Squad Depth Exposed
Inevitably, given the current situation that both of Tuesday’s Carabao Cup protagonists currently find themselves in the Premier league, this game would feature heavy team rotation. Bournemouth went with nine changes from the weekend defeat to Leeds United, whereas the Blues swapped their entire starting eleven. I’ll admit to being surprised by the extent that Frank Lampard rotated, but any fan who didn’t anticipate that the bulk of the manager’s focus would be on Saturday’s rematch with the Cherries needs to gain some perspective. Yes, it is disappointing to see Everton once again go out of the League Cup - a trophy the esteemed club has famously never won - and particularly so, given the lop-sided scoreline and the opposition being “beatable”.
However, the Toffees sit at 16th place in the league table and with just one more match before the enforced break for the World Cup, it is imperative that they sign off with a win, - or at the very least avoid defeat on Saturday. A loss to Bournemouth and (an admittedly unlikely) upset win for Southampton at Anfield could see the Blues sitting in the relegation zone until the season resumes on Boxing Day, which would be an awfully long time for fans to ponder where the team is going. So, what we witnessed take place on a rainy night at the Vitality Stadium was essentially a trial of squad depth between the two outfits and surprisingly - embarrassingly - Everton came up short.
In terms of general play - everything that didn’t involve shooting, or avoiding catastrophic errors - the team played reasonably well, considering the abrupt shift to a 5-3-2 formation and the total lineup change. Controlling possession (the Blues ended up with 58.4%) and passing the ball accurately (a solid 82.7% success rate) can only get a team so far. What decides games is outscoring the opposition and once again Lampard’s men found themselves puzzlingly unable to fashion chances: they were outshot 12 to eight and could only manage to hit the target twice. The visitors blew some early big chances, notably Tom Davies’ amazing miss, but 50 minutes passed after Anthony Gordon’s wayward effort in the 17th minute, before Demarai Gray pulled one back in the second half. The Blues failed to get a shot off during the final 20 minutes; worrying considering that for a portion of that time there was only one goal in the game.
Last Call for Some
For a few, in what was a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a starting team, this was the last-chance saloon. Lampard hinted strongly at this in his post-match comments, with the comment about repeated mistakes and this being a reason that some players are not featuring. Exactly who he was referring to was left up to frustrated fans to figure out. In truth, not many of those who have not been regulars in recent games covered themselves in glory. The three-man central defensive unit consisting of Michael Keane, Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate looked all wrong before a ball had been kicked. The Colombian hasn’t been seen since limping off during the season opener and looked rusty. Holgate and Keane both last played on August 27th; the former due to injury and the latter because he presumably has no place in Lampard’s team.
Mason played reasonably well and was unlucky to be punished for an unfortunate slip (a problem that afflicted many of his teammates), which led to Bournemouth’s second goal. Sadly, Keane was a bit of a phantom and surely this will be the last we see of him in an Everton shirt. Moving the former Burnley man could prove difficult considering his lack of game time and the unwise decision to extend his contract through to June 2025; a loan would be doable and would be best for all parties. Mina is out of contract in the summer. His big wages and increasing unavailability due to various injuries makes an attempt to shift him in January a no-brainer.
Another who is about to enter the final six months of his current deal at Everton is Abdoulaye Doucoure. Five weeks out with injury and the arrival of a raft of midfield options late in the transfer window appears to have pushed the Malian international down the pecking order and he failed to convince on Tuesday. A mainstay of the team over the previous two seasons, the ex-Watford man could manage only 28 touches in 80 minutes of action and looks to have no chance of forcing his way back into the side. Davies could also be departing next summer. He at least was active and contributed defensively (three tackles, three interceptions), but he and Doucoure are battling it out to be fifth choice midfielder and at 24-years-old it may be better for the boyhood Evertonian’s career for him to find regular playing time elsewhere.
Nathan Patterson played the full 90 minutes, which makes it highly unlikely that he will now start at the weekend. This is a pity: he was one of Everton’s few bright lights during the first half, where he showed some of the energy and willingness to get forward that we’d seen before his ankle injury in September. He tired later in the second half, being beaten too easily for Bournemouth's third goal and was robbed of the ball for the hosts to make it 4-1. In retrospect I feel Frank should have withdrawn him well before fatigue became a factor, which would have given him a good chance to line up on Saturday.
The midfield set-up was all wrong, once again. James Garner was used as the deeper-lying of the three and this doesn’t seem his best role right now. Maybe it will come with experience, but he looks better further forward, chasing down opponents and contributing to the attack. Sitting in front of the defence requires positional awareness which I’m not convinced he has right now and is wasting his strong points.
Ruben Vinagre showed he has something to offer, which would not be obvious from his lack of time on the pitch since arriving on loan from Sporting. The 23-year-old has racked up an impressive 24 minutes of league action to date - 20 of them in the opening match back in August. It seems odd to use one of Everton’s foreign loan spots for emergency cover. Perhaps he does not impress in training? Regardless, he appeared lively and full of running, neat on the ball and capable of putting in a decent delivery. He should be used more than has been the case up to now.
Gordon’s run of poor form continues. His 24 touches in 51 minutes and two off-target shots compare unfavourably with the man who replaced him, Gray, who scored an excellent goal and got on the ball 33 times in less time. It didn’t help that he was played as a second striker alongside Neal Maupay, a position he does not look comfortable in. It was disappointing to see him pick up yet another yellow card, the seventh of the campaign in all competitions, which is frankly ridiculous for an attacking player.