Starting Like you Mean to Continue
Everton had begun matches in first gear all season under Rafa Benitez until the manager was finally dismissed after yet another woeful performance against then-bottom of the league side Norwich City two weeks ago. Fans had grown used to seeing the team under the Spaniard play passively, invariably shipping the opening goal of the match and only then - occasionally - responding. Yesterday, it was a different story as Everton started on the front foot, playing with energy and purpose throughout and opening the scoring in the 31st minute, courtesy of a towering Yerry Mina header.
Everton have scored the opening goal of a game for the first time since against Watford last October. Between the Watford game and the FA Cup game against Brentford, they conceded the opening goal in 11 out of 12 games. #EFC— EFC Statto (@EFC_Statto) February 5, 2022
Putting it into Practice
Benitez set up to play defensive, counterattacking football all season, voluntarily ceding control of the ball and hoping to strike with quick breaks, involving few passing movements. In the first half-dozen matches, this had worked effectively, but thereafter, as results dropped off, fans had grown tired of watching the Blues lose the possession battle to almost every opponent, even supposedly inferior teams. Against Brentford, Everton got on the ball and looked to dominate play from the first whistle, enjoying almost 60% possession in the opening quarter hour. The home side put all the lessons learned from intensive training sessions during the week into practice, actively looking to play out from the back, passing accurately (81%) and with good effect.
Everton made 480 passes today and had 56% possession.— Babbling Blues (@BabblingBlues) February 5, 2022
The most they have enjoyed of either at Goodison since May of 2021. pic.twitter.com/R3CSKWWANw
Punishing the Opposition
For the first time in a very long time, Everton looked like a team playing with intent to score goals. The active high pressing forced errors from Brentford’s back line, causing turnovers in the opposition’s third on several occasions. Along with a newfound zest for attacking set-pieces, the team was full of good movement up front and showed commitment in getting bodies forward in support. The shot count was heavily in favour of the Blues, who were considered to have created eleven chances (compared with only two for the visitors), including four rated as “big”.
The Real Andre Gomes
I’d more or less written Gomes off this season, with the odd cameo off the bench not making up for a number of ineffective performances when in the starting line-up. Watching him on Saturday however, a rethink may be needed. The Portuguese midfielder was signed originally for Marco Silva’s system, which prioritized possession and he’d looked like quite the capture before suffering a serious leg injury. By the time he returned, the team’s style had completely changed to one which was reactive, with Everton often starved of meaningful time on the ball and with little pattern to their attacking play. Clearly, given Gomes’ skillset, this does not suit him at all and against Brentford we saw what an asset he can be to the team if Everton attempt to control a game.
Andre Gomes' stats against Brentford:— EFC Statto (@EFC_Statto) February 6, 2022
Touches - 97
Successful passes - 68
Successful long balls - 2
Pass accuracy - 83%
Ground duels won - 8
Successful dribbles - 4
Successful tackles - 2
Fouls won - 2
Aerial duels won - 1#EFC #EVEBRE
It was good to see Andros Townsend again show the ability to come off the bench and contribute. In fact, for his goal - and Everton’s fourth - three of Lampard’s substitutes combined beautifully, Cenk Tosun demonstrating solid holdup play and awareness, and Alex Iwobi with a nice touch to set up the winger’s precise finish. It was a sign that all the squad members have raised their levels during what looked like enjoyable and instructive training sessions since Lampard and his team took over. The ability to get up to speed when entering a match late is a really useful one and Townsend certainly did that. With competition for places now a reality, Andros may have to be content to affect a match from the bench, but he is certainly a threat either way.