It’s fair to say most Evertonians will be more thankful for this month’s international break than last month’s.
Going into the October break, the Blues had won seven out of seven in all competitions in 2020-21, topped the early Premier League table, and looked a revitalised side under Carlo Ancelotti.
Since then, they have won none of their four games, drawing just one and losing the last three - so perhaps a chance to take a step back has come at the right time.
With Everton seventh after eight games, and no game until Fulham away on November 21, we’ve used this international break as an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve seen from Ancelotti’s men so far this term in another roundtable format:
Rate Everton’s start to the season out of 10
Pete Reynolds: It was 9/10 up until the Derby, then 3/10 thereafter… hence averages out to a 6/10.
Calvin: I didn’t want to get too carried away by the first few games as the underlying issues in the team were getting glossed over by a deluge of goals. Those have dried up, and now we’re still not far removed from the team that finished mid-table last season. 6/10.
Pat Mariboe: 7/10.
Matthew Chandler: I think if we had amassed 13 points from eight games in less extreme fashion (i.e. winning four in a row, losing three in a row), then people would generally have a more positive view on this. By and large, Everton have still looked an improved side on last term. 7/10.
Ian Decker: There are essentially two halves to the season so far. The first half, where Everton won seven straight games while scoring 24 times, receives a 9.5 out of 10; there was very little the team could have done to reach a perfect score. Then there’s the second half... four games, three losses, two red cards and a minus-five goal differential. The past four games have reeked of a dysfunction seen in prior teams. It’s clear there is very little depth and that the star players are nearly irreplaceable. For me, the second part of the season gets a three. 6.25/10
Highlight of the season so far?
Pete Reynolds: Opening day win at Tottenham. Allan, James Rodriguez and Abdoulaye Doucouré instantly transforming our team. Magic.
Calvin: James Rodriguez’s brace against Brighton - counter-attacking, quick football at its best, both were team goals to savour and exactly how I want us to be playing.
Pat Mariboe: EFL Cup wins over Fleetwood and West Ham. We’ve looked worse off against similar opponents in the cup in the past, so I’m glad we were able to get it done.
Matthew Chandler: The Tottenham win. As cohesive at the back as we were going forward, we probably deserved more than just a 1-0 victory. The most complete Everton performance I’ve seen in some time - and at the ground of a ‘Big Six’ side, of all places.
Ian Decker: Either Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s hat tricks, and scorching scoring touch to open the season, or watching Niels Nkounkou go to work against Salford and Fleetwood.
Biggest disappointment of the season so far?
Pete Reynolds: Newcastle away. Poor in every conceivable way. Bizarre set up with zero outlet and the issues weren’t rectified. Also really concerned that Anthony Gordon didn’t really get a chance with Richarlison out.
Calvin: Abdoulaye Doucouré. I might have set myself up for failure here, expecting him to be an all-world box-to-box midfielder that scores goals and creates chances. He’s not been bad, mind you, but I had expected more.
Pat Mariboe: Draw against the Reds. Thought it was ours for the taking.
Matthew Chandler: Richarlison’s totally avoidable red card in the derby. I don’t entirely blame him for Everton losing their next three, but without him they have looked so one-dimensional. It was a tackle he simply did not need to make on Thiago Alcantara.
Ian Decker: There are two. Seeing Moise Kean score goal after goal at PSG (understanding arguments about the competitiveness, or lack thereof, of Ligue 1) or realizing that this squad has no depth.
Which player has surprised you most?
Pete Reynolds: James Rodriguez. I underestimated how good he was. Absolute wand of a left foot.
Calvin: Dominic Calvert-Lewin. After his dry spell during the resumption of football, I didn’t hold much hope that he would be a top striker for us this season; instead, he’s gone up a couple of gears.
Pat Mariboe: Niels Nkounkou.
Matthew Chandler: Seamus Coleman. Looked to be on a downward trajectory in the last few years, but has become a much-improved defender and still offers something going forward, as his involvement in Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s beautifully-worked goal at Crystal Palace showed.
Ian Decker: Michael Keane. Once on the verge of bust-label, Keane has established himself as one of the leaders on this team. With a defensive partner who can offset his lack of pace, Keane is free to hold the ball in possession and clean up in the air.
What should Everton’s midfield be?
Pete Reynolds: Allan sitting, obviously, with Abdoulaye Doucouré on the right. Then I’d actually like to see us experiment with Alex Iwobi (or maybe Bernard) in that left central midfield role to carry the ball forward more and better connect midfield and attack. Don’t feel either André Gomes or Gylfi Sigurdsson add much to the midfield.
Calvin: I want to see us go back to a 4-2-3-1 with Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré in the middle, and James Rodriguez roaming the number ten position and creating overloads where he can.
Pat Mariboe: Allan-Sigurdsson-Doucouré. I think André Gomes has been a bit of a watcher so far this season, and while Sigurdsson hasn’t offered much, I think he’s more agile and able to lead (somewhat) of an attack forward. When Jean-Philippe Gbamin is fit, he and Gomes will be good rotational players.
Matthew Chandler: Would like to try Ben Godfrey sitting, with Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré ahead of him. Admittedly at a lower level, but Godfrey excelled there in League One for Shrewsbury three seasons ago. Allan to me does not appear best suited to that role, and Jean-Philippe Gbamin is the obvious incumbent of that position when finally fit.
Ian Decker: The ideal midfield has to be André Gomes, Abdoulaye Doucouré and Allan. The latter two make up for Gomes’ defensive limitations, allowing the Portuguese midfielder to push the tempo up the field.
What else needs to change after the international break?
Pete Reynolds: Need to get the tempo back again. Last three games we returned to our default of pedestrian sideways passing with no penetration. Also want to see a lot more of Anthony Gordon.
Calvin: Defence, defence and more defence. If we can only improve one thing during the break, it has to be how we are defending.
Pat Mariboe: Play Anthony Gordon more.
Matthew Chandler: Give Robin Olsen a run of games in goal, and decide what the best centre-back pairing is. My hunch is it’s Michael Keane and Mason Holgate, as Keane and Mina appear too similar to each other to play together, but we’ll see.
Ian Decker: Getting the first team back together. Hoping for these injuries to subside and for smarter play on the field from the likes of Richarlison and Lucas Digne. They have to realize how important they are to the squad and how detrimental their absences can be.
What is the minimum acceptable points return from Everton’s next three (Fulham A, Leeds H, Burnley A)?
Pete Reynolds: Got to be at least seven points there. Must beat Fulham, then should beat both Leeds and Burnley, but will forgive one draw.
Calvin: Acceptable? Seven. Want? Nine.
Pat Mariboe: Has to be seven if we have any chance of Champions League next season.
Matthew Chandler: Nine. Everton won these sort of games at the start of the season. Especially with Richarlison now back from suspension, there’s no excuses if they’re serious about their ambitions this term, especially ahead of a daunting Christmas fixture list.
Ian Decker: Minimum would be five. Fulham is a must-win, but the other two present more difficult tasks. Marcelo Bielsa is an excellent manager with a talented squad, so a draw would be welcomed. Everton are a superior team to Burnley, no doubt about it. My only worry is that Sean Dyche has his team drop so far deep that Everton can’t find a way through a tight and organized defense.