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Decent start but similar issues for Everton in season-opener

There are many caveats, but the Blues rather continued where they left off last term

Crystal Palace v Everton FC - Premier League
Moise Kean (right) made his Everton debut at Selhurst Park on Saturday
Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

There’s a sort of anachronistic charm about the walk to Selhurst Park.

A far cry from the stroll along the picturesque River Thames to Craven Cottage across London, it maintains in character what it lacks in glamour. Certainly, it feels a region from a bygone era, but its refusal to shed its identity makes it infinitely more likeable than much of the rather soulless capital.

Shopkeepers at market stalls line the streets for as far as the eye can see, before off-licence follows take-away, follows off-licence, and so on. Stream upon stream of terraced houses mark the final stretch before arriving at the invariably raucous home of Crystal Palace Football Club.

Crystal Palace v Manchester City - Premier League
Selhurst Park and Croydon have not lost their identity at all
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

In many ways, it is the sort of experience many Everton fans will empathise with, with their own pilgrimages to Goodison Park encompassing similarly working-class surroundings. Indeed, neither club strike you as the most natural fit in today’s gentrified Premier League.

That is where the comparisons should end, though. Considering Everton spent about 20 times more than the £6 million shelled out by Palace this summer, it is neither patronising nor arrogant to say that the two should really be poles apart on the pitch.

But on Saturday, the opening fixture of the 2019-20 campaign, the similarities between the clubs extended further than solely away from football, as the two sides proved impossible to separate in an entertaining yet goalless draw in Croydon.

And yet, against a depleted Palace side who, this summer, lost one star man in Aaron Wan-Bissaka without replacement and unsettled another in Everton target Wilfried Zaha, Marco Silva’s men struggled to establish a sense of superiority which many rightly expected them to.

Crystal Palace v Everton FC - Premier League
Silva wanted Zaha to join Everton but a summer move did not materialise
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Truth be told, it was the same infelicities, the same tropes, the ones have so frequently pockmarked Everton’s early-season form before, which cost the Blues again on Saturday.

Lack of fitness among their late new arrivals, a red card for Morgan Schneiderlin, and an injury which forced André Gomes to be substituted before half-time all conspired to force them to settle for their sixth opening-day stalemate in the last seven seasons.

It is not unfamiliar territory in the slightest for Evertonians. And while these mitigating factors should be more than enough to keep them from worrying - yet - about whether their side can finally break down the top six barricade this year, there was little to get jaws dropping and mouths watering here.

In fact, much of this match transpired as a carbon copy of last season’s corresponding fixture in April; also a 0-0 draw. Like then, Everton dominated much of the ball, but struggled to do a great deal with it; mustering just three shots on target despite boasting 65 per cent of possession.

Crystal Palace v Everton FC - Premier League
Palace and Everton’s 0-0 draw in April was extremely similar to Saturday’s game
Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images

The solidity in defence was a welcome return; less so the dithering in midfield and impotence in attack. And on this evidence, you can understand why Silva was so keen on both Zaha and Watford FC midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré.

The former would surely have provided greater urgency in attack than the admirable yet fallible Dominic Calvert-Lewin, while the latter, you suspect, would be able to dominate midfield in such a way that Gylfi Sigurðsson too often fails to.

It is, of course, the earliest of days, though, and more will come with time. Jean-Phillipe Gbamin was clearly not match-fit when shoved in to the deep end following Gomes’ injury, and can be forgiven for a somewhat uninspiring debut.

Moise Kean, just 19, has already shown a stoicism and maturity in his career belying his youthfulness, and has too much potential to fail at Everton. Other new arrivals Djibril Sidibé, Fabian Delph and Alex Iwobi, all of whom strengthen Silva’s squad. are yet to come, meanwhile.

Crystal Palace v Everton FC - Premier League
Highly-rated Kean made his Everton debut on Saturday
Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

There is just a nagging feeling that, such was the lack of quality among the Palace ranks yesterday, certainly compared to that at Silva’s disposal, these are the sort of games Everton can ill-afford to drop points in if they are to dislodge one of the top-flight’s elite.

Because, for all of the parallels that can be drawn between Everton and Palace off the pitch, the Blues have far loftier ambitions on it.

Given context, a point yesterday was far from catastrophic for Silva, but what may cause him mild concern at this premature stage was how evenly-matched the two sides appeared to be on Saturday.