Everton, after falling in the final seconds to Wolverhampton at home last week 2-1, knew they had a tough task on their hands when they had to travel to the Etihad to take on Manchester City. The champs are potentially the most difficult side in England to take points from, and their current talisman—Erling Haaland—already had 20 Premier League goals to his name prior to the start of the day, more than the combined entire Everton squad have managed to score all season long.
The Toffees, however, are a different side than last year. While they were unable in their 5-4-1 to prevent the City goal-machine from tallying his 21st Premier League goal in just his 16th game of the season, a bit of Demarai Gray counterattacking magic leveled the game at 1-1—where it would remain across the rest of the match and 11 minutes of stoppage time.
The response that Everton had after going down, and then again after scoring, should hearten the boss, as well as the supporters and pundits. This Everton side is not fragile as it demonstrated itself to be at the end of the Rafa Benitez era. People have already wanted to write this Toffee side off as similar to last season after a bumpy patch from October until the winter World Cup break, but while there have been poor performances alongside the heavy scraps—the back-to-back Bournemouth matches come to mind concerning the former—even the Wolves loss last week was nowhere near that Norwich City loss which sealed the prior boss’s fate.
This bunch of Blues has shown a different spirit this season, even in the harsh moments, and the first two matches of the post-World Cup restart express this fact—whatever happens beyond it with regard to the team and their current boss.
Wolves loss and City draw show an Everton side still fighting hard
No one likes to lose—not the players, not the fans, and not those coaches. The Toffee loss to Wolves to start the second part of this season was a heartbreaker. Still, it was not the depressing defeat to the hapless Canaries of Norwich City, which ended the Rafa Benitez era.
Against Wolves, Everton were the better team across the match, and could simply not convert chances into goals. This has been a theme of their season thus far, where their stellar defensive record has often been compromised by a lack of systematic creativity and development. The side has been one which has required special moments by players, and Demarai Gray against City got an opportunity—and actually put it away in a remarkable, stunning strike to deny Ederson a clean sheet.
Wolves are nowhere near as bad as Norwich was last season either. They are a team as talented in many ways as Everton, have a very good, positive new boss in Julen Lopetegui, and should not be near the bottom of the table to begin with. Losing to this side while the Blues have been navigating difficult offensive production was difficult, but having watched the game, this was Everton’s match—and things simply didn’t work out.
Bouncing back against Manchester City by taking a point away proves this all. Everton has to get the right bounces, the right calls, and the right luck; on some days—against even the best or worst competition—any result is truly possible for this side. That means that even the best teams this season will have to watch out—like Arsenal and Newcastle—but that the worst sides have a shot at points against the Blues too.
A low floor and a high ceiling is the name of the game for this bunch of Toffees this season. Frank Lampard has a lot left in him as it concerns this side, and his players have yet to shut off from his message as they did in the latter stages of the Rafa Benitez era. This is important. While it is easy for supporters and writers to lay the pressure upon the boss when the team goes through struggles of form or spells of injuries, he has the ears of his players, and they are still looking to make strides with his mindset in mind.
If the team can fight as they did against City against every other side, can find more consistent goal-scoring chances, and can hold defensively as they have for much of the year, they will climb the table and be nowhere near relegation as they were last campaign.
If they cannot do this, they will be very much in the same place as they found themselves at near the end of last year, and—this time—they may not be as fortunate to find the results they require; I think they can, and its performances like we have seen in the most recent loss and draw that lead me to believe that Frank Lampard can still turn this side around with time, transfers and the unified determination and work of the players and supporters of Merseyside.