Spirited second half performance
In the second half of this match at Sheffield United, Everton played with an exuberance that has not been seen in quite some time. There was finally some effort and purpose in their play and not a sense of wishing the season were over. There was more excitement in the opening minutes of the second half than there has been in the previous four matches.
The midfield was a surprising highlight in this match, particularly Andre Gomes and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Gomes has mostly not looked right since returning from injury. An already slow player, Gomes has looked even more off the pace than usual and has often been a liability in midfield. But in this match he seemed more energetic and engaged in the match.
It may be unpopular to speak positively about Gylfi Sigurdsson among certain subsets of Everton supporters, but I think he has been one of the few bright spots during the restart. It’s well documented that he has not and likely will never live up to his massive price tag. But his substitute appearances and start in this match have been largely positive, not to mention he got the assist on the only goal in this match. He offers a little more quickness than Gomes and is much more precise than Tom Davies, both traits that have been lacking for Everton. I certainly question his long term viability with the team, but in the short term he has at least been enjoyable to watch at times and a good influence on his team.
Defensive unit gets back in shape
Defense had been one of the biggest areas of improvement under Carlo Ancelotti. Just as he had a positive impact on Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, Ancelotti equally improved the likes of Michael Keane and Mason Holgate. Under previous regimes, Holgate has been a decent defender and Keane has been frequently criticized throughout his Everton career.
Keane and Jarrad Branthwaite were quite good in this match. Keane especially has become excellent and clearing nearly every aerial pass that comes into the box. And Ancelotti appears to have found a real gem in Branthwaite, I like many have been impressed with how composed the 18-year-old has been in his time with the first team.
The defense was also aided by a change in formation. While the opening line ups had the blues running their usual 4-4-2, in reality they played more of a 4-2-3-1. This beefed up a midfield that has been frequently overrun and also allowed Sigurdsson to play his preferred position. But overall Everton just looked more stout through the middle in the match.
Making the case to stick around
Those Everton players not named Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison etc. now only have one more game to make their case to Ancelotti to stick around with the team. I think in this match, a few made a good case to stay.
Firstly, I think Michael Keane has earned at least another chance to remain with the team. Obviously this is all subject to who is brought in over the summer, but I think he has played quite well this season and since the restart. Yerry Mina is chronically injured and Branthwaite is probably too young and inexperienced to be handed serious minutes next season. Sigurdsson may have also played himself into remaining with the team and Ancelotti seems to think he can convert the midfielder to a deeper position. I don’t expect Sigurdsson to be a starter all of the time, but he does offer a useful skill set to this team.
Keane and Sigurdsson are divisive players among the supporters. I like everyone else have had my issues with them over their tenure at Everton. They are not without their issues, but I also think we don’t know the extent of the rebuild we will see over the summer. Farhad Moshiri may be hesitant to have another blockbuster summer like we saw under Ronald Koeman. It would not be surprising to see things done in a more piecemeal fashion. Certainly holes will be filled and players suiting Ancelotti’s style will be brought in, but a haul of nine or ten new signings may not be realistic.