Predictably, Marco Silva gave his Everton starting XI a facelift for their 3-1 EFL Cup victory over Rotherham United on Wednesday.
Just three players kept their place from Saturday’s 2-2 draw at AFC Bournemouth, while summer signings Lucas Digne and Kurt Zouma made their full debuts, and Tom Davies wore the armband for his boyhood club for the first time at just 20, the club’s youngest ever senior captain.
Though the Blues ultimately ran out comfortable winners over the Championship outfit, from my vantage point at Goodison Park some individual performances were less convincing than others:
Jonjoe Kenny - a lower-tier Championship side is clearly not the best barometer by which to judge Kenny, but the 21-year-old delivered one of his most assured Everton performances here. He looked more of a threat going forward, and his crossing looked far superior to last season, while also putting in a much-improved defensive display.
Kurt Zouma - a solid home debut for the Chelsea loanee. Zouma was, for the most part, a towering presence, and his evident pace and ball-playing will be an invaluable asset for Everton this season, one which deserted them too often last year.
Lucas Digne - it is early days for the man tipped to be Leighton Baines’ long-term successor but on this showing, Digne has all the attributes to fill Baines’ boots. Though not troubled greatly by Rotherham’s right flank, he dealt well with all that came his way, and his delivery was spectacular - an assist with his weaker right foot for Dominic Calvert-Lewin being the obvious highlight.
Kieran Dowell - though not man-of-the-match by any means, Dowell’s aversion to playing safe balls made for pleasant viewing, and in a slightly deeper position than usual, he became increasingly influential as the game wore on. He may not be anywhere near taking Gylfi Sigurdsson’s place yet, but will only improve with more first-team minutes.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - the inevitable choice given his brace. Calvert-Lewin showed his ability with his fine headed goal from Digne’s cross, before sealing victory with a wonderful curled strike which left goalkeeper Lewis Price helpless.
In some ways, this felt like a carbon copy of Calvert-Lewin’s performance in the same competition against Sunderland last year; two well-taken goals against relatively poor Championship opposition. His challenge now, like Kenny, is to replicate this level of performance in the Premier League.
Room for improvement
Everton’s defending of set-pieces - this may seem contradictory considering the praise heaped on defenders Kenny, Digne and Zouma, but one of the Toffees’ worst habits still managed to rear its ugly head again on Wednesday.
Just as Bournemouth’s Nathan Aké and Callum Wilson, and Southampton’s Danny Ings caught the Blues out from corners this season, Rotherham’s Will Vaulks enjoyed similar success here, simply reacting quickest in the box to head past a helpless Maarten Stekelenburg.
While there is no doubt, on the evidence of the season so far, that new manager Marco Silva has improved the personnel at the back, his decision to employ the polarising strategy of zonal marking from set-plays has backfired on several occasions already this term. If Silva is to persist with this, it will need a lot more practice before his side perfect this tactic.
Maarten Stekelenburg - the veteran goalkeeper knows his opportunities will be limited as Jordan Pickford’s deputy, and though he could hardly be blamed for Vaulks’ goal, he delivered a fairly shaky performance overall.
At Fulham, Stekelenburg was dropped by then-manager Felix Magath, partly because the German felt fellow stopper David Stockdale was more vocal with his defenders. Likewise, where Pickford is a commanding, authoritative presence between the sticks, Stekelenburg is almost mute by comparison and doesn’t inspire the same confidence in players or fans as England’s number one.
Oumar Niasse - the likeable forward’s application can never be questioned, unlike his end product. Niasse, as ever, made a nuisance of himself up front with Calvert-Lewin but, unlike his strike partner, couldn’t take his chances when they came.
A second-half header which landed in the Gwladys Street after a brilliant Sandro Ramirez cross was particularly galling, and it was little surprise when Niasse was hooked for Cenk Tosun on 73 minutes.
Overall Everton laboured more than necessary to get the win, but considering the injury crisis facing the club, the strength in depth showed and the Blues move on into the next round of the competition.