New-look Everton show strength in depth
Ancelotti’s overhauled side extended winning start thanks to unsung heroes – but there is one area of growing concern
Strength in depth
In the embers of last season, Everton had a hole where their midfield should have been. Slow, weak and thin, the centre of Carlo Ancelotti’s team looked as competitive as a Formula One car with four flat tyres. Against Brighton, Tom Davies and Gylfi Sigurdsson, half of that underwhelming midfield quartet, came into the side and looked immediately better. Sigurdsson seems to thrive with better players around him, re l ishing Abdoulaye Doucoure’s energy and James Rodriguez’s guile. Even the forgotten man, Fabian Delph, got a run out and looked at home. Suddenly Ancelotti appears to have plausible choices in the engine room.
The captain has been superb since the restart. His attacking zest
Pass master Rodriguez
Successful passes Unsuccessful
Direction of play James Rodriguez sprayed passes all over the pitch and most reached their target encouraged, against Brighton he was forever tearing down the right wing, passing quickly and imaginatively, his crosses constantly seeking out the head of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Plus he appears to boast the same uncompromising nature of his countryman Roy Keane, chivvying his team-mates, insisting on maintaining proper standards. The look on his face as he broke up the overindulgent choreographed group celebration of Yerry Mina’s goal was straight from the Keane playbook. There is to be no messing under Coleman’s watch.
At first glance, Mina and Michael Keane appear to be duplicating each other’s roles: both good in the air, both strong in the tackle, but neither the kind of ball-playing centreback that current orthodoxy insists is necessary. Yet they have started the season in perfect harmony, blending into a single unit that is hard to bypass. Against Brighton, Mina in particular was everywhere in the Everton box, executing timely interceptions. With the promising Mason Holgate on the mend after injury, Ancelotti has real choice in his back line.
While James Rodriguez and CalvertLewin have rightly been afforded most of the plaudits for Everton’s fine start, Doucoure’s contribution should not be understated. The fact Allan’s absence was hardly noticed was largely due to the Frenchman’s relentless energy and drive. He was a non-stop presence in the middle of the Everton team, looking not only to win the ball but, when he did so, to carry it forward at pace. Without the crowd noise, it is clear he shouts a lot too, issuing constant instructions to team-mates. Every time Rodriguez had the ball, the shout would echo around an empty Goodison: “James, yes, me.” It is the kind of enthusiasm that must make Ancelotti smile.
Jordan Pickford’s form
There is always a but. And right now it comes in the shape of the England goalkeeper. The problem with his howler that allowed Brighton back into a game that was slipping away from them was that it was a mistake waiting to happen. In an unfortunate reminder of the way Joe Hart declined, Pickford looks agitated, nervy, always seeking to pull off a wonder save to buff up his selfconfidence. Oddly, Brighton did not seem to sense his anxiety and try to exploit it. Instead of pressuring him with a constant surge of crosses, they played every corner short, rarely putting the ball under the crossbar to test him properly. But there is no escaping the fact he needs to find a way to relax. Otherwise his hyped-up jitters can only eventually communicate themselves to his defence.