The Blueprint to Beat the Blues
For those looking to read about the tactics needed to stifle Everton, they need only consult Newcastle, Southampton, Leeds United and now Fulham, all of whom have authored a magnificent manuscript about how to play against a team that has all the makings of a top-four side but is merely just a pretender. Step one: utilize a high-energy midfield to pressure the Toffees when they try and build out of the back. Step two: spring on the counterattack as much as possible. Step three: limit the Blues’ attacking options up front and on the wings. Step four: when you do lose the ball, stop the Toffees from progressing up the field, keeping their passing to movement between defenders.
Credit where credit is due, Fulham designed a game plan, effectively executed it and deservedly earned the three points. For the home side, this was yet another in a long list of losses that reveals the team’s mental fragility.
Is James Built for the Prem?
Yes and no. James’ attacking class and creativity makes him playmaking royalty. He has five goals and three assists this season and brings a flair to Everton’s attack that has been lacking in recent years. But for all of his talent, minimizing his contributions has become increasingly easy for opposition defenses.
Against Fulham, the 29-year-old barely had any time or space and was having to drop exceedingly deep just to get his foot on the ball. Then there’s the issue of physicality; Everton’s number 19 simply isn’t built for the rigors of the Premier League. Defenders take every opportunity to nip at his ankles or knock him down, and it has been a while since the Colombian looked happy on the pitch. And the final damning element of his game is his complete lack of speed. Without pace or the ball at his feet, James has games like the one against Fulham, where he had three successful dribbles, one key pass, no shots and zero passes into the other team’s 18.
Valentine’s Day Heartbreak
Of the ten league games Everton have played on Valentine’s Day, they have won just once. For a team with a world-class manager, a mega-talented squad and an exorbitant wage bill, a 2–0 loss to a side that hadn’t won in 12-straight league fixtures is unacceptable. Citing fatigue minimizes Fulham’s brilliance, which earned them three points. What’s all the more heartbreaking is Sunday’s loss highlights Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s importance. A formation that uses Gylfi Sigurdsson as the false nine is one that will return two shots on target. James and Richarlison were useless on the wings, and the home side never really threatened Alphonse Areola in net. To top off the heartache of Sunday’s pitiful outing, the Toffees spent a majority of the game without possession and, when they did have the ball, lacked any semblance of conviction or invention.