If this Everton performance is any indication, 2017 is going to be an outstanding year. The Blues attack exploded in the final 15 minutes of the match for all three of their goals and the defense remained resolute as the team shut out Southampton at Goodison Park on Monday.
The opening 45 minutes were frustrating, but have become standard operating procedure for Everton. The club maintained a large majority of the possession, but lacked any real creativity, failing to create many good chances in front of goal.
Despite this, it was Southampton who came out of halftime like the side with something to prove. The Saints were the ones controlling the pace of the game in the early parts of the half and who seemed more likely to score. But it never came. Instead, Ronald Koeman made a big substitution that changed the game.
Enner Valencia came on for Aaron Lennon in the 61st minute. Lennon had struggled to really get involved and was tracking back onto defense more than he was attacking the Southampton goal. Valencia did the exact opposite, sitting up higher and acting as almost a second striker with Romelu Lukaku. Whatever it was, it worked like a charm.
Immediately, Valencia was a threat. First a cross of his went right across the mouth of goal, begging for a finish it never got. Moments later he was wide open when Lukaku took an ill advised shot. You could see he was making a difference. Then, in the 73th minute, he poked in Everton’s first goal of the game.
It came off of a Seamus Coleman cross that Lukaku headed on goal, but was denied by Fraser Forster. No matter, Valencia was in the right place at the right time and put the ball home. 1-0 Everton.
Seven minutes later, before Evertonians had even calmed down from the previous score, Valencia was taken down in the penalty area by Maya Yoshida as he tried to receive a pass. Leighton Baines stepped up to take the kick and, of course, he buried it in the back of the net. 2-0 Everton.
From there, the Blues seemed content enough to take the two-goal advantage and pack it in. Gareth Barry replaced Ross Barkley and it felt like a comfy three points. Instead, it was the Saints who were done playing.
Barry forced a turnover with a slide tackle, deflecting the ball to Tom Davies. Davies found a wide open Lukaku. And then the Belgian crushed a right-footed shot past Forster to give us the final of 3-0 Everton. Wow.
It was a heck of a turnaround from what was, for the most part, a pretty boring match up to that point. The Goodison Park faithful were even booing their Everton team at one point in the game because of their lack of creativity going forward. It was bad.
Valencia was the difference. He is the in-form man for Everton right now and deserves to start as long as he is effective as he gives opposing defense something to think about and attracts attention away from Rom.
More positives: Barkley was good again. Not spectacular, but good. He needs a few performances like this and that will make way for the extraordinary outings to return.
Davies was impressive in a full 90 minutes. His young legs, creativity and hard-nosed approach is a welcome addition to the starting XI. He is another one that deserves an extended stay in the team sheet.
However, not everything was fantastic. Idrissa Gueye was not good today. He looked tired, and that’s not surprising. He runs more than anyone else on the Everton team. But his passes were poor and that killed some promising chances.
And although the back line kept a clean sheet, it always felt uneasy. Joel Robles did not command his box well, especially on corner kicks, which is a common problem for him. That’s a disappointment because he had been doing a better job of that lately.
Finally, Dominic Calvert-Lewin got a start today, but it was cut short in the 12th minute when he had to exit with an ankle injury. The 19-year-old tried to give it a go, but just couldn’t go on. Depending on the severity of the knock, this could be a big one. Calvert-Lewin’s role on the club was growing. Losing him will shorten the bench further and could stunt his individual growth. Hope you have a speedy recovery, Dom!!
Next up for Everton, an FA Cup clash with Leicester City on Saturday. Premier League play returns on Sunday January 15 when the Toffees host John Stones and Manchester City.