Everton progressed to the next round of the EFL Cup by dispatching Doncaster Rovers, a side currently propping up the entire Football league pyramid.
New striker Beto, introduced along with first team regulars Idrissa Gana Gueye and Ashley Young to commence the second period, certainly looked like he will go a big way towards filling the Dominic Calvert-Lewin shaped hole at the focal point of the team’s attack. Tall, strong and with a real turn of pace, the Portuguese appears ready-made for the Premier League and should gel nicely with Sean Dyche’s direct, no frills style of football.
As a solo front man leading the line he fits the bill to a ‘T’, demonstrating good instincts, making intelligent runs and not giving central defenders a moment’s rest; Doncaster’s central trio had no idea how to handle him, that’s for sure. His first touch and passing ability may lag behind some of his other, obvious attributes, but this was an encouraging debut for the 25-year old who made an immediate impression on Everton’s traveling fan contingent.
In addition to the impact the new front man made on proceedings, Gueye took command of the midfield upon his introduction, belying the suggestion from some quarters that his time as a key man for the Blues may be coming to an end. The 33-year old immediately added impetus to the visitor’s lacklustre first half play, collecting the ball and driving forward, using the ball to progress the team into the attacking third. The Senegal international finished behind only James Tarwkowski with an 85.7% passing accuracy - including two key passes - and his 53 touches in only 45 minutes action showed how involved he was in proceedings. Fellow halftime sub Young plugged in everywhere, playing both wings and eventually ending the match at left back. Whether he can - or should, be an every game starter at age 38 is doubtful but his experience and adaptability is invaluable.
James Garner had a mixed outing. Back in his favoured central midfield berth he was less impactful than many had hoped. Like Young he was used in several positions as required, but looked most comfortable at right back, where he’d excelled during the summer for the England under-21 side. Given Nathan Patterson’s struggles last night it would come as no surprise to see the 22-year old preferred for the weekend’s trip to face Sheffield United. Garner is only six months or so older than the Scot, but is much further along as a player. He plays with confidence, enthusiasm and great appetite, as demonstrated by his team-leading eight tackles and 79 touches. Everton had much more drive down the right flank when he was shifted to that side after the restart.
Where to start?
A third round trip to Villa Park - where the Blues were routinely dispatched 4-0 far too recently - awaits, in the club's latest efforts to end a trophy drought extending all the way back to 1995. Barring a remarkable turnaround in the team’s away performance levels, a lengthy cup run appears unlikely. But hey, who knows what can happen in the next four weeks?
The Blues had to wait until the 73rd minute to draw level with Rovers, a team winless in all five League Two games so far, who had managed only a single draw and had shipped 12 goals. The Toffees finally took the lead with two minutes of regulation time on the clock. It goes almost without saying that Everton were very, very poor on Wednesday night and appeared for much of the match to be on the verge of what would have been a humiliating cup knockout at the hands of relative minnows; a veritable giant-slaying - if the Toffees are worthy of that description in their current reduced state. In the end, the extra individual quality and athleticism possessed by some of the Blues players made the difference as Rovers tired in the last half hour.
It is tempting just to call out the players as not being good enough, bringing out the old suggestions that “this group” has let down multiple managers going back to... well, Carlo Ancelotti, Marco Silva, Ronald Koeman, whoever, but this is reductive thinking. Few of those who took to the pitch at the Eco-Power Stadium played for any of those managers, which is either indicative of proactive recruitment (if feeling charitable), or that Everton have signed many players that have failed during the last five years or so. Regardless of how poorly that starting eleven may be considered as players, they are measured by the yardstick of Premier League competition and Doncaster were far below that level.
That Everton were incapable - or disinclined - to go out there and simply outplay their fourth tier opposition, a side with injury problems of their own, including missing last season's top scorer, is alarming. For all the talk that Dyche is a manager unfairly typecast as an old-school route one merchant due to the limitations of the squad he had during his years at Burnley, there are no signs that he offers more than that blunt assessment. All of that side he put out there are at the very least Championship standard players, with the possible exception of Lewis Dobbin, yet there was little attempt to get on the ball and open up what was inferior opposition with clever movement and incisive passing. Invariably, when the Blues tried they messed it up. How can this be possible?
The players must be capable of playing football beyond a basic level. The only possible explanation is that build-up play is given short shrift by Dyche and his staff; shelved in favour of launching the ball as far up the pitch as possible. Everton had no clear idea how to progress through midfield, instead either firing it hopefully down the flanks or passing it back to Jordan Pickford and the defence, who typically punted it long. The hosts dealt with either approach with ease. It was an unedifying spectacle. Almost as bad as their utter inability to play football, the organisation was as poor as anything seen under Frank Lampard. The team is so narrow out of possession that it invites the opponent to take advantage by switching the ball to the open flank. That a League Two side were able to occasionally see and exploit this vulnerability is worrying. The Blues currently appear poor defending set-pieces also. What is going on?
Vitaliy Mykolenko struggled at times, though improved as the game wore on and the Blues got stronger. Defensively, he was sound enough - except when exposed by Everton’s ultra-narrow shape - registering six tackles. The quality of his support play down the left was mixed, even though his deliveries were quite awful at times, enraging Dyche at least once. It should be taken into account that this was his first outing since May, so rustiness was to be expected. He left the pitch with an apparent knee problem late in the match, which could deplete the team's options at left back further.
On the other flank, Patterson took a major step back from what was a decent outing at the weekend. Both he and right winger Dobbin struggled from the opening kickoff and as each made mistakes it appeared to affect the other, leading to a general collapse of the whole flank. Dyche did the right thing in substituting the pair at the interval and it is true that his selections are limited due to injuries and a general lack of depth in the squad, but he could have been more discreet in commenting on his decision to withdraw the two - and starting striker Youssef Chermiti - after 45 minutes, during the post-match interview.
The 19-year old forward had a thankless task leading the line. Up against three centre halves used to facing direct football week in, week out the youngster was given little chance to make an impression, due to the poor quality of service he was provided with. The Portuguese managed only 15 touches before being withdrawn and lost the ball on seven occasions in what was a night to forget.
The central defensive pairing of Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey underscored the need for the club to bring in another centre back before the transfer deadline. Both were far short of the level required to provide quality backup.
Stats provided courtesy of whoscored.com