Everton once again see themselves slipping further and further down the Premier League table after defeat to Brentford on Sunday. The toxicity aimed towards the players from the away end at full time tells you everything you need to know about how Everton fans feel in this current situation. A first half penalty from Ivan Toney saw Brentford 1-0 winners in a game which finally saw Everton dominate possession.
The Toffees came away from the game with 60% possession which is their highest this season by quite some way. Comparing this to our average for the year, it’s around 19% higher than normal. Now, I can’t help but think, if this game was played in the middle of the great start Rafa Benitez had, there wouldn’t be anywhere near the uproar there was at the weekend. We saw more attacking and more fight than recent weeks but there was of course still question marks about the performance. Rafa Benitez’s men limited Brentford to just two shots from open play. Again, a massive improvement. Although dominating possession, the real worry was the lack of ideas when entering the final third. Without Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin and Gray going forward, of course it’s going to be a struggle, but you’d still expect to see some patterns of play when trying to attack the opposition.
Defensively, I thought we dealt with the threat of Ivan Toney very well. He’s an extremely physical forward which often our centre backs struggle with especially without the presence of Yerry Mina. Between them, they won ten aerial duels, with the Brentford forward only managing three. He also only managed one shot which was of course from the penalty in the first half. Overall, the full backs dealt with the threat of Brentford’s attacking wing backs also. They managed four tackles each with Lucas Digne winning five aerial duels himself, often from Brentford trying to switch the play for Sergi Canos bombing on.
Somehow, this was probably Salomon Rondon’s best game in an Everton shirt, which tells you all you need to know about his time at Goodison Park. Only touching the ball 35 times, with five unsuccessful touches and the worst passing accuracy in the team. It was the first time we’d really seen him control a ball and get a shot away but unfortunately, he couldn’t find the net. It really does beg the question how poor Ellis Simms, Lewis Dobbin and Cenk Tosun must be in training to not participate in even a minute of this game.
Earlier, I touched on the lack of ideas going forward and this was certainly backed up by the number of crosses we saw in the game. Overall, we managed 30 with around eight of them being accurate. When you have someone like Calvert-Lewin in the box who has great movement and instinct to be in the right areas, this isn’t a bad tactic to have. So often we saw crosses going into areas with nobody attacking it. This was increasingly evident when Demarai Gray came on, beating his man and whipping the ball into an area which is a striker's dream but with Rondon being unfit or not switched on, he was nowhere to be seen.
I did find it a little strange that we didn’t adopt a three-man midfield up against a Brentford team who have been consistent in their formation this season, with a three man midfield also. When Allan and Doucoure play together, although great in certain areas, neither player likes to sit and dictate the game, picking up the ball off the centre backs and play forwards. The game needed someone like Fabian Delph, sitting in front of the back four, allowing Allan and Doucoure the license to go forward. This would also see us go man for man in the middle and not get outnumbered like we’ve seen so often this season. Maybe Rafa was resting Delph for the Merseyside Derby on Wednesday but in my opinion this game was far more important. Liverpool are in such good form and we all know what usually happens when we play them. The three points against Brentford who are in and around us would have been a lot more realistic to aim for.
I’ve failed to question Rafa Benitez an awful lot as I feel the hand he’s been dealt has not been great with limited finances and a horrifically injury-ridden squad. However, after some unexplainable decisions this weekend, I’m going to have to. I completely understand the likes of Lewis Dobbin and Ellis Simms aren’t ready for first team football, but when you’re chasing a game and you have two subs remaining, the game was crying out for an extra body in the box to get on the end of the thirty crosses we saw. Someone of Ellis Simms’ stature and height could have been the answer, even if it was the last two minutes. To finish the game with three forwards on the bench and only one sub made, in my eyes, is absolutely criminal. I wish I could personally ask Rafa Benitez what his thought process was behind this. As a football coach myself, if I’m one goal down with ten minutes to go, I’m looking at my bench for options. Especially two young kids who will be so eager to prove themselves.
We look ahead to the Merseyside Derby on Wednesday which will see the return of Richarlison and hopefully Yerry Mina which will be a massive boost for this Everton side. I’d love to be optimistic and say we could get something from this, but I feel the writing is on the wall for this one. Personally, I feel this could be pivotal for the future of Rafa Benitez, too. His stubbornness to change things or give the kids a chance could potentially cost him his time in the hot seat at Goodison Park.