Lukaku puts in a complete performance
One of the biggest knocks on Romelu Lukaku has to be his effort when not getting scoring opportunities. If his teammates aren’t finding him in scoring areas Lukaku has a tendency to disappear from games. As Everton probed the West Brom defense in the first half, they were often frustrated by their defensively capable opponents. Lukaku, to his credit stayed engaged even when things weren’t going his way.
The striker made run after run, both inside and out, looking to free up space for his teammates. He did an excellent job of cycling the ball back to the midfield in an effort to break the West Brom defense and looked to play the ball into the box when the opportunity arose. He was a big contributor to Kevin Mirallas’ opening goal as his deflected pass fell to Ross Barkley whose saved shot fell to Mirallas.
No one doubts Lukaku’s goal scoring abilities, his stats speak for themselves. But performances like this show the complete player that Lukaku can become. His unique blend of speed and size is clearly a huge asset for Everton and these skills can be used to make his teammates better as well.
Barkley’s great form continues
Ross Barkley has had a roller coaster season. He spent the first half of the year in and out of Ronald Koeman’s doghouse after failing to string together good performances. Koeman has been open about how hard he has ridden Barkley and the manager’s strategy appears to be paying off dividends.
The counting stats may not always show the contribution that Barkley has had on the team, but it’s clear from watching the matches how vital he has been to Everton’s improved form in the second half of the year. In games that he does not score or tally an assist Barkley has been superb at moving the ball around the midfield. The once raw and unpolished youngster appears to be transforming into a complete footballer and the midfielder that Everton has been waiting for.
Barkley seems much more in control as of late, playing within himself and the structure of the team. His tight, precise dribbling is key to maintaining possession and his passing has improved, allowing him to pick out runs from his attacking teammates. Everton may still be a piece or two short of competing for the top four, but Barkley looks to have solidified his place in Everton’s lineup for the foreseeable future.
Everton defence continues to impress
Once a serious detriment to the team, Everton’s defence has become one of their biggest strengths. There have been some hiccups along the way, but Everton have quietly become one of the better defensive squads in the Premier League. Even with the addition of the out of favor Phil Jagielka, Everton’s back four looked calm, collected and solid against a surprisingly spry West Brom attack.
Tony Pulis’ squads have always been great in defense and lacking in attack. But this year's iteration of the Baggies has been surprisingly dangerous going forward. After the first twenty minutes had passed West Brom made a number of dangerous plays in Everton’s defensive third, forcing a few good saves from Joel Robles. Even more worrying was the amount of set pieces Everton were surrendering to their opponents.
A speciality of West Brom, corners and free kicks are where the Baggies score their goals, leading the Premier League in setpiece goals with 19. This has also been an area that Everton have seriously struggled in, allowing an alarming amount of set piece goals, especially last season. But to the Blues' credit they did an excellent job of clearing the ball and never allowing West Brom to get a serious chance on goal.