We Have a Genuine Team
It’s quite the rare achievement for Everton to register three consecutive wins over a seven day period; even more so that a clean sheet was kept on each occasion. Sean Dyche arrived at the club back at the end of January with the image of somebody who would prioritise the defensive side of the game, which offered significant reassurance after months of watching the team be wide open during the Frank Lampard era. That promise didn’t really materialize initially, it is fair to say, although the Blues did tighten up somewhat, particularly as regards a susceptibility to counterattacks.
A full preseason, in addition to some limited room to manoeuvre in the summer transfer window has made a major difference. The players have been fully appraised and drilled in carrying out Dyche’s methods and we are seeing that played out on matchday. The structural integrity, triggered and coordinated pressing and overall cohesiveness is evident and becoming more apparent almost by the game. Fitness levels are through the roof: something badly needed considering the relatively shallow squad depth - not to mention the boss’s reluctance to rotate, or to make early substitutions.
Additionally, as I’d indicated in my Opposition Analysis piece beforehand - and in direct contrast to Sunday’s opponents - the Toffees are very clearly a genuine team, all pulling in the same direction, supporting each other, the players knowing each other’s game inside and out. Chelsea undoubtedly had the individual talent advantage, but it was indeed no-contest when it came to factoring in those indefinable elements that make football a genuine team sport, rather than one decided by who can put out the better players.
This is massively encouraging, as belief - in one another, Dyche, the coaching staff and the team as a whole entity - is not something that can easily be eroded by a couple of bad results, or performances. There’s a determination there and a genuine joy on display that’s palpable this season. Everton can react, shake off the blows, rally, turn it back on again, find a second wind. Yes, we’ve experienced a huge uptick in form recently and that it is both needed and welcome, but a long campaign still stretches ahead. There will be dips, troughs and injuries, no doubt, but the Toffees have the resilience in place now to ride them out.
Defence is the Key
Dyche is a man who believes that the key to success is being defensively responsible. Actually, his ethos is more an appreciation that it’s what occurs in both penalty boxes that determines the outcome in most games, rather than in the middle of the pitch and we’ve seen by now that he’s certainly no advocate of catenaccio - just shutting down play and hoping to get lucky. No, the Blues chief is a tactician, intent on making things tough for the opposition, but eager to strike back when the opportunity presents itself. The difference between Everton under Big Sam, or Rafael Benitez couldn’t be more apparent. There is no sterility within Dyche’s system.
What we are getting from the ex-Burnley man is an actual solid defensive unit, aided and abetted by industrious support from the wings and midfield; in fact, by the entire team. James Tarkowski was always going to be a rock at the heart of the back four, in whatever system, but we’re not seeing the crazy number of last-second blocks that characterized his play last season, due to the supporting structure he’s now operating within. Alongside the experienced centre back, we have Jarrad Branthwaite, rather than the more limited alternates Dyche had to work with last term.
The young defender obviously developed enormously during his year-long loan at PSV Eindhoven, to an even greater degree than even the most optimistic fan had considered possible. No longer just a prospect, Branthwaite has progressed from a supporting role for England during last summer’s European Under-21 Championship, to being widely talked about as a full international just five months on. Against Chelsea, the 21-year-old displayed the full range of his talent: a rare combination of size, strength, pace and reading of the game, dominating opposing striker and one-time Everton target under Lampard, Armando Broja. The sky really is the limit for the youngster.
Left back Vitalii Mykolenko produced another strong performance. Initially thought to be out of favour at the beginning of the campaign, the Ukrainian has started the last 12 league games and put in some impressive displays in shackling a number of quality right wingers, including Mo Salah and Bukayo Saka. Contributing more offensively as his confidence has grown, he’s becoming a lock-down defensive full back, who appears to have added a bit of muscle and aggression to his game.
The opposite flank remains a bit of a juggling act, with first Ashley Young and then Seamus Coleman preferred by Dyche, but Nathan Patterson was given his chance on Sunday, when introduced from the bench in the 40th minute for the injured Young, who had struggled to contain the rapid Mykhailo Mudryk. It was noticeable how quiet the Ukrainian was after Patterson came on and such a solid defensive effort from the Scot should be remembered by the Everton boss going forward. It’s to be hoped that Patterson can follow Mykolenko’s lead and kick on during the remainder of the campaign.
- The Blues looked to feeling the strain of a congested schedule, combined with a relatively small squad at stages of the game. After opening with a lively high press, energy levels dipped and Chelsea were allowed to control play, even if they weren’t exactly dangerous during the first half. The introduction of Patterson late in the period and Amadou Onana at the interval restored some necessary verve and Everton were able to find a second wind, score first and dig in for a result. Mercifully, they’ll get six days to recharge and prepare for Burnley at the weekend.
- It was fantastic to see young Lewis Dobbin put the game beyond the visitors with a well-taken effort in the 92nd minute. After showing some glimpses in preseason, the winger had failed to impress in limited minutes earlier in the campaign, casting doubt on whether he was ready to contribute at Premier League level. That Dyche turned to him to replace Jack Harrison late on, rather than the far more experienced Arnaut Danjuma probably is a reward for the effort Dobbin has put in at Finch Farm. The 20-year-old took his chance and figures to have earned more in the future.