When looking at the team sheet for Everton on Thursday night, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a second round Carabao Cup tie, with many first team players rested and plenty of young talent getting some game time. Unfortunately, due to Everton’s injury ridden squad, this was the best XI they could field away to the European Champions Chelsea. Credit to them, it was the young talent who certainly gave a helping hand in Everton grabbing a much-needed point at Stamford Bridge.
Despite the brilliant result, it wasn’t exactly a performance we’d want to see every week. If we’re being brutally honest, losing that game 4-0 wouldn’t have been a shock, with Chelsea accumulating an xG of 3.47 from a total of 23 shots. Everton only managed an xG of 0.54 coming from just five shots. We must cut the players a little slack, with a lot of them having very little minutes so far this season. A Premier League debut for Ellis Simms and first league starts for Jonjoe Kenny and Jarrad Branthwaite. Chelsea also had 80% of the ball so we certainly shouldn’t get carried away about this result. When we did have the ball, the majority of our attacks were focused down the left side, with 51% of them attacking this way. I can imagine this would be very frustrating for Lucas Digne who has been very frustrated at not being able to join in as many attacks as he’s used to.
I highlighted in my preview the threat of Reece James and how we must stop him in order to get something out of the game. Although we got the result, he was easily their biggest threat. He managed three shots and four dribbles throughout the game and a lot of their attacks came down this side. There’s no shame in this however, as he’s been getting a lot of joy this season with his four goals and four assists in the league.
Firstly, looking at the negative performances, Andre Gomes must be highlighted. It’s a shame to see the decline of a player who was excellent before his nasty injury a few years back. His tackle percentage was 36% and he lost the ball seven times. He was also dribbled past seven times. His attacking work this season when utilised has been great but it is often when being played in a midfield three. In a midfield pairing with Doucoure, he gets found out due to his poor defensive ability. He also committed three fouls and fairly pointless ones at that. When played in a trio, he has effective numbers going forward with key passes and dribbles but he only managed one dribble and zero key passes before being substituted in the 70th minute.
Abdoulaye Doucoure received a little criticism on social media from Everton fans and it certainly wasn’t his best game. He gave the ball away leading up to the Chelsea goal and did struggle on the ball. His pass completion was 54% which is unlike the Frenchman. He also does get exposed in a midfield two at times but it’s difficult to blame Rafa for this one. With Allan and Fabian Delph not fit and a clear distrust of Jean-Philippe Gbamin, we were forced into a midfield two for this one. On a positive note, he wasn’t dribbled past all game and managed three tackles but it’s clear for everyone to see that a three-man midfield is necessary in the future.
Excluding the exceptional performance from Jordan Pickford in goal, my man of the match was young Anthony Gordon. I’ve criticised him in recent weeks for his work when he has the ball, but he was much more effective in this game. One thing you can never complain about the youngster is his workrate defensively which was once again, excellent. With two tackles, four ball recoveries and eleven duels won, a lot of supporters are claiming it to be one of his best games in an Everton shirt so far.
Going forward, Gordon created our only goal of the game with an inch perfect free-kick for Branthwaite to poke home. Everton have been crying out for a delivery from a set piece and he certainly provided. He also completed three dribbles and attempted three crosses, the most for Everton in both departments. Looking away from the stats, his sheer passion, and the way he was motivating other players showed signs of a really mature player coming into his own.
| “They’ve sang my name a few times, but never like that. They made me feel like a superstar!"@anthonygordon24 ✨— Everton (@Everton) December 17, 2021
Individually again, Jarrard Branthwaite has given Rafa Benitez something to think about. With the Toffees planning on loaning him out in January to get some game time, that performance will be asking questions of the manager as to whether he is good enough to earn a starting spot. One interception, two tackles and three clearances and of course the all important goal all added to a dream start to the youngsters season. After earning himself a new deal recently, he’s given the Everton fans something to be excited about in the future. Having a left footed centre back often gets underrated in the modern era.
Having a defender on the left side who can receive the ball on the back foot and play forwards is extremely helpful. We saw in the Wolves game with Michael Keane pinging a ball to right footed Ben Godfrey who naturally had to take the ball with his stronger foot and gave away a goal. Branthwaite has certainly vaulted himself ahead of Mason Holgate in the pecking order on that showing.
Overall, not the prettiest performance and we rode our luck at times. One thing we can take away from it was the work rate and determination from every single player on the pitch. Nobody gave up and every man wanted that result just as much as the fans and this was clearly evident in the celebrations for the goal. Seeing the faces on the young lads is something that will warm the heart of all Evertonians. With the Leicester City game postponed at the weekend, this gives Rafa Benitez plenty of time to work on the training ground in time for our trip to Burnley and most importantly, gives the injured players a chance to get back fit.