Love for the Back Four
Yes, Jordan Pickford kept his third consecutive shutout Thursday against West Bromwich Albion, but he’s already received a healthy amount of praise in recent weeks in this column. So, here is some much-deserved love for the back four that has been vital to those three clean sheets. LB: Lucas Digne; LCB: Ben Godfrey; RCB: Michael Keane; RB: Mason Holgate. This has been manager Carlo Ancelotti’s go-to starting defense — with the addition of Seamus Coleman for the Merseyside Derby — for the past trio of games.
The defense has conceded ten shots on goal in the most recent fixtures, allowing an average of 3.3 attempts per game. Digne is tied for the league lead in assists among defenders, Godfrey has proven a much more balanced center-half partner to Keane and Holgate has displayed strength and development on the right side. It will be interesting to see how the bench boss alters his defensive unit once Coleman and Yerry Mina regain match fitness. For now, though, this quartet has earned their keep.
Only Manchester City average more points per game away from home (2.3) than Everton (2.2). The Toffees boast a record of 9–2–2 when they leave the confines of Goodison Park. It must be something about those bright yellow jerseys and those stylish royal blue shorts. Despite being so impressive away from Merseyside, the lack of fans undoubtedly plays a role in the Blues’ exquisite away form — as much was clear two weeks ago in the derby. Although, a 2–0 win would have played its part in quieting the snobs at Anfield. It would be foolish to criticize Everton for winning, with or without fans. Three points are three points, after all. They have proven to be a capable side away from Liverpool, which has helped them to a current standing of fifth place in the league. Not only has this team improved on the pitch, but it is also looking like the mental fragilities of old are starting to become bygones of a dark, distant era.
Away form: WDWWWWDWW— Everton (@Everton) March 4, 2021
Nine unbeaten on the road! pic.twitter.com/PrjFZhIFWF
Injuries are a part of every season, regardless of how many matches a team has in any given week — the Toffees, for context, just played three games in seven days. Ancelotti has magnificently managed his roster to mitigate injuries and has shown a knack for rotating formations when players do get hurt. He has botched it — Newcastle, *coughs* — but he’s right more often than he’s wrong, which is why the Blues are easily a top-half team, potentially even a top-six side.
The Italian veteran has shown a willingness to move players out of position to maximize results. Digne has played in midfield when the left side of the pitch was thin on wingers. Godfrey and Holgate, two natural center-backs, have both spent significant time as fullbacks in Ancelotti’s system. And against West Brom, not only did the manager pencil in Bernard and Alex Iwobi on the flanks to rest Gylfi Sigurdsson, but he also continued to wean Allan back into action after the Brazilian juggernaut missed several months with a hamstring injury.