Everton overcame a slow start and a one goal deficit to come away with three points against Middlesbrough in Gareth Barry’s 600th Premier League appearance. The first twenty minutes of the match were eerily similar to the first half against Sunderland last week. The passing wasn’t sharp, first touches failed to stay under control and a controversial goal by Alvaro Negredo threatened to sink Everton’s promising start to the year. But a clinical performance by the club saw three goals go unanswered as the Toffees now sit in second place.
Barry celebrates milestone in style
With his place in the first team questioned throughout last season, Barry has been a revelation this year. The 35 year-old has been a key contributor to the side, allowing Idrissa Gueye and the other midfielders to get forward with ease. Therefore it is fitting that on his 600th appearance in the Premier League that he not only put in a classic, hard-working performance, but was able to level the game after a goal was wrongly awarded to Middlesbrough in the 21st minute.
Barry’s tactical awareness coupled with Ronald Koeman’s increased focus on defending have been key to Everton’s early season successes. His ability to shield the back line and keep the ball moving in midfield has allowed Gueye to wander around the field breaking up the opposition’s attack while also creating space for the other midfielders to be their creative, dangerous selves.
Of course, Barry being Barry also meant getting a booking as well, to add to his 110 yellows accumulated so far, which is a record in itself in the Premier League era.
Barkley heeds Koeman’s warning
Ross Barkley was unceremoniously plucked off at half time during Everton’s 3-0 win over Sunderland last week. According to the manager, Barkley was not playing up to the standards Koeman expects. Despite a few questionable plays early in the match, Barkley certainly seemed to have gotten the message, looking dangerous throughout. Barkley has never been a playmaker in the mold of a Kevin De Bruyne or Mesut Ozil, instead using a more direct and physical approach in the attacking third.
When the game was said and done, Barkley did not end up on the score sheet, but he seemed significantly more focused during the match. He pressed well, his dribbling created space in midfield and he threatened to score on more than one occasion. This is the type of performance we need to see out of Barkley on a weekly basis if he wishes to stay in the first team under Koeman.
Poor refereeing marred an otherwise great game
This game was not Lee Mason’s finest performance. As a rule of thumb, I’m not a fan of commenting on the refereeing of a match unless it was particularly bad. Unfortunately, this was one of those matches. The most glaring example of Mason’s poor showing today has to be the opening own goal against Maarten Stekelenburg. I think it was pretty clear that Negredo’s attempt was a foul in real time, and the later replays only confirmed that the Boro striker headed Stekelenburg’s arms instead of the ball and the awarding of an own goal only solidified that the call was an incorrect one.
Things did not stop there as Mason’s inconsistent showing led to a number of questionable fouls, random ‘make-up calls’ and even more missed whistles. It’s always unfortunate when a referee becomes the center of attention during a match, but Mason’s lack of consistency nearly cast a shadow over an otherwise entertaining match.