Everything We Didn’t See Last Week
Understandably, fans were in downcast mood after witnessing such a tepid display at Goodison Park last time out, during which their team succumbed to Arsenal in passive fashion. Everton may have only lost 1-0, but the dominance displayed by the visitors was absolute.
On Saturday, the approach undertaken by Sean Dyche’s outfit was like night and day to that on show the previous weekend. From the kickoff, Everton demonstrated aggression and looked to put the Brentford players under pressure, both of which were completely absent against the Gunners. This immediately unsettled the hosts, who were rarely able to regain their equilibrium for the remainder of the match.
The manager set the Toffees up in a more progressive formation than was seen in the Arsenal defeat, with Abdoulaye Doucoure pushed up closer to Beto and Idrissa Gueye and Amadou Onana operating higher up, with no true holding midfielder. It worked a treat as Brentford struggled to progress the ball, often finding themselves pressured into giveaways, being forced wide, or otherwise making no offensive impact.
The Bees don’t tend to go direct in the absence of the suspended Ivan Toney, but were crowded out by Everton’s packed midfield as they attempted to pass through and unable to make an impression in wide areas, with the visitors’ fullbacks playing their wingers physically.
Everton’s wide players James Garner and Dwight McNeil tended to tuck inside, rather than hug the touchline and the team’s average positional map showed both wingers, the Blues midfield and Beto all operating in close proximity in the centre left portion of the pitch. This density mass forced Brentford’s whole left side back, to the extent that nominal danger man Bryan Mbuemo’s average position was barely inside the opposition half. Everton’s right side was bolstered by James Tarkowski stepping up and attacking the ball high (the defender won eight of nine aerial duels), supported by solid positional play by full back Ashley Young. The impressive Jarrad Branthwaite covered in behind, demonstrated by him making eleven ball recoveries.
In the midfield, Onana adopted a much more proactive role than we’ve seen from him, winning seven of nine ground duels, recovering nine loose balls and not being beaten on the dribble in four attempts. In what was a noticeable departure, the 22-year old Belgian international led the team in touches (69) and showed an improved ability to effect the game in a controlled fashion. Alongside him, Gueye - despite a couple of lapses in concentration during a rocky spell for Everton following Brentford’s equalizer - ended up as the team’s most accurate passer (93%), completed more into the final third than anyone else (five) and created three scoring chances.
Although the Toffees largely dominated proceedings, they did allow Brentford a couple of real chances - one of which was taken - which saw the game tied at 1-1 until the 67th minute. Barely two minutes later, there was chaos in the Everton penalty area as the Bees tried hacking the ball into Jordan Pickford’s net multiple times in just a few seconds, foiled only by some desperate blocks. Mercifully, the visitors settled the nerves of watching Blues fans and essentially put the game out of reach with Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s timely finish in the 71st minute.
So in control were Everton that it would have been tough to take had they somehow not come away with all three points - wouldn’t be the first time this season either, or second even. The goal they did concede demonstrated that, despite an overall defensive effort that was very solid - aided and abetted by outstanding midfield play - improvements are possible. Vitalii Mykolenko had vacated his left spot position trying to go forward before the Brentford attack developed and Branthwaite reacted to attempt to block a shot (and mishit a clearance too), which left Everton’s left side completely open. Tarkowski made a mistake in also moving to the right, whereas if he’d covered for Branthwaite there’s a decent chance he would have been able to disrupt the eventual shot, taken by Mathias Jensen.
Branthwaite and Tarkowski are showing all the signs of forging an excellent working relationship, one that could prove vital to the club’s chances this season. The two compliment each other well: the experience, sturdiness and aggression of the 30-year old former Burnley man matching up with the youngster’s pace, composure on the ball and a reading of the game that he’s added, courtesy of a productive loan spell at PSV Eindhoven last season. It’s still early on however, so we hopefully will see understanding between the two continue to grow as the campaign progresses.
I admit to groaning when the team news dropped an hour before kickoff and saw that Arnaut Danjuma had been dropped for Garner; suggestive as it was that Dyche would be digging in for a point, rather than showing any ambition to get more. How wrong I was. Long-term, it is probable that Jack Harrison, who is the most comfortable of all Everton’s wide players operating on the right flank will nail down that spot, but Garner continues to do himself a power of good with his willingness to slot in wherever the manager needs him to, his appetite for the game and general ability. The industrious midfielder won five of nine ground duels - including robbing Nathan Collins en route to playing Calvert-Lewin in for Everton’s decisive third goal - and tied Tarkowski with four key passes. He has boundless energy, covering every blade of grass and it’s great to see him kicking on after a debut campaign dogged by injury.
McNeil looked more like the version we saw down the stretch last term as he continues to come back from an injury suffered during preseason. The winger supplied an assist, came close to scoring himself and also seemed much happier operating on the left side, which could see Danjuma operating from the bench, or deployed in other positions much of the time. It was also good to see him and Garner on set-piece duties, which showed great improvement as a result.
Doucoure bagged his second goal in three league matches, proving his value when operating as a kind of supporting striker, rather than as a midfielder, where his technical limitations can sometimes undermine his game. The Malian is a menace on this kind of form, showing an eye for goal lacking amongst the team’s other midfield options, making runs into the box and the channels off the ball and linking up well with Beto in particular. Although he didn’t rack up many defensive statistics, his roaming presence unsettled the Brentford players and in this mood it’s tough to see him losing his spot in the side.
Beto failed to find the back of the net, but his all-around game was impactful to Everton’s successes. The big man bullied the Bees defence during the 63 minutes he was on the pitch, winning a bruising nine of 13 aerial duels, using his power and pace to rarely give them a moment’s peace. Any relief the Brentford players may have felt following Beto’s withdrawal was swiftly dispelled upon Calvert-Lewin’s introduction, the striker firing home six minutes after coming on and looking quick, calm and confident in front of goal. In sharp contrast to last season, where the team’s attacking options were depressingly limited, the Toffees now have two starting calibre front men, both fast and aerially strong, yet offering differences in the formidable challenges they present to opposition defences; a very good position to be in.