Rafa Benitez’s new-look Everton side – in attitude and set-up, if not necessarily in terms of personnel (just yet) – travelled to a not-so-happy hunting ground at Brighton & Hove Albion and emerged with a confident and trouble-free three points, courtesy of more goals from Demarai Gray and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in a 2-0 victory.
History Man Calvert-Lewin
The England striker may not yet be operating at full speed yet but this has not prevented him entering the history books as the first Everton player to score in the opening three league fixtures in consecutive seasons since the great Dixie Dean accomplished this feat way back in 1933/34 and 1934/35.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has started this season in similar free-scoring fashion as the last, despite missing the preseason due to his International commitments over the summer and also being hampered by a minor toe injury. With a chance to get fully fit and integrated into the Rafa way of doing things, plus now being the club’s designated penalty-taker (Richarlison, take note!) the striker must now be targeting 20 league goals this season, minimum.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is the first Everton player to score in each of the first three league games of the season in back-to-back seasons since Dixie Dean in 1933/34 and 1934/35. #EFC— EFC Statto (@EFC_Statto) August 28, 2021
Demarai Gray has now scored in consecutive league games for the first time since December 2017, when he slotted past Burnley and Newcastle, whilst playing for Leicester City. This is slightly surprising, given how dangerous he has looked so far in his admittedly short Everton career. But this lack of consistency and end-product is exactly why his time in the Midlands fizzled out and how he ended up arriving at EFC as a bargain pickup.
It is early days, but the winger is showing the directness and clinical finishing that has been sorely lacking from wide areas at the club for some time. Bursting from deep in midfield yesterday onto Allan’s through-ball and backing himself to beat the Brighton defender with sheer pace before firing home with precision, Gray showed once more what an exciting talent he is. He is doing all the right things at the moment and if – as the early signs are indicating – he can finally add that consistency to his game he surely is going to be a major asset for the Blues going forward and an absolute steal at £1.5 million.
Demari Gray has scored in consecutive games for the first time since 2014/15:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 28, 2021
◉ 2 goals in 2 games against Wolves and Blackburn in the 14/15 Championship season.
◉ 2 goals in 2 games against Leeds and Brighton in the 21/22 Premier League season.
Levelling up. pic.twitter.com/3elvThPnDg
Allan, the Midfield General
Was yesterday the best, most complete performance by Allan in an Everton shirt? Last season the Brazilian showed glimpses of his quality and why Everton paid £20m for the then-29 year old: tenacious in the tackle, aggressive pressing, some nice touches on the ball and the overall aura of a man used to playing at a higher level as a European competition regular.
But he also seemed lacking in contributions going forward, usually sitting deep as a defensive shield in Ancelotti’s somewhat cautious setup for much of the season. There was a feeling that he had more to offer, such was his reputation at Napoli and Rafa has duly removed the shackles and revealed what a good all-around midfielder he is.
He was instrumental in both goals yesterday: setting off Gray for his run and shot and also putting in a lovely slide-rule pass through to Seamus Coleman, subsequently brought down for a penalty. This shows that, given licence, Allan has the range and vision to be much more than just the destroyer he appeared to be last season; and this without sacrificing the defensive effort that is such a vital part of his game. He is now showing himself to be a complete midfielder, much more in the box-to-box style than as a defensive anchor.
Allan's stats against Brighton:— EFC Statto (@EFC_Statto) August 28, 2021
Touches - 49
Assists - 1
Successful passes - 31
Successful forward passes - 16
Successful attacking third passes - 12
Chances created - 3
Pass accuracy - 94%
Recoveries - 7
Successful tackles - 5
Clearances - 2
Interceptions - 1#EFC #BHAEVE
Fortress Brighton, No More
Or, more accurately, Fortress Amex, such is the futility of Everton’s performances on the south coast in recent years. Astonishingly, yesterday’s win was the first achieved by the Blues away at Brighton since…1983!
Okay, for the vast majority of that period the Seagulls were not in the same division as the Toffees but since their return to the Premier League in 2017 Everton have failed to achieve a win in 4 attempts. Now, Brighton do play some nice football under manager Graham Potter but the club haven’t mustered more than 41 points since achieving promotion, nor finished higher than 15th position, so any way you look at it, this has not been a good look for Everton. Yesterday however, that unwelcome record was obliterated as the Blues cruised to a very comfortable 2-0 victory. Now, let’s do the double over the Seagulls!
Rafa vs Carlo
Direct comparisons are always fun – and sometimes useful! Let us compare and contrast Everton’s performance in yesterday’s match and the same fixture from last season. In both games, Brighton dominated possession (55% last April, 66% on Saturday) and Everton played a counter-attacking game.
However, under Ancelotti Everton faced 15 shots from their opponents from within the 18-yard box, compared to only 5 under Benitez. Offensively, the Blues managed only 3 efforts inside the Brighton box, this time around it was up to 8 (including the penalty). So what are we seeing here?
Under Rafa, Everton saw even less of the ball, but not only were they able to deny the Seagulls solid sights at goal, but were also able to get off shots from dangerous positions themselves. What is going on here? Benitez’s men sat deep, but not right on top of Jordan Pickford and pressed actively only when Brighton moved the ball into midfield. Otherwise Everton kept their shape and allowed the opposition defence and deeper midfielders to pass the ball around in harmless areas of the pitch.
When the hosts ventured forward, they usually found their passing options blocked off and turned back or tried to force something, neither of which did the Blues any damage. Everton pressed hard from a compact shape and were rarely drawn out of position, covering well on those rare occasions that a gap appeared. Brighton’s possession game consequently went nowhere and their frustration showed as the match progressed.
Everton, on the other hand, whilst starved of the ball for long stretches, retained their composure and concentration, breaking quickly in transition whenever Brighton turned the ball over. This enabled the Toffees to spring forward into advanced areas with relatively few passes, frequently catching the opposition out of position, noticeably so late in the match as they tried to press forward in search of a goal.
Of note also, is how much more involved Everton’s midfield are in attacking play, generating 8 shots (including 2 from substitute Andre Gomes) and 7 passes leading to an attempt on goal. These figures increase to 9 and 9 respectively if we include Alex Iwobi, who played partly as a supporting striker after being introduced with 25 minutes to go. This lack of productivity from the midfield was a key flaw in Everton’s play all last season and the change this term under the new boss is most welcome.