Of recent times the final whistle of a tight 1-0 home victory would signal a chorus of relief and a short release of dread from the hearts of every Evertonian, yet the end of yesterday’s game has probably evoked some dangerously positive emotions. It’s telling of the progression we’ve seen on the pitch already this season that the three points felt more of an inevitability than a hopeless dream.
There are several noteworthy points I’d like to make about this Everton team, 7 to be precise, just because I needed a title and a reason to write about the blues. Here we go.
1. Frank Lampard
A divisive figure in the punditry scene since the beginning of his management career, but what does that matter? Well it doesn’t, however I do think it has echoed an element of scepticism that parts of the fanbase have in terms of Frank’s tactical know-how. There’s absolutely no questioning the manager’s commitment and engagement with supporters, however, which has been second-to-none.
Lampard was one of the bookies favourites to leave first out of all the managers in the league, and yet here he stands, the resilience of the man is commendable. Frank has backed the team and refused to panic in the transfer window, inspiring a positivity and a togetherness which Everton have been lacking for years. The tactical side of Frank’s game can be scrutinised in time, but so far this season with the resources available, the coaching team have solved some key issues in the squad.
2. Neal Maupay
A shrewd signing, not the attractive proposition many would’ve liked. As much as we’d like to believe we could attract anyone, we were never going to sign a striker capable of filling Richarlison’s void in the team. He is a focal point up top who will get involved in build up and add a handful of goals, most importantly he won’t hide and will work for the team. When Calvert-Lewin is back, he will likely get most of his minutes from the bench, however there is a competitor in him who won’t lay down without a fight. Notable was Lampard’s omission of DCL for the West Ham game, where he trusted Maupay to go for 90 minutes, gone are the days of relying solely on a select few players to get it done on the pitch.
Despite the positives, there’s no denying our lack of goals. Just 5 so far in the league and our decisiveness going forward has perhaps been lacking. We are however seeing more from Demarai Gray, who is taking more responsibility for his endeavour in the final third and looks capable of breaking through defensive lines with his pace. Anthony Gordon will struggle to have a quiet game in an Everton shirt because he works so hard but also has a lot of quality, the goals will come.
4. Dogged Defending
Second best defensive record in the league and a real calmness at the back. Coady is the man called up to the national squad but it’s been Tarkowski who’s been most impressive for me. His reading of the game, and particularly his composure at the back has transmitted across the whole team and we now have a real sturdiness. To quash the worry about our goalscoring, I’ll provide a statistic: In 04/05, as some will remember, we finished 4th, scoring just 45 goals and conceding 46 goals. Yet, just the season before, we finished 17th, scoring exactly the same amount of goals, but conceding 11 more than the successful season that would follow. It’s extremely unlikely a team will finish in a champions league position with those statistics again, but food for thought.
5. The Midfield Three
Easy to get carried away with the personnel in there now, isn’t it? Idrissa Gueye has come back as exactly the same player, boss. Amadou Onana is the presence we were crying out for in the middle of the park, he is still learning the pace of the league but he won’t shy from a tackle and has impressed with his ability on the ball. And Alex Iwobi, well, superlatives are running dry for this lad. He’s showcased his ability on the ball for a while now; strong and powerful in possession, the change into central midfield was perhaps an obvious decision. There was no guarantee he could do it centrally, but his distribution is what has surprised many, switching the play and splitting defensive lines, all whilst keeping a low turnover of possession. If he can add a few more goals to his game, we’ll have the player we paid for and more, just in a different capacity than we expected.
We’ve now got ourselves three central midfielders who are willing and capable of covering every blade of grass, in addition to making themselves accountable on the pitch. It is yet to be seen what these three can contribute towards the attacking side of things, although Iwobi has a few assists to his name. We have options for rotation too, with Abdoulaye Doucoure back from injury and with clear instructions to move the ball quickly when he came on, he’s been guilty of dithering in possession at times. There’s also Tom Davies, who impressed in the derby, both can fit nicely into a central three. Where Allan fits in is another question, he is a battler and a professional but his physicality is surpassed by that of the three likely starters.
6. Controlling Expectations
I’ve yet to mention our young fullbacks, so here we are, starting with Nathan Patterson. We knew this would be his breakthrough season, but boy has he come out of the blocks. He’s slotted straight in at wing back, and now in a back 4, giving us a snippet of what we can expect in the future. Patterson is far from the finished article, particularly going forward where he will take time to find an end product worthy of shouting about, but defensively he’s very strong and has kept some notable wingers quiet already this season. Pretty much the same can be said of Vitalii Mykolenko, who has been a very steady addition to the team since arriving last campaign. Myko would’ve loved having a player like Steven Pienaar in front of him, where intricate build-up play was favoured more than fast breaks from the back, but he is more than willing to get forward and will likely get more joy when Calvert Lewin is back. We shouldn’t expect too much from our fullbacks, they’re learning on the job and doing very well, but they won’t always be on it and that’s when we need to have patience.
There’s time yet for Dwight McNeil to settle in and prove his worth to the team, but he needs to find his confidence and it’s important for Frank to quickly realise where he can be most effective. We’re still figuring out our attacking style and a player like McNeil could come into his own when we are more comfortable in possession for larger periods. Same applies to James Garner, who is an exciting prospect but will likely find his chances of game time are limited if the main three can stay fit. Patience is required with the new signings and if anything can be taken from looking at the player Alex Iwobi is now, it is exactly that.
This wouldn’t be an Everton article without a touch of pessimism… I do worry for us if we were without Gordon or Gray, we’re already light and I don’t think there’s much in reserve. I also think a large part of our turnaround defensively can be attributed to Tarkowski and Coady, missing either would mean rotation at the back which we struggled to get right last season. That being said Ben Godfrey returning for us in the next few months could be massive, he’s got all the attributes of a fantastic centre half and playing alongside experienced Premier League defenders could improve his positioning and leadership to take him to the next level.
7. Unbeaten in Six
Quietly, we’re proving quite difficult to beat. Southampton (A) next up, let’s make it seven!