If any eyebrows have been raised in surprise that 19 year old Isaac Price played the full match for Everton against Celtic in the Sydney Super Cup in Australia on Sunday then we only have to look at the make-up of the squad “down under” to see how few options remain.
In a 22 man squad top heavy with 9 defenders it was always most likely that Frank Lampard would choose to try to deploy 2 players in central midfield with a 3-4-3 (or 5-4-1) formation. Already without the World Cup duo of Idrissa Gueye and Amadou Onana and also Alex Iwobi who is with the Nigeria squad, the 22 became 21 when one of only 4 central midfielders, Tom Davies left the party injured. So, out of the remaining 3 centre midfielders Isaac Price got the nod over fellow Under 21 team-mate Seb Quirk to partner Abdoulaye Doucoure against the Hoops.
So how did he and also the two substitutes, striker Tom Cannon and winger Stanley Mills do?
Price was easily one of the better performers against Celtic, simple as that! Not playing in his normal #8 role but as part of a double pivot with Doucoure, he showed energy, a crispness in the tackle, a good range of passing vertically through the lines and the best compliment I could pay him is that he did not look out of place at this level at all. Now and again, he was caught in possession through trying to do too much but the endeavour was there and when he did lose the ball his first thought was to get back into a disciplined shape and his confidence appeared always unshaken. He even had a shot at goal although his usual precision on the half-volley was lost on that occasion as his effort sailed high over the bar of the untroubled veteran Celtic keeper Joe Hart.
Mills and Cannon were brought on together in the 75th minute for Demarai Gray who had done OK and the ineffective Neal Maupay who had constantly lost possession.
Mills played the final quarter of an hour just ahead of a somewhat disjointed central midfield trio of Anthony Gordon, Price and Dwight McNeil. With two naturally wide midfielders and two overlapping full backs in Patterson and the impressive Ruben Vinagre there was simply no space on the flanks for Mills to be effective. I am sure, in fairness to Lampard, it is not what he had planned to do but it was something of a chaotic traffic jam on the wings as players fell over each other in trying to get forward. On the one occasion Mills did find some space to attack the box he did lose possession after cutting inside to try a left footed shot but it was at least a sign of his confidence. As the game went to penalties and he was given the opportunity to seal the win, his penalty was saved by Joe Hart, one of only 4 Everton shots on target in the entire contest at that stage and all 4 from the penalty spot! Nothing wrong with his spot-kick, stepped up confidently, maybe a bit more into the corner would have made sure but it was, in fairness, a good save rather than a poor miss.
Cannon entered the fray, frankly with little to prove following another frustrating game for Maupay and those who watched the game. He did immediately look more of a threat mainly because of his presence and desire to be in the penalty area rather than dropping deep but he did not get a chance to show his finishing until the shoot-out of course. Seeing him line up for the kick, I knew, unless Hart performed a great save he was going to score. I knew it, he knew it and we all saw it happen, he sent Hart the wrong way with a cool penalty low into the corner.
Back to Isaac Price, Frank Lampard described Price as the best player and few would disagree following a largely disappointing display by the team.
“Obviously, we have players at the World Cup and Alex [Iwobi] is with his national team so we are okay once we get everybody back and fit, to a degree, but I suppose it gives an opportunity to Isaac Price who was the best player on the pitch."
What for the future? I think Price has played his way into Lampard’s thinking for the rest of the season, especially if Davies is going to miss time. It should be emphasised that it was a slightly different role to what he normally plays so even more credit to the young man. He is likely to play some part against Western Sydney Warriors on Wednesday. Cannon and Mills must surely get some more minutes also and add a goal threat to an alarmingly impotent attack. Well done lads!