Nikola Vlasic last showed up in an Everton matchday squad a week before Christmas when he was on the bench for the home win against Swansea City. Fans wondered where the young playmaker had disappeared to since that time, especially with the Blues struggling to make an impression in the attacking half of the pitch for long periods of successive matches during the hectic holiday period.
That question was answered on Monday when Sam Allardyce inserted him into the starting lineup for only the seventh time in his first season here with the Blues. Vlasic was excellent to begin the game, providing pace and possession down the right and generally causing opponents Manchester United all sorts of trouble.
Speaking yesterday to evertontv, Allardyce said he was happy with the impact the 20-year-old had made on the game.
“Nikola Vlasic was a positive. If we can get him in the top third of the pitch with the ball at his feet, he can create a lot of tricks and movement and some good opportunities.
“But we have to get him up there, where he likes to be, and get him possession as often we can. I was pleased with him.”
The manager added that despite the defeat, he was satisfied with the performance put in by the side in the first half at least.
“I was pleased with our performance in the first half. We tried to take the game to Manchester United whenever we could but the disappointing thing was the start of the second half and allowing that first goal to go in.
“It was extremely risky [making seven changes] against Manchester United, that is for sure. But I had to do it.
“The lads who have been winning and drawing matches, you try to let them go as far as they can. But it was clear by the end of the Bournemouth game that a lot of those lads were fatigued and would not really recover sufficiently in 48 hours to get the energy and performance we needed against Manchester United.
“That is why we made the changes. In the main, apart from 15 or 20 minutes in the second half up to them scoring, we were always in the game.
“From that point of view, I was pleased with the lads’ application for most of the game but very disappointed in those two small moments United took full advantage of.”
The Blues play a critical game on Friday night, traveling to Anfield to take on Liverpool in a FA Cup third round fixture, and Allardyce said he would probably rotate the side once again for the Merseyside Derby.
“It is about the availability of the players again. It will be our fifth game in 14 days. You will see a lot of changes again – perhaps not seven, but you will see some... maybe three or four.
“We need to play against Liverpool with our legs and minds as fresh as possible, because we will need a big effort to try to get through to the next round.
“We have to tell the lads – the game is about doing the right things at the right time. The simple things are the most important things. That is us keeping throw-ins, keeping our possession and doing the right job at the right time.
“It is being a bit super critical, because what they have done prior to the past two games has been outstanding. We have not had much time to continue to work on where we have got to – but I have to point out to the players where we went wrong. Hopefully, they can accept the constructive criticism and learn from it.
”When we can get on the training ground more, I am sure we can improve and keep improving and, hopefully, turn these bad results into good ones.”