Millonarios took Everton to penalties before the Blues prevailed in a highly entertaining shootout 10-9. The Colombian side had taken the lead in the first half following a defensive mix-up from a corner, but substitute Nathan Broadhead won a penalty in a dominant second half performance by the Blues that was dispatched neatly by Demarai Gray.
Two of Everton’s new signings started the game with Asmir Begovic between the sticks and Andros Townsend on the right flank of a 4-2-3-1 formation. The Toffees were slow out of the blocks in the stifling heat and humidity with Millonarios looking a lot more comfortable.
Begovic had to make a couple of good saves as the Colombian outfit peppered his goal and the midfield and defence chasing shadows. Again, nothing to panic about, it’s still early in the preseason and players are not nearly at full fitness yet.
Townsend can be criticized for poor marking as he turned away from his man at the corner to allow him to head against the post and then watched the rebound ricochet home. However, it was in attack where the former Crystal Palace man was most effective. He had a couple of peachy crosses delivered into the box and pounced on a loose rebound and fired off a snapshot with his left foot from the right side of the box, and will consider himself very unlucky to see that clattering off the crossbar.
Gray was a second half substitute and impressed as Rafa Benitez changed formations, going with a 4-4-2 where the 25-year-old played as second striker off Nathan Broadhead, drifting into open spaces and running at defenders with the ball at his feet.
Aside from coming over to the United States to finally reconnect with the Blue family across the pond, there is another benefit to Everton picking Florida for part of their preseason training camp.
For much of the second half of last season the Blues looked fatigued in the latter stages of games, battening down the hatches to hold leads or stay level, and often having no gas in the tank when a late comeback was required. Part of that was due to the limited trusted resources at Carlo Ancelotti as he preferred to drive his starters into the ground even as a spot in Europe beckoned.
Benitez appears to be taking a different approach, getting his players in shape by working them hard in very adverse conditions. The American southeast tends to be a hot and muggy swamp this time of the year, and drilling his squad in this weather should get them in pretty good shape by the time the season starts in a few weeks.
Everton were at their most effective last season when counterattacking against sides who tended to hold possession. When they have the ball, there still the tendency to move the ball sideways and backwards. However, adding ‘true’ wingers like Townsend and Gray should help stretch defences as well as speed up the transition game. The way to frustrate Everton’s often toothless attack is to have enough time to set up in a low block, and most of the Premier League knows this already.
Yesterday in the second half, Gray and Broadhead showed off their mobility in a way we haven’t seen Everton do much of. It will not be a surprise to see Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison used similarly in a 4-4-2, with Gray coming on at the half hour mark for one or the other to run at tired backlines.
Hopefully Everton aren’t done with their transfer market activity, as a speedy right back and an aggressive attacking midfielder should really help in getting vertical quickly.