How did the Blues Lose This?
Did the Blues deserve to lose again on Wednesday night; manager Frank Lampard’s seventh reverse in nine premier league matches? It’s a tough question to answer. The team overcame a nervy opening to battle back from adversity and into a half-time lead, which they retained until Jay Rodriguez fired home for the hosts in the 57th minute. They rebounded following this setback - inflicted via some chaotic defending - and subsequently faced only a pot-shot from Maxwel Cornet, stopped easily by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, before the Ivorian scored the decisive goal with five minutes of regulation time remaining. In between Burnley’s second half strikes, the visitors had dominated play and attempted nine shots at Nick Pope’s goal - though Sean Dyche’s disciplined outfit blocked five of them. Thereafter, substitute Salomon Rondon still had a chance to salvage a point for the Toffees, firing wide from 15 yards in added time.
Everton’s ramshackle defense ultimately undermined the team’s efforts, but a major factor once more was an inability to carve out clear goal scoring opportunities. The team’s xG (expected goals) statistic looked impressive, but most of the total was due to the two penalties awarded to the visitors. The best individual chance (on paper) was Anthony Gordon’s blocked effort in the second half with an xG of 0.18 (courtesy of fotmob.com) and the team managed nothing that was classed as a “big chance”; by contrast, Burnley accumulated an xG of 1.96. Whereas the Clarets always looked dangerous from set-piece situations (xG 0.37) and scored the opening goal from a corner that was horribly defended by the Blues, the Merseysiders generated only Jarrad Branthwaite’s headed effort (xG 0.04) from their six corner kicks. Everton managed some decent offensive play and got into good positions, but failed to carve out the sort of quality goal-scoring chances that Burnley managed to create in the second half.
A One Man Rescue Mission
On balance of play - much like last weekend’s loss to West Ham United - the Blues did not really deserve to lose this match, but were undone by individual lapses of concentration and poor decision making. Despite criticism heaped on many of the players on social media, most could not actually be faulted for lack of effort. One man who escaped any barbs from the fans was Richarlison, who put in one of those performances in which he gives his all in an attempt to drag his team over the line. The Brazilian looked shattered at the final whistle, collapsing to the ground and covering his face with his shirt. It was hard not to feel for him: he’d given his all for the cause. He’s a winner in a losing team, someone who wants to do his best, a mixture of ability and desire. Some Blues players have one or the other quality and others a little of each, but Richarlison has both and to a high degree. He was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch on Wednesday.
The winger was actively involved defensively, winning the ball back via tackles and a team-high 19 recoveries, in addition to driving forward with it, racking up a game-leading 216 yards in progressive carries (towards the opposition goal). He beat defenders on the dribble three times and took the ball into the Burnley 18-yard box on six occasions, twice as often as any teammate and of course, slotted home twice coolly from the penalty spot.
The Brazil international enjoyed some support from Gordon and substitute Demarai Gray, but Dominic Calvert-Lewin had another quiet game. The striker struggled to have much impact on the game and failed to make much of an impression aerially on the Clarets’ rugged central defenders, despite his best efforts. He managed a couple of neat touches here, including a nice layoff for Rondon’s last gasp effort, but did not look much of a goal threat himself. The Blues need a focal point up top, but for whatever reason, Calvert-Lewin has not yet found any form after missing much of the first half of the season with a significant thigh injury.
The forward cut a frustrated figure late on and at the game’s conclusion. He knows he should be delivering for his team and fans have to hope that at some point he will resemble the man who hit 29 non-penalty goals over the previous two premier league campaigns.
Everton had some issues in terms of end product and game management, as Lampard again showed a marked reluctance to utilize his bench to change events on the pitch, but without a doubt the team’s main problem is the appalling defence. A makeshift back four consisting of Jonjoe Kenny, Ben Godfrey, Branthwaite and Vitalii Mykolenko inspired little confidence, even against a team as anaemic in attack as Burnley have been this season and so it played out on a wet, cold and windy night at Turf Moor. Deprived of the club’s two senior centre backs in the injured Yerry Mina and suspended Michael Keane, it was up to Godfrey to marshal the backline and it just didn’t happen. The home side didn’t put him under too much direct pressure, but when he needed to show composure, it deserted him as he sliced a clearance from Charlie Taylor’s cross straight to Matej Vydra, whose neat cut-back was adroitly finished by Cornet to decide the match.
Branthwaite had a reasonable outing, although his positioning for Burney’s second goal was not great and Mykolenko continued to show improved confidence at left back. The Ukrainian led the Blues in touches, carried the ball forward on a few occasions and completed two of his five attempted crosses as he demonstrated more offensive appetite. He won Everton’s second penalty when fouled by Aaron Lennon and contributed defensively, leading the team with six blocks. On the opposite flank, however Kenny was a disaster. He offered little in attack and was badly beaten on the dribble by Taylor who consequently had all the time in the world to pick out Rodriguez for the Clarets’ second goal. His decision to blast a shot at a Burnley player from 25 yards out, which eventually led to Cornet’s winner, was a very poor one.
In front of this shaky defensive unit, the midfield offered scant protection. Mason Holgate’s rash challenge - which resulted in him carrying a yellow card from the third minute - was foolish and limited his effectiveness as an anchor man. Abdoulaye Doucoure continues to look a shadow of his former self, offering little going forward and demonstrating none of the energy and physicality of old. He was bullied in aerial duels, winning only one of five and was a phantom defensively. His midfield partner, Alex Iwobi, showed flashed of creativity and pressed effectively, but was beaten too easily on the dribble. Without a solid screen in front, Everton’s defence looked vulnerable on the infrequent occasions Burnley attacked. Returning players will help the situation, but as it stands, an inability to keep a clean sheet and avoid costly mistakes will prove the teams’ undoing.