It’s taken Michael Keane some time to adjust to life at Everton. A big money purchase of Ronald Koeman’s back in the summer of 2017, Keane was signed from Burnley to help stabilize a porous Everton defense. Despite a turbulent start to life in Merseyside, Keane is starting to look all of the defender Everton fans believed they were getting three years ago. To reward his development, the club recently signed Keane to a five-year extension through the 2025 season. In yesterday’s cup win over Salford, Keane’s head was crucial in more ways than one. In a literal sense, he scored the game’s opening goal off a screaming header, meeting a delivery that had been whipped in by Gylfi Sigurdsson. Keane overpowered his defender and showed his athleticism by leaping between the two center-backs to put Everton ahead.
In addition to being a threat on set pieces, what has elevated Keane’s play from when he first arrived is the development of his mental game; he’s become a much sharper defender. He was the lone player from Sunday’s win against Spurs to remain in the starting eleven, highlighting the trust he has earned from Ancelotti, who handed Keane the keys against Salford. Keane not only sets the tone on the pitch, he communicates with his teammates, and wins most defensive headers. Whether it’s on a defensive set piece or cross into the box, Keane has a knack for being the first player to the ball. He can pass out of the back, link up with the midfield and maintain possession. Against a side from League Two, a clean sheet was the expectation, and Keane was a main factor in limiting the Lions’ offensive output to one shot on target and no goals.
Anthony Gordon’s first Premier League start came this past June in the Merseyside Derby. The 19-year-old was inserted into the lineup by Carlo Ancelotti to help defend and be an outlet on the wing. Gordon, who doesn’t turn 20 until February, put in a strong shift for the Toffees before being subbed off in the 60’ against the Reds. It became evident in this fixture how highly Ancelotti rated the young Englishman, and the win last night was further evidence of Gordon’s potential.
Surely no one was happier to hear the final whistle blow than Salford right back Oscar Threlkeld, whom the Evertonian toyed with all evening. Early in the contest, Gordon picked the ball up around the half-way mark, put the ball past the fullback and into space, then raced down the line. All Threlkeld could do was watch the teenager glide by. In the beginning of the second half, Gordon again got the better of his defender, this time by changing speeds and cutting to the end-line.
Gordon had a couple of scoring opportunities denied by the woodwork, and was lively on the left channel putting eight shots. He also made a darting run down the wing, picked up the ball and played a crisp pass to Sigurdsson for the second goal of the game. In the dying moments against Salford, he baited a defender into lunging forward, thus earning a penalty, which Moise Kean calmly finished. While he’s still desperate for his first senior team goal, Gordon was one of the key players on the pitch and displayed the type of footballer he can become — even if it was against weaker competition.
Fullbacks’ Strong Display
With Leighton Baines retiring this summer and Seamus Coleman rapidly approaching his 32nd birthday on October 11, the depth of the full back position was a question mark heading into the season. Jonjoe Kenny returned from a successful loan spell with Schalke in the Bundesliga, while Niels Nkounkou was signed from Marseille, but neither were seen as starting options. After yesterday’s game, despite being against a club in the fourth tier, Kenny and Nkounkou have certainly assuaged some of the doubt that was floating around before the season.
Kenny returned with hopes of supplanting Coleman as Ancelotti’s first-choice right back and while Coleman started against Spurs, the younger player put in a good shift in yesterday’s contest, complicating the right back position. Primarily matching up against Brandon Thomas-Asante, Kenny progressed as the game wore on. He was a bit eager early in the match, and some overzealous defending saw him get dragged too far infield and commit several fouls.
Offensively, Kenny worked well with Tom Davies and Theo Walcott on the right wing. He did well going forward, operating as an outlet for the game’s duration. He managed a late shot — albeit one that was never going in — and provided a quality service to Kean, who failed to convert on the opportunity. Kenny will need to limit his errant tackles, but should be in competition with Coleman for the right back spot this season.
⭐️ | Man of the Match on his debut? You said it.— Everton (@Everton) September 16, 2020
Well played, Niels! pic.twitter.com/6OkZaxzzSZ
While Nkounkou’s been called into action earlier than anticipated, Ancelotti will be happy with his performance against the Ammies. The 19-year-old Frenchman was active on the left-side of the pitch and displayed a keen awareness of when to keep possession and when to push the ball forward. He built a consistent level of chemistry with Gordon, as the two formed a dangerous partnership on the left wing, with Nkounkou making overlapping runs to relieve pressure.
He also displayed his quick feet and dribbling prowess against Salford. In the 60th minute Nkounkou found himself sandwiched by two defenders, yet managed to elude their tackles and retain possession. While he put in a commendable defensive effort, his contributions were equally sound in the final third. He put a wonderful ball into the box that was just out of Walcott’s reach, and later dribbled past two Salford defenders with ease. Nkounkou was involved in Everton’s build-up play and looks to be a player capable of providing depth for Lucas Digne at the left back position.