Everton started their season with a Jekyll and Hyde performance against Spurs that saw the team only come away with a point. Their fantastic first half was overshadowed by fitness concerns later in the match, lending credence to Ronald Koeman’s comments earlier in that week. However, as Everton travelled to the Hawthorns to take on West Brom, the team looked rested, ready to play 90 minutes and eager to show off their new signings.
Set-piece defending still a concern
Defending set-pieces was one of the largest problem areas during the Roberto Martinez era. While the defence as a whole often had some lackadaisical moments, set-pieces seemed to be the Achilles heel of this team. With a new manager came hope that Koeman would make this issue a top priority for a team that was tied with Swansea City for most headed goals allowed last season.
Because of these hopes it was all the more disheartening to see the Toffees concede a headed goal from a corner kick early in the first half and go down a goal to a West Brom side that has a notoriously stingy defense. Scoring from set-pieces and throwing nine to ten men behind the ball is a signature of West Brom manager Tony Pulis. One would assume that with this information, Koeman would have made defending these set-pieces one of his highest priorities for this match. However, Everton looked lost on the opening goal and then made for a nervy match to the game as the struggled to safely defend the aerial attack in their own down the stretch.
Early Lukaku sub changed the tone of the game
I said it last week and I’ll say it again this week, Koeman can recognize when his strategy isn’t working and has thus far acted quickly to remedy any tactical issues in his side. This week’s line up was identical to last week’s team, with Gerard Deulofeu starting at striker with Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas flanking him. This attacking trio found success last week with darting runs to get behind an out of shape Spurs defense, but it was clear early on that West Brom’s back four was not giving Everton that same amount of space to operate in a similar fashion.
With the need for a true striker apparent, Koeman subbed in Romelu Lukaku in the 38th minute and the tone of the game changed rather quickly. While Lukaku did not have an immediate impact, the change to the formation brought on by his substitution did. With James McCarthy subbed out, Everton reverted from a back three to what appeared to be a more traditional 4-2-3-1 with Mason Holgate slotting in at right back. This move seemed to add another dimension to the attack allowing Everton go play the ball up both flanks instead of just the left. Holgate was surprisingly effective going forward and produced a number of chances throughout the match.
In the second half Lukaku did go on to assert himself in the match and cause big trouble for West Brom, nearly putting Everton up two later in the second half. But I would say it was the formation change brought on by his substitution that made the biggest mark.
The need for another right back is glaring
In Everton’s first two matches central midfielder James McCarthy has started at right back/right wingback for the team. With Seamus Coleman out for at least another two weeks and Tony Hibbert no longer on the team, McCarthy was called upon to step out of his comfort zone and fill in on the right. While he has been okay in the role, his tendency to creep towards the middle of the pitch and his inability to move the ball up the flanks has taken an important dimension out of Everton’s attack. This is why Holagate’s ability to overlap and get into the box had such a big impact on the fortunes of the team.
All the transfer talk may be about brining in another goalkeeper, center back or winger, but I think the fact that we only have one starting quality right back on the squad to be a glaring issue that should be addressed immediately. When the passing game in the middle of the pitch isn’t working and the ball needs to be played out wide, being relegated to the left side of the pitch makes the attack predictable and more likely to stagnate, especially against a team that puts the majority of it’s players behind the ball.
Despite some of the defensive related issues in this match, Everton looked seriously impressive in the attacking third and the preview of the Yannick Bolasie and Romelu Lukaku show will leave fans counting the minutes until Everton’s next match.