In yesterday’s cup win against fellow Premier League outfit West Ham United, the truncated schedule and high volume of games played finally caught up with Everton. The Blues have had six matches since the season opened on September 13, with rest and recovery at a premium. For each fixture, Carlo Ancelotti methodically picked his starting eleven to ensure a win while trying to minimize injuries. The Italian has calmly guided Everton to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup, but yesterday’s match ended in a subdued atmosphere around Goodison.
Injuries Ruin Electric Offense
A celebratory mood was impaired by the loss of three players due to injury. An undefeated start to the season has Everton fans in all corners of the globe reveling in a team that for so long has failed to get it right. Ancelotti’s management and team selection have been nearly flawless, the only blemish being the ankle injuries of Jonjoe Kenny and Richarlison, coupled with an abductor problem for Allan.
As each left the pitch, in varying amounts of pain, Ancelotti was forced to call for three substitutions he certainly hadn’t anticipated making. When asked about the knocks to Kenny, Richarlison and Allan, Ancelotti downplayed their severity. He was optimistic that Richarlison would recover by Saturday but was coy on the recovery process for both Kenny and Allan.
With last night’s injuries, Everton become even thinner at the right-back position, with Seamus Coleman the only experienced player on the right side. If Richarlison isn’t ready to play come Saturday’s fixture against Brighton, Ancelotti has depth in Anthony Gordon, Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott to soften the blow. For me, though, Allan’s was the most worrying of the three injuries. Defensive midfield has been a weakness for the Toffees in recent years, and the Brazilian has been instrumental to Everton’s defensive character to start the season. Hopefully all three can make swift recoveries and rejoin the fun on Merseyside.
Through six games, Everton have scored 20 times, averaging 3.3 goals per game. Under Ancelotti, the offense has erupted to become one of the strongest units in the Prem. With James — who is usually the best player on the pitch — running the show, Everton finally have a bona fide playmaker. The Colombian drives at defenses, finds the slimmest of seams through defenses and can play on the wing or in the middle. James found Richarlison several times throughout the game, with the two displaying early chemistry. James gives Everton the extra space, created by taking deft touches past defenders, that opens up the field for the rest of the team.
With the frigid temperature manifesting in the puffs of breath coming from the players last night, the dreary England weather doesn’t seem to be affecting number 19. Against West Ham, James did a little bit of everything — he even took a right-footed shot!
For all that James did against the Hammers, Dominic Calvert-Lewin was equally impressive. Calvert-Lewin now has eight goals through six games. By comparison, in 40 games last season, Everton’s number nine scored 15 goals. With two hat-tricks a month into the season, Calvert-Lewin has fully arrived. Against West Ham, he scored from a long ball over the top, taking a perfect touch into his path and finishing with a defender at his back.
For his second goal, he was the quickest to react to an Alex Iwobi shot that hit the post and for his final goal, he broke off the back shoulder of Declan Rice and calmly slotted a shot into the corner of the goal. He has blossomed into one of the most talented and potent strikers in the league — a fact not lost on England manager Gareth Southgate, who gave Calvert-Lewin his first call-up to the national team today. At 23-years-old, it’s fair to assume he’ll only get better.
Strong Outing for Center-backs (plus Allan)
I am including Allan as a de facto center-back due to his defensive dilligence and work-rate. Injury aside, Allan was on top of West Ham’s attack. Never shying away from a contest, he’s also smart about when to go to ground. There is rarely an errant tackle as he looks to disrupt and recover. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for the heart and soul of this Everton side.
Lucas Digne has been one of the most prolific left-backs in the Premier League in recent seasons. When Jarrad Branthwaite was forced off the pitch due to an injury against Salford, Digne entered as the left-sided center-back — a role he has continued to fill in the two subsequent cup matches. His versatility and speed make up for his undersized frame, for a center-half. Against the Hammers, he consistently sparred with Sébastien Haller, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs 181 pounds. The Frenchman, meanwhile, checks in at 5-foot-10 and 163. Regardless of the physical difference, Digne did excellently to limit Haller to a dismal night.
Michael Keane has become a stalwart in the Everton side. Once teetering on the verge of the “wasted-signing” label, Keane is a strong defender who can push the team up the pitch. For the opening goal, he brilliantly spun out of pressure and sent a dipping ball over the top to Calvert-Lewin. Keane’s precision passing, composure in front of net and ability in the air make him a must-start on a weekly basis for the Toffees. Keane also joins teammates Calvert-Lewin and Jordan Pickford in Southgate’s squad for England’s upcoming fixtures.