Just as the storm clouds were gathering over L4, a glimmer of hope appeared at Bramall Lane.
It’s never total despair at Everton. That’s what keeps you hooked.
And I’m sure six points from the final two games will send Evertonian fantasies into overdrive during the short summer break ahead of the new season. “Eh, if we just sort out our midfield, ya never know…”
But do Blues have the right to hope after this performance? Let’s see what the numbers tell us…
The Boy Done Good
18-year-old centre-back picks up man of the match
Just minutes after Jarrod Branthwaite made his debut against Wolves last week, it looked as if his moment had come to soon after failing to keep tabs of his man as they extended their lead.
However, in the games since, he’s looked rock solid. Carlo Ancelotti put his trust in him once again to come of the bench against Villa, while Everton’s injury crisis meant the 18-year-old was given his first start here.
And boy did he take his chance.
Branthwaite looked composed and comfortable on the ball, while also demonstrating very good positioning, excellent physicality and undertaking defensive tasks with maturity far beyond his years.
Although the restart has been a very disappointing one for Blues, there’s no doubt that the emergence of two teenagers should get Evertonians excited for the future.
l A very impressive first start from @Jarradbranthwa1...— Everton (@Everton) July 21, 2020
80% Pass accuracy
2 Aerial duels completed
100% Tackle success
⚽️ 2 Clearances
⛔️ 1 Clean sheet
Your @eToro Man of the Match. ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/YBgSVV91Cc
DCL and Richie both have 15 goals this season
While the fume of Evertonians may currently be directed at the team’s (lack of) midfield, let’s not forget that not so long ago we had real issues in finding any kind of replacement for Romelu Lukaku up top.
Thankfully, striking options (at least the two starters) now seems to be one of Everton’s biggest strengths.
DCL and Richarlison have been among Everton’s most consistent performers this season and, after Richie bagged with an excellent header at Bramall Lane, both players have hit 15 goals in all competitions – the kind of striking partnership that the Blues haven’t enjoyed in a loooong time.
More positivity from Everton’s midfield
As mentioned above, Everton’s midfield has rightly been the focus of criticism in recent weeks. But Andre Gomes and Gylfi Sigurdsson put in much improved performances here.
In particular, Gylfi was more effective in attack, playing 10 successful passes in the attacking third as well as three key passes – the most on the field.
This is far from to say that this is the midfield that should be playing next season, but Sigurdsson and Davies may still have their uses as squad players.
Gylfi Sigurdsson's stats against Sheffield United:— EFC Statto (@EFC_Statto) July 20, 2020
Touches - 40
Assists - 1
Successful passes - 21
Successful forward passes - 8
Successful attacking third passes - 10
Chances created - 3
Pass accuracy - 81%
Recoveries - 2
Fouls committed - 2
Fouls suffered - 1#EFC #SHUEVE
Against bottom half teams under Ancelotti
One of the many criticisms levelled at Marco Silva – and indeed Roberto Martinez a few years previously – was that they didn’t beat the teams that Everton are expected to beat often enough.
Obviously, Sheffield United have had a great year but, on paper at least, this is a game Evertonians expect to win.
Since Ancelotti has taken over, however, the only teams Everton have lost to are Man City (2nd), Chelsea (3rd), Leicester (4th), Wolves (6th), Tottenham (7th) and Arsenal (currently 10th – but likely to finish 8th).
Obviously, we still want to win these games, but it’s a lot more understandable than losing to Norwich City, AFC Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albion – as Marco Silva did earlier in the season.
Interestingly, while Marco Silva’s record mirrors Roberto Martinez’ in some ways, there are undoubted parallels to be drawn between Ronald Koeman (first season at least) and Carlo Ancelotti, not only with their wealth of experience as both top players and managers, but also in the types of results they’re getting and when. Hopefully, though, Carlo can take the next step when Ronald could not.
One more game…
As too often occurs, Everton are left seeing out the season with a dead-rubber tie (at least from our perspective).
The Blues will finish 11th as long as Southampton (who host Sheffield United on the final day) don’t better our result against Bournemouth, who will be fighting for their lives.
Ahead of the restart, I actually wrote a post that we should be focussing on blooding youth to end the season and that seems to be what we have done – albeit more due to necessity than choice.
Against Sheffield United, Everton started with four players aged 23 or under, while 19-year-old Anthony Gordon also made another cameo from the bench.
It would be great if we could use the final game to squeeze a few more minutes out for our youngsters, in particular 19-year-old Ellis Simms who was on the bench for the first time against the Blades, and, ideally, Moise Kean, who has started a meagre five games this season.
Youngest teams in the Premier League this season:— Football Talent Scout - Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) July 14, 2020
1⃣Manchester United - average age 24,6
2⃣Arsenal - 25,1
2⃣Bournemouth - 25,1
4⃣Chelsea - 25,2
5⃣Everton - 25,5
6⃣Aston Villa - 25,6
7⃣Southampton - 25,7
8⃣Leicester City - 25,9
8⃣Wolves - 25,9
8⃣Norwich City - 25,9 pic.twitter.com/RRJPREszRT