Not At Their Best
Had someone who missed yesterday’s game looked in the paper for the score, they might look at a 2–1 win and think, “Way to go, Everton.” It took a moment of James brilliance and Abdoulaye Doucouré might — in the third minute of extra time — to down a team that currently sits in 23rd of 24 teams in the Championship. While the Toffees pulled out a narrow win, it was for all intents and purposes, against a third-tier team.
And while Everton advanced to the fourth round of the oldest cup competition in the game for the first time since 15/16, Rotherham United looked the more component side for large stretches of the match — at halftime, the visitors had three shots on target to Everton’s one and five corners to the Toffees’ none. The defense was lackadaisical, the midfield was porous and the offense was anemic. While credit must be given to the indefatigability of Rotherham, a lousy victory over a struggling Championship side certainly is not the way to start 2021.
If you play as a striker for Everton, one thing is clear: you will have to generate any and all offense on your own, aside from perhaps one bit of service throughout the match. Whether it is Cenk Tosun, who started against Rotherham and scored his first goal in 432 days, or the prolific Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the rest of the team — midfielders, wingers and fullbacks — have shown inept at providing consistent service in the final third.
Against Rotherham, Tosun was the recipient of a sublime pass from Anthony Gordon to chip goalkeeper Jamal Blackman. For the rest of the contest, Tosun had very little with which to work, an easily relatable topic for Calvert-Lewin. It looked like he had grabbed a winner late on from a James freekick too, but VAR called that back for a marginal offside. Everton converted 50 percent of their attempts on target (two of four). And while it was sufficient to defeat the Millers, recent games show the precarity of depending on a tight goal conversion margin: Arsenal (two goals on two shots), Manchester United (zero/three), Sheffield United (one/three) and West Ham (zero/two).
Dusting Off the Rust
With both Lucas Digne and James making their first starts since long-term injuries, there were quite a few missteps. Digne looked frantic at times on defense and was constantly beaten for pace by Matthew Olosunde, and, at one point, James tripped over his feet when the nearest defender was at least 15 feet away. As the contest wore on, however, the team collectively seemed to wake up and see out the win.
Digne was substituted in the 66th — to ease him back into competitive play — and it was James’ pass that led to the game-winning goal; needing a moment of magic, the Colombian threaded a ball through the center-backs to a darting Doucouré, who deftly placed the ball past Blackman. When Everton’s top players are clicking, the results are wins against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Leicester City and Arsenal; when their stars are struggling, well, just look at yesterday’s affair.