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5 Telling Stats from Everton’s 3-1 comeback win over Southampton

The fans returned to Goodison and were treated to a show, in the second half at least

Everton v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Everton needed three goals in the second half to come from a goal down at halftime to beat Southampton 3-1 at a raucous Goodison Park. Fans’ ecstasy at finally being allowed back into the stadium after the pandemic had seen games being played closed doors for over a year was tempered by a Michael Keane error that saw the Blues fall behind midway through the first half.

However, goals from Richarlison, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dominic Calvert-Lewin ensured that the Rafa Benitez era got off to a positive start with three points. Here are five stats from the game to ponder.

Opening day Blues

Everton actually have a pretty decent record to open the season over the last decade, either winning or drawing both their opening two fixtures all the way back to losing to Queens Park Rangers in 2011. However, like most Everton wins including those throughout last season, the victories have been pretty tight margins.

Shutting up shop and defending after taking the lead has become the hallmark of the Blues, and under Ancelotti they did nothing to dispel that image. However yesterday they kept attacking even after taking the lead and used the counter to devastating effect to grab a third and settle the game and the fans’ nerves. The last time the Blues won by two or more goals in their season opener was all the way back to 1996 when they beat Newcastle United 2-0.

Worst centrehalf pairing?

If Ben Godfrey is available he plays, anywhere on the backline. Yerry Mina showed last season that he was the best centrehalf the Blues have. While the former was unavailable due to COVID isolation (supposedly), the Colombian is apparently not in favour with Benitez. So the manager rolled out a Michael Keane and Mason Holgate combination that were terrorized for most of the game by Southampton’s high press that was willing to chase the ball, and to excellent effect too, getting their sole goal of the game from it too.

Keane & Holgate defensive stats vs Southampton
WhoScored

Those numbers are simply not good enough at the Premier League level, and a better side would have punished the Toffees. We have no idea why Benitez didn’t field Mina yesterday from the outset, but after that performance he will have realized that pairing up Keane and Holgate is his worst case scenario.

Get vertical, get shots, get goals

For years now Everton have struggled to consistently create attacks. A lot of that has had to do with the Blues’ penchant for passing the ball slowly, going from side-to-side, poking and probing at defences sitting in low blocks. However, not blessed with elite level talents, they’ve rarely managed to get goals from that movement.

From almost the first training session Benitez has taken with the Toffees he’s preached quick movement and quick passing. We saw flashes of it in the preseason friendlies but it was in the second half yesterday that it looked most effective. Southampton had no reply for Everton’s quick transition game as the hosts looked a danger to score every time they went upfield with the ball, the equalizer being preceded by a series of corners and then even more chances later.

The Blues xG was just 0.4 at the break, but by the end of the game it had climbed to 2.26, a total that would only be surpassed by Manchester City’s 2.29 for Matchweek 1 of the Premier League.

Two Men of the Match?

Both Richarlison and Abdoulaye Doucoure put in performances worthy of the Man of the Match title. In the case of the forward it was even more incredible considering he had just played nearly 120 minutes last Sunday halfway across the world en route to Brazil winning the gold medal in the Olympic Games, and then here he was putting in another 89 minute shift full of running, as well as scoring once and assisting another and generally looking very comfortable in the #10 slot in the 4-2-3-1 formation.

It’s not common for Everton to have two players having outstanding days, but Doucoure was excellent too. In a previous interview he had referenced that Benitez had him playing more like in his Watford FC box-to-box midfielder days, and he looked more like that player yesterday, making himself available to support the attack and tracking back to beef up the backline as well. His goal was superb and provided a shot in the arm just when it was looking like the hosts would have to settle for a draw.

Fighting Spirit

Too often Everton have been characterized by limp efforts especially when they fall behind in games. Despite having multiple leaders on the pitch, the squads over the past decade or so rarely show any backbone whenever there’s a fight to be won or something at stake. Even under Carlo Ancelotti, whenever the Blues fell behind the result was almost a foregone conclusion that they would lose or at best, snatch a draw.

Whatever Benitez said to the players in the dressing room yesterday seemed to make a difference, as well as the tactical tweaks he made in defence and in the forward line. The Toffees looked a much more determined bunch in the second half and deserved the comeback win. It’s interesting that a different manager has been able to come in and spark a squad that most fans and observers had written off as weak-willed just three months ago.