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Crystal Palace 1 – 2 Everton: Three Thoughts | Blues top of the table

Three thoughts from yesterday’s win over (previously) undefeated Eagles

Crystal Palace v Everton - Premier League Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

For the first time since the 1993/94 season, Everton have won their three opening matches! A busy first 45 saw the Toffees take the lead, forfeit the lead, then reclaim the lead. The Blues controlled the midfield throughout the first half and looked all of a team that deserves to be table toppers three weeks into the campaign. These players have established themselves as a gritty group, but that doesn’t mean the Toffees put together the most complete performance against Crystal Palace.

The Not So Good

Not to dampen the festive mood, the London rain took care of that, but the Toffees did lack composure and finesse at times at Selhurst Park. First off, Doucouré’s passing…A player who has looked excellent covering for Coleman, moving the ball forward and disrupting in the midfield, Doucouré made several atrocious passes into the middle of the pitch today, resulting in fast-break opportunities for Crystal Palace that effectively erased any rhythm Everton were trying to establish. For a player with his level of Premiership experience, today was just a blip. There were some questionable passes, but he’s been a big part of Everton’s blistering start.

Second, and this is me nitpicking, Calvert-Lewin was a big profligate in front of net today. Yes, he did score one to make it five on the season, but he had some chances — notably two corner kicks whipped in by James — that someone as in-form as Calvert-Lewin is expected to finish. Just imagine what a bit more poise would add to a player who already has a tremendous work-rate.

And the final bit comes from Palace’s goal. This is what happens when a player floats to the back post and isn’t picked up. Both Richarlison and Michael Keane — usually impeccable in the air — lost Kouyaté, who placed the ball back across the face of goal past a flat-footed Pickford, levelling the score.

This Year’s Formula

On a more positive note, let’s break down the winning formula that has seen Everton take nine of nine points from the opening three matches. It looks something like this: Doucouré/Gomes long ball + Coleman/Digne run on the wing + James magic + Calvert-Lewin/Richarlison boot = best start in 27 years. If we take this to be the combination and apply it to yesterday’s game, it is already starting to take form. The Toffees’ first goal started with Gomes picking up the ball in Palace’s half and delivering a long ball out to Coleman. Coleman then knocked the ball to Doucouré, who looked up and found James. The Colombian then feathered a one-touch pass to the Irishman who crossed the ball into the box, where Calvert-Lewin clinically netted his fifth of the season (Gomes + Coleman + James + DCL).

While there inevitably will be varying combinations of Ancelotti’s Algorithm, the one essential element is James. Whether it is on the counter-attack, running at defenses, miraculously escaping defenders or hitting cross-field passes, James is the impetus that has been a glaring deficiency of Everton’s in recent years. What’s so enthralling about James is that even though he wasn’t at his best against Crystal Palace, he was still one of the best players on the pitch.

Seeing Out the Game

Go to Everton’s official Twitter page and scroll for about a minute. Sixty seconds is all you need to see how the mentality of this club has changed with Carlo at the helm. Ancelotti, Digne, Doucouré, Gomes and James all Tweeted something along the lines of: “We showed character in a good team win. Let’s enjoy it today but work hard tomorrow to continue to improve. Keep going.” Winning certainly begets cheerfulness on Twitter, but the positivity currently emanating from the club is something Everton fans are not accustomed to. Joey Barton even said going to Goodison was “Like visiting a mortuary.” The days of Allardyce’s agony, Koeman’s cackles and Silva’s sorrows are long gone, as Ancelotti has his side exhibiting a consistent pattern of play where players are comfortable on the ball, more committed and work hard as a team.

The collective ethos Ancelotti has instilled amongst the Everton team is particularly striking due to the collective buy-in it required from the players. In other words, Ancelotti had a vision, and that vision resonated with the players. There has been a change of attitude, a lot of which has to do with a proper coach. Nervy moments from the 58’ through the 65’ had Palace threatening to even the score. The Eagles maintained steady possession and won several corners. The Everton of old might have cracked, but not this group. There was Mina flinging himself to the ground. Doucouré fighting for every ball. Selfless defending by Coleman and Digne. Allan tracking every defender in sight. And then there was Calvert-Lewin, running until after the final whistle had blown.