Everton’s Europa League debacle in Italy left Toffees fans bewildered, confused and angry.
The 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Atalanta, immediately preceded by a loss to Tottenham by the same scoreline, has fans wondering how there is anything to be positive about when it comes to their beloved Blues.
Alas, have no fear! I am here to be the bearer of good, if not great, news!
While Everton sloughed through the 90 minutes in Italy without cohesiveness and direction, there was one player who showed well for himself, especially considering the circumstances.
When Nikola Vlasic was announced as a signing for Everton on deadline day the reception was.....not enthusiastic....
Of course, much of the animosity on deadline was born not from Vlasic’s lack of potential, but more so in response to Everton’s inability to sign a striker.
On September 1st the coverage of Everton’s deadline day was so bleak many sites either failed to mention Vlasic, or simply brushed over his signing. This wouldn’t be surprising seeing as he is a 19-year old coming from Croatia, but after Hadjuk Split gave Everton fits in the two-legged Europa League playoff, you would think fans would have remembered the Croatian side’s most consistently dangerous player.
Vlasic played as a right winger in both matches, but as his touch maps from the two Everton matchups show he was given freedom to roam and impact the game.
The 19-year old was able to pop up in different spots, cause disarray across the Everton back line, and proved a threat with the ball at his feet.
So when Everton announced his signing, there was a belief among those who were paying close attention that this young man has the opportunity to grow into a dangerous Premier League player.
As with any player new to the Premier League, it has been assumed that there would be a STEEP learning curve, especially when you consider the (lack of) strength in the Croatian league.
Vlasic’s first appearance was a brief 10-minute cameo against Spurs at the tail end of the 3-0 whopping Tottenham dealt out. The Croatian attacker looked solid in his time, with the pace and physicality of the game proving no issue (though the intensity had waned due to the inevitability of the result).
Getting a run out ahead of the likes of Kevin Mirallas and Ademola Lookman, it was obvious Vlasic had impressed Koeman between the two Europa League matchups and the handful of training sessions he had taken part in.
It was assumed that Nikola would spend the season in the 18, perhaps eventually earning a spot start and being a threat off the bench. So when Vlasic was named to the starting XI versus Atalanta, it came a shock to most everyone, including even those who hold Vlasic in high esteem.
Of course, the match itself turned out to be a dumpster fire of a performance, but as the match unfolded, it seemed as though anytime Everton DID get any momentum in the attack Vlasic was either directly or indirectly responsible.
Much like in the matches versus Everton, Vlasic made himself available all-around the pitch.
Vlasic got on the ball and helped alleviate the Italian side’s pressure when he could.
In addition to being active, Vlasic was effective.
Of Everton’s 11 successful dribbles, Vlasic had 5
Not bad for the first start with your new side in an INCREDIBLY high pressure environment.
Now, it is not unknown to Everton fans that one of the biggest issues the Toffees have had is speed, specifically players who can beat opponents off the dribble and break through lines of defense.
While fans had hoped a new target forward would be able to hold up the ball and allow the Toffees to overlap, the lack of one only served to increase the emphasis on players who can attack one-on-one.
While Koeman has been perplexing stubborn in putting wide/ fast players on the field (Where IS Ademola Lookman?), he has already shown an affinity for and trust in Vlasic, and it must be said that thus far, in a VERY small sample, Vlasic looks be making the Dutchman look smart. (Very little is these days).
So as Deadline Day moves further into the rear view, the disappointment of players not signed will slowly fade, and if the early signs are any indication it may be the day Toffees fans remember as they day they signed a new star, Nikola Vlasic.