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Everton 2 Sunderland 0: Gueye, Lukaku lead Toffees to victory

Three thoughts from Everton’s win in return to league play

Everton v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Gueye opens his Everton account

Idrissa Gueye has arguably been Everton’s MVP this season. Prior to his departure for the African Cup of Nations, Gueye had been a mainstay in the Everton midfield. His energy and defensive work rate have been massive for Everton, the only thing missing was a goal or two.

After some near misses in previous games, Gueye has finally scored his first goal for Everton and it was a beauty. Trailing the Everton attackers, Gueye found the end of a well placed Seamus Coleman cross for what ended up as the deciding goal of the match.

As I said above, Gueye has been rock solid for Everton this year. While not fantastic in attack, he has found himself in good position on more than one occasion. He has even come close to scoring before one or two times. It was great to see one of the plays of the season finally be rewarded with an important goal.

Everton’s masterful wide play

Playing the ball out wide to the fullbacks has largely been Everton’s attacking strategy this year. This strategy has become even more effective when Coleman and Leighton Baines are deployed as wing backs, thus reducing their defensive workload. However, this strategy has been less effective when the 4-2-3-1 formation has been deployed. Against Sunderland though, it was a big reason for them dominating the scoring chances throughout the match.

Earlier in the season, Everton sought to play the ball wide through their wingers. Yannick Bolasie and Kevin Mirallas were largely unable to make this strategy work, leading to game after game of crosses to no one. With Bolasie out and Mirallas relegated to a supporting role, Koeman has opted to have his wingers pinch inside and make room for the more effective full backs. With arguably the best full back duo in the league, this strategy has largely paid off for Everton.

Sunderland spent most of the match hunkering down and putting defenders behind the ball. This largely took the center of the pitch out of the equation, forcing Everton to play the ball wide. Add in some shabby defending from Sunderland’s wide players and the circumstances played into Everton’s hand. Coleman was at his best bombing down the right flank, pumping crosses into the box and good ones at that. Baines even got in on the action a few times playing some solid balls to the Everton attackers. This is obviously Everton’s preferred strategy, and when it works it can provide some great results.

Schneiderlin answers the defensive midfield question

The holding midfield duo of Gareth Barry and Gueye was always a mixed bag. You knew you were going to get energetic disruption and copious interceptions from Gueye, but we never knew which Barry would show up. At his best he is a solid shield for the back line, allowing the full backs and midfielders to run forward. But at his worst he was a weight around the ankle of a team getting younger and more energetic.

Enter Morgan Schneiderlin, the defensive midfielder this team has needed from the start of the season. He doesn’t have the speed or energy of Gueye, but he does all the little things Barry does, but better and with far more stamina. There is no longer a worry that our defensive midfielder is going to run out of gas 60-70 minutes into the match and get torn apart on the counter attack. Schneiderlin has shown in his short time with the team an ability to disrupt the opposition, maintain possession and play smart passes to his more advanced teammates.

With Barry’s career winding down, Everton needed to get younger at the defensive midfield spot and they did just that with Schneiderlin. He represents a quality on and off the ball that has not consistently been found in recent Everton squads. His partnership with Gueye looks like it will be an even better version of what we saw out of the one with Barry earlier this season.