Everton’s flying start to the Premier League campaign raised a lot of eyebrows, but three consecutive defeats had tempered expectations on the blue half of Merseyside. While Sunday’s win over Fulham was hardly the sort of result to build a new resurgence upon, aspects of the performance were very promising indeed.
Let’s start with a disclaimer: a word on the opposition. Fulham’s refusal to get close to Lucas Digne down the Everton left to stop the supply, bizarrely coupled with an equally staunch refusal to mark anyone – be it goalscorers Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Abdoulaye Doucouré, made life much easier than it should have been for the visitors.
Also, Fulham scored twice and somehow managed to give Carlo Ancelotti’s side a bit of a fright late on, missing from the penalty spot in what is becoming an almost typically ridiculous fashion for the Cottagers, and generally almost benefitting from their opponent’s sudden transformation to defending – well, a bit like Fulham.
But, having said all that, the display still caught the eye. Everton’s losing run was defined by slow transitions – an inability to move the ball quickly and effectively from one end to the other. The return of Richarlison from a three-match ban showed exactly why that had been a problem in his absence.
The Brazilian’s talents on the ball are frequently documented, but it was his work off it which seemed especially apparent on Sunday. Allan’s usual tiger-ish ball-winning in midfield – probably in a more adventurous, less positionally rigid way than we are used to in the Premier League, having become accustomed over the years to Fernandinho, Matić and even to some extent Kanté, whose energy does not correlate to the same high pressing tendencies of Everton’s new man – brings Richarlison into play.
His straight, direct, forward runs on transitions meant that Everton had a presence around Calvert-Lewin, which was sorely lacking, probably most notably in the defeat to Southampton, over their barren run.
This stretched Fulham’s admittedly malleable backline, creating valuable pockets for James Rodriguez to operate in. While it may not have been the Colombian’s most headline-grabbing display since arriving in English football, the moments of brilliance remained. While he may lose possession at times, he is a refreshing return to the archetypal number 10. He receives the ball, and his first thought is seemingly always to create.
He is unquestionably a joy to watch and will be a threat every manager in the league will spend the week before a clash with the Toffees figuring out how to nullify – it is how he deals with this (as well as whether he can stay fit) that will define his, and maybe even Everton’s, success this season, but one thing is for sure – when James and Richarlison are in the same team as a striker, Calvert-Lewin, who seemingly scores every week, that team becomes very, very potent.
The other interesting development watching Everton this week came at the back. Obviously, they lacked a certain solidity, but even when things were going well, it was only really away to Tottenham on opening weekend when that has been a notable quality this term. The change to a back three did, however, bear some fruits.
Firstly, new boy Ben Godfrey looked far more comfortable as a central defender than at right-back, where he was given a torrid time down at St. Mary’s by the relentlessness of Ings, Adams and Armstrong in what was surely Carlo’s boys worst showing of the season.
Most notably, though, was the role of the wingbacks. Lucas Digne, pinned back deep in his own half by Southampton’s aggressive wide men, felt newfound freedom in a slightly more advanced role, and Alex Iwobi put in probably his most impressive display in Everton blue on the opposite flank.
Fulham failed to cope with the combination of Everton’s width and ability to utilise it with intent-filled passing across the midfield, epitomised by the brilliantly worked second goal – a stark contrast to the pedestrian work in the centre of the park in recent weeks.
The fact that this article was meant to look at Everton’s chances this season and has hardly mentioned Dominic Calvert-Lewin seems odd, but his role is simple. He has become one of the most effective target men in the league, is remarkably mobile and, this season has shown both better positional awareness and more general potency in front of goal.
That he was almost an after-thought here almost epitomises the fact that Everton, under the stewardship of one of the best managers around, and after countless failed squad overhauls, at last, have a team that can be a serious force in the Premier League.
Image: fabiopaoleri via Creative Commons