davies which went largely unnoticed due to the quality of the finishes.
The youngsters ultimately showed the whole squad how it should be done. Holgate looked just as assured as his senior defensive partners, if not more so; displaying some astute decision making along with expertly timed tackles. Davies’ class and energy lifted those around him in midfield, and Lookman’s late cameo was an example to all Everton’s forwards on how to be cool and composed when finishing a rare given chance.
A near enough perfect performance, not just for events on the day, but for what it could mean for Everton’s season. With only the league to focus on, hopefully now the blues can push on and emulate their display from the weekend on a more consistent basis. If so, Ronald Koeman’s side could well become dark horses to climb the table and perhaps push on into the latter European places, as the season stretches into the business end.