Everton beat Sporting CP 1-0 thanks to a first half penalty converted by Dominic Calvert-Lewin but ended the game with a major injury worry as captain James Tarkowski had to leave the game with a knee injury.
As we had heard before the game, Arnaut Danjuma missed the game as a precaution, but there was good news for the Blues with Dominic Calvert-Lewin starting up top. With Dwight McNeil out, manager Sean Dyche went with five midfielders in the middle behind DCL. Captain James Tarkowski was partnered by Ben Godfrey as the centrehalf pairing, with Ashley Young and Nathan Patterson as the fullbacks.
There were some familiar names in Sporting’s lineup, none more so than striker Viktor Gyokeres who many Evertonians had hoped to see in the royal blue shirt.
The Toffees started well for the first few minutes, but then Sporting took over. Twice in the opening minutes the hosts were carved open and unsurprisingly Godfrey was the culprit for both chances. Everton were lucky to not be behind but slowly started asserting themselves at home in the latter part of the first half.
Amadou Onana had a good half playing through the middle as Alex Iwobi split wide on the left and James Garner to the right. Idrissa Gueye played the sweeper role with Abdoulaye Doucoure pushing forward to support Calvert-Lewin.
At the half hour mark both sides wasted excellent chances to go up. First Goncalves made room for himself in the Everton box for a one-on-one against Jordan Pickford but the England #1 smothered the tame effort. Then up the other way went the Blues in the rain and Iwobi’s cross into the box was excellent. Doucoure’s volley was well-saved by Adan, and then the goalie made an even better reaction save to foil DCL on the rebound.
Gyokeres then forced a smart save out of Pickford with a header, with the two resulting corners eventually cleared for a shooting chance for Gueye, but the ball went just over. Soon after though the game got turned on its head. Garner played in DCL behind the backline, with the striker setting up the onrushing Doucoure for a shot. The Malian international’s grasscutter however was blocked by Quaresma on the ground, coming off the Sporting player’s hand and the ref pointed to the spot.
Calvert-Lewin tucked the penalty to the right past the diving Adan to put the Blues ahead just before the halftime whistle.
Neal Maupay and Jarrad Branthwaite came on in the second half, for Calvert-Lewin and Godfrey respectively. The Blues started the stanza well and should have extended that lead within a couple of minutes. Iwobi’s searching cross was only partly met by Maupay, even though Garner was in a better position to head the high ball.
As the rain continued to pour down, Onana’s loping run down the left came to nothing. Ashley Young came off to give Vitaliy Mykolenko some much-needed minutes. Sporting were seeing the ball but the Blues kept them at bay as the visitors resorted to shooting from distance. Lewis Dobbin replaced Idrissa Gueye as well.
Garner kept finding himself in promising positions on the right, but contrarily his deliveries from the deadball were pretty awful. Maybe it was the heavy ball from the rain, but his corners and freekicks rarely went over hip-height or cleared the first man. For a player who is known for his delivery, this was disappointing.
Onana came inches away from scoring in the second straight game, playing a perfect give-and-go with Iwobi on the edge of the box, before his shot beat Adan and came back off the far upright.
There was even time for Maupay to get booked (wasn’t even a foul, to be honest) and then Onana joined him in the ref’s poor graces with a sliding challenge. Andre Gomes came on for Doucoure with about a dozen minutes to play as the Blues — not for the first time — struggled to clear their lines and gave Sporting a sniff of an equalizer.
More half-hearted defending from Patterson and Garner allowed Goncalves to let off a shot that curled around Pickford and then came back to the goalie off the upright to preserve Everton’s lead with under ten minutes to go.
With five minutes to go, the unthinkable happened as James ‘The Tank’ Tarkowski went down heavily. Gyokeres crashed into him with a knee-on-knee collision and the player that was on the pitch for every minute of every Premier League game last season had to leave, with Michael Keane coming on.
Sporting ramped up the pressure and from a poor clearance from a corner by Gomes, Moreira fired a sizzler goalwards with Pickford having to make another big save. Four minutes were added on which the Blues then negotiated without much ado to close out the pre-season with a win.
Might still be early in the season but the Everton players were certainly scrappy in mid-season on-field battling form. Doucoure and Goncalves had plenty of words to say to each other, and then Maupay and Reis had to be separated in the second half.
Good to see Calvert-Lewin getting significant minutes, which certainly gives a lot of confidence that he should be good to start next weekend against Fulham. Why the Blues continue to hoof the ball long to Maupay when he’s alone up top is something we will never understand however.
Branthwaite certainly made his case for a starting berth with his showing. Apart from the occasional miskick aimed at a bouncing ball (Ivan Toney made him pay for that a couple of years ago), he looked mostly calm and composed in his own box. If Tarkowski will have to miss any time, then surely it will have to be Keane and Branthwaite in the middle?
Iwobi certainly deserved a shout-out today for his performance. He was involved in everything, played everywhere on the pitch Dyche needed him, and didn’t stop running right until the end.
Onana did a bit of everything in this game, like he often has, with all the good interspersed with a bit of bad as well. He does play physically, it’s certainly a characteristic of his game, but he is starting to impose himself and that is only a good sign for the Blues.