The early signs during the match at Craven Cottage were Everton may have brought some of the attacking verve they displayed last weekend with them on their travels, as they got in Fulham’s faces from the opening whistle. The high press was in evidence and caused a couple of turnovers in possession, which the Blues didn’t really take advantage of. However, we have seen the team play like this before away from Goodison Park under Frank Lampard, even going back to last season, when their away form was truly diabolical. The early storm and enthusiasm drops off after ten, fifteen minutes, territory is ceded and the team can struggle to get out of its own half. On Saturday, this was a gradual process throughout the first 45 minutes but was completed after the restart, the visitors once again being devoid of ideas as to how to progress the ball into the Fulham half.
The possession stats were actually consistent throughout the match, with the Blues having the ball around 43.5% of the time - which is decent for an away side that has a poor capacity to retain the ball - but the threat to the Fulham goal was non-existent during the second period, similar to what we saw during road matches against Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur recently. Whereas both those teams are likely to be competing for European places this term and possess strong defences at home, Marco Silva’s outfit have been giving up a lot of chances and shipping plenty of goals, so it was frustrating to see Everton once more appear so impotent after the restart. The Toffees ended up with an an xG (Expected Goals) total of less than one and only a single effort on goal after the 43rd minute (Amadou Onana just before the hour mark), failing to test opposition goalkeeper Bernd Leno for the last half hour or so, as the hosts racked up ten unanswered shots at Jordan Pickford.
What happened? Well, the team lacks creativity, relying almost entirely on Alex Iwobi, who was effectively shut down by Fulham’s compact midfield. Onana tried: evidenced by his six progressive passes - double that of Everton’s next best, Iwobi, but the Blues were forced wide and pressed back, leaving their wide players isolated from the fullbacks. Finding no way through the centre, Lampard’s side found themselves going long and down the sidelines and this was easily snuffed out by the home defence (Dominic Calvert-Lewin won only four of 14 contested aerials). Demarai Gray put in an energetic performance and did his best to make things happen, leading the team with six SCA (Shot-Creating Actions) and completed three of his seven crossing attempts; he was unlucky to be hauled off after 74 minutes. The Blues lack guile in the final third currently and this will be highlighted far more away from Goodison Park. Until reinforcements arrive, hopefully in January, then this is how it is going to be.
Sometimes it Just Isn’t Your Day
The Blues early promise petered out throughout the first half, but even then it was apparent that Anthony Gordon, so impressive last time out was having a poor game. Fulham, as feared blocked up the middle of the pitch and whilst Everton enjoyed periods of possession in the midfield, they found a route forward difficult to find and so moved their emphasis to the flanks. Vitalii Mykolenko, as he had against Crystal Palace, offered supporting runs in the first half and was able to put in two successful crosses from five efforts, demonstrating that he has the energy and athleticism to bomb up and down the flank and whilst he’s no Lucas Digne, he can put in a decent delivery. He’s still in his first year in the Premier League, which is a big step up from the Ukrainian league and is just 23-years-old, so there is room to improve the offensive side of his game.
On the opposite flank, Seamus Coleman, so steadfast in bottling up Wilfried Zaha last time out, predictably struggled to make any impact supporting attacks. He’s 34 and fullback is an athletically demanding role; there’s no shame in this, but Everton have a disjointed look on the right side with him in the side, at least in an attacking sense. Thankfully, Nathan Patterson’s cameo from the bench gave encouragement that the team will be more balanced going forward; as soon as the young Scot is up to full speed, anyway.
As mentioned above, Gray did his best, though combining with teammates is not his strong suit. Gordon, on the other hand looked a different player to the one that shone against Palace. Switching flanks frequently with Gray, he was a phantom for long stretches of the game and it was mystifying why Lampard concluded he was worth the 85 minutes he spent on the pitch. Before half-time, I felt that he should be given ten minutes after the restart to contribute, or be replaced, but instead time ticked on while Dwight McNeil, scorer of an excellent goal against Patrick Vieira’s side cooled his heels on the bench. The summer signing eventually came on for Gray, a genuinely baffling decision from the boss, whilst Gordon stayed on until the 85th minute.
The academy graduate’s only notable contributions in the second period were to blow a promising Everton counterattack and to lose possession twice in dangerous areas, leading to Fulham attacks. The 21-year old coughed up the ball six times, twice that of any of his teammates. Inconsistency is to be expected of a young player who has relatively little game time under his belt and his manager, if he is going to start Gordon, has to realize much earlier that it’s not working out during performances such as this. Everton have only three wide options currently, competing over two places, but McNeil can count himself unfortunate to not have replaced Anthony after 55 minutes.
James Tarkowski continued his excellent form since arriving at Everton and has been a great signing. The former Burnley man took good care of the ball (completing 45 of 46 short and medium range passes) and put his body on the line in blocking five of Fulham’s efforts on goal. He is a big reason why the team continue to concede less goals than the xGA (Expected Goals Allowed) statistics suggest they should.
Mykolenko showed once again what a solid operator his is. The Ukrainian left back led the side in clearances (nine), put in three blocks and won two tackles. He makes some decent supporting runs when Everton are in possession and I’d like to see how he could combine with McNeil on the left, as all too often he’s ignored, or not noticed by Gray and Gordon.
James Garner showed something from the bench, putting in an eye-catching 26-minute cameo, at least from a defensive standpoint. Despite relatively little time on the pitch, the midfielder tied Onana for most tackles (three) and made two interceptions (joint first place with Mykolenko), including getting a vital toe on the ball in Everton’s penalty area to deny Fulham a clear chance on goal. Positive signs from the youngster.
A point away from home is a decent result, despite all I’ve written above. This draw makes it two on the bounce undefeated and back-to-back clean sheets, which is most welcome. Fulham cannot be considered a formidable team, notwithstanding their good start to the campaign and so a win at Craven Cottage should not be beyond Everton, but we are where we are in terms of attacking threat and balance in the team. Lampard and Kevin Thelwell have reconstructed the defence and midfield, but there’s much to do further forward and in terms of depth options.