On the back of a successful pre-season trip to the United States and victory in the Florida Cup, followed by a poor show at Old Trafford, Everton went into the new season under manager Rafael Benitez with crowds back in the grounds and knowing that a good start was essential to quieten those not exactly enamoured by the managerial appointment.
August saw four games played whilst the club attempted to make the most of a transfer window where funds were, shall we say, limited to the bare minimum unless we were to see some significant departures, ideally for fees, and the resulting lowering of the current wage bill.
Manager Benitez went to work on acquiring some new blood by looking towards experience and ideally, players with whom he had some prior knowledge of and rapport with. The results saw the arrivals of goalies Asmir Begovic, who starred in the Florida Cup games, and Andy Lonergan. To add some width and pace to the squad, Benitez went after and acquired the services of England international Andros Townsend on a free transfer from Crystal Palace and a former Leicester City player Demarai Gray who arrived from Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga for a nominal fee of £1.7 million – in this day and age, a quite incredible signing if he could deliver the goods. The final signing came late, very late on transfer deadline day as the expected arrival of Venezuelan striker Salomon Rondon was completed. The 31-year old is another with whom Benitez has worked previously and like Townsend before him, he expressed delight at hooking up with the Spaniard again.
With no significant departures for fees during the summer, we saw goalie Joao Virginia, left back Niels Nkounkou and Italian forward Moise Kean go out on loan. Virginia returned to his native Portugal to join Sporting Lisbon, Nkounkou will spend this season with Standard Liege in Belgium while the enigmatic Kean has returned to Juventus on a two-year loan with an obligation to buy on the Italian giants based on Kean achieving certain targets. With it apparently evident that Kean never really settled on Merseyside and clearly wanted away from Everton, it is to be hoped he achieves the goals and Everton eventually receive a fee to redress the initial outlay and balance the books.
And so to the football and the Blues opened up at Goodison against Southampton and after a bright start conceded first to set some fans nerves a-jangling. But the half-time break was perfectly utilised by Benitez, and the Blues roared back in the second half with goals from Richarlison, fresh from his Olympic Games success with Brazil, Abdoulaye Doucoure with a stunning blast to the top corner and a diving header from Dominic Calvert-Lewin that rekindled memories of Andy Gray. First hurdle well and truly cleared and a full house Goodison rejoiced and went home happy.
Elland Road and a Leeds side looking to bounce back from a thrashing by Manchester United was never going to be easy but, the Blues were unlucky not to return home with all three points. Having led twice thanks to a Dominic Calvert-Lewin penalty in the first half after he’d been impeded and a precise finish for his maiden Premier League goal for the club from Demarai Gray early in the second half, Everton defended stubbornly until an excellent finish from the impressive Raphinho saw the honours shared.
The first game of this seasons Carabao Cup campaign saw the Blues return across the Pennines to take on Huddersfield Town running out 2-1 victors on a first half strike by Alex Iwobi getting on the end of a great through ball from Tom Davies and his first goal for the club from Andros Townsend with a fine strike to settle things down. Huddersfield had drawn level just before the break as poor marking at a corner allowed them a free header and thankfully when the act was repeated shortly after the restart, a second goal for the Terriers was chalked off for offside. The other major talking point was a straight red card for Moise Kean after he needlessly over-reacted to a tackle he thought too strong, and that signalled the end of his night and his career with Everton.
Game four of August looked a tough one as the Blues made the long trek to Sussex to take on unbeaten Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium. Unbeaten themselves in their two opening Premier League games versus Burnley and Watford and having won at Cardiff in the Carabao Cup, Graham Potters’ team were looking to maintain their good start to the new season however, they hadn’t accounted for an Everton side who arrived full of purpose and with Brazilian midfielder Allan clearly intent on being ‘The Boss’ in midfield. After the early exchanges, the Blues began to dictate the game and it was Allan who crafted the opening goal, sending a great pass into the stride of the flying Demarai Gray who consummately beat his marker to fire a low shot past the ‘keeper into the far corner for the half time lead. Allan was having a superb game in what was turning out to be a terrific team performance and another inch-perfect through ball for Seamus Coleman saw him brought down in the area and after, shall we say, a discussion as to who would take the spot kick, Dominic Calvert-Lewin blasted it home for two-nil and there was no way back from the Seagulls.
So four games played, three wins and a draw, progression in the Carabao Cup with a Sept 21st trip to Queens Park Rangers secured, and the initial weeks of the Rafael Benitez reign at Everton had been successfully completed.
Twenty-three players were used by the new manager through August with Demarai Gray, Lucas Digne, Andros Townsend and Alex Iwobi featuring in all four games but, only Michael Keane playing every minute. The Blues picked up nine yellow cards through the four games together with the straight red for Moise Kean at Huddersfield, so here’s to the players reducing that part of the game as game fitness and timing improves.
To the individual Man of the Match winners and you the fans, via the match threads on Grand Old Team.com Forum, voted for four different winners. Abdoulaye Doucoure was a clear winner of the opening game, no doubt helped by his stunning goal to put the Blues in front against Southampton; Demarai Gray eclipsed everyone with a crushing runaway vote for his part in the draw at Leeds; the often maligned Alex Iwobi was an equally clear winner of the vote for the victory over Huddersfield and that left Allan, after arguably his best game yet for the Blues, to cruise to victory in the Brighton match poll.
As we always say, GrandOldTeam.com takes great pride in offering the quickest match report service and we encourage all Blues, everywhere to sign up to the forum and vote in our Man of the Match polls. Every vote goes towards these Player of the Month awards and the ultimate accolade at seasons end, the awarding of the GrandOldTeam.com Player of the Season trophy.
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Okay, the polls have now closed, all the votes have been totted up and double checked and so it’s time to reveal the top three vote winners and the August Player of the Month.
In third place was our Brazilian midfield dynamo – Allan.
In second place and clearly warming to being a Blue was new signing – Demarai Gray.
And that leaves our winner with 24.3% of the total votes polled and the GrandOldTeam.com Player of the Month for August, the congratulations go to – Abdoulaye Doucoure.