And we’re back. After four merciful weeks in hibernation, Everton kicked off their 2020-21 pre-season in ways only they know how: by trailing League One’s Blackpool 3-0 inside 11 ignominious minutes. Indeed, the only debutant on show here was the sharp new hummel home strip, complete with signature chevrons. The team wearing it? Same as it ever was.
Even if Carlo Ancelotti at least later saw his side erase the deficit altogether, the Italian bore a thunderous glare as a chaotic start to proceedings at Bloomfield Road saw Everton ship three terribly preventable goals.
First came CJ Hamilton firing across Jordan Pickford after merely 80 seconds, then a socially-distanced Sullay Kaikai slamming home ten minutes later, before Grant Ward completed the debacle almost immediately afterwards, rifling past Pickford after pinball in the penalty box ensued. It’s the fact Everton still appear not to have learnt from previous mishaps that really irks, though; that muddled thinking in defence has seemingly become muscle memory to them.
There are mitigating circumstances, of course. Blackpool, for one thing, did not have to contend with nine league games in five weeks after League One was curtailed due to coronavirus, and already have 270 minutes of pre-season football under their belts to energise them. Everton, in their first outing since that dismal closer against Bournemouth on July 26, still bore the look of 11 weary men hampered by a gruelling hangover. Not to mention the absence of any fresh blood, a matter of urgency which will only have been emphasised by this pitiful beginning.
And while the comeback that followed doesn’t excuse the capitulation, at least Ancelotti will leave Lancashire with some positives to draw on. Dominic Calvert-Lewin netted after ten lean games. Gylfi Sigurdsson was a more impactful presence in midfield once again. There were minutes in the bank for Jarrad Branthwaite, Jonjoe Kenny, Niels Nkounkou, Ellis Simms and Kyle John for good measure, too.
And above all else, Ancelotti’s Everton remain set-piece specialists. More than one-third of their goals following the Italian’s arrival last term came via dead balls. As did all three this afternoon at Bloomfield Road. When you’re as one-paced and your midfield is bypassed as frequently as Everton, this will prove an invaluable weapon in their artillery.
Indeed, Everton at least began to assert their authority once the nadir of the third goal was hammered home by Ward. A Sigurdsson corner midway through the first period was met by Calvert-Lewin, who duly rose to head in a trademark Calvert-Lewin strike. Everton’s joint-top scorer of last season was at the forefront of their second, too, earning a penalty for a cheap foul by Marvin Ekpiteta, which Sigurdsson, after much deliberation with Calvert-Lewin, then slot home on the half-hour.
And it was the Icelander again on the scoresheet to equalise on 72 minutes for an Everton side who, by then, had just three survivors from the team who saw Sigurdsson net from 12 yards in the first period. A Theo Walcott drive through the heart of the Seasiders’ defence earned a cheap free kick, which Sigurdsson brutally leathered past the helpless Chris Maxwell. His first Everton goal from a free kick, he will hopefully see this as a catalyst for rejuvenation after a forgettable 2019-20 individually.
Ancelotti’s side applied much of the pressure in the remaining 20 minutes without managing to land the coup de grace on their hosts. By the end, this was a side featuring youngsters Nkounkou, John and Simms, as well as forgotten men of yesteryear such as Muhamed Besic and Yannick Bolasie. Even for a friendly, even accounting for the absence of Richarlison, André Gomes and Yerry Mina, there was a patchwork look of this Everton team, which will only heighten the need for swift yet shrewd recruitment.
As will the performance, which for the most part offered more of the same. Everton were still exasperated in their defensive work and prolific from set-plays, and though they managed a credible turnaround, better sides than Blackpool - namely Tottenham in three weeks’ time - will surely not prove so charitable.