What has Allardyce brought to Everton?
[Insert your own jokes here]
Actually, the shape deployed against the Terriers from one of the more attractive parts of Yorkshire (they’ve got a Sculpture Park and all sorts), was no different to the set up for West Ham, which we are all led to believe was the invention of Unsworth, rather than any influence from our new Gruffalo who, I now learn, was born in Dudley. Not noticed the accent I must say. As a tactical plan, against two of the Premier League’s weaker teams based on current form, it certainly meant that our goal was, for the second time in a few days, rarely threatened. If anyone knows when Jordan Pickford last enjoyed two back to back clean sheets in the Premier League, I’d be keen to know. Certainly his first with us. The shape has to be the main reason.
What Sam did with our shape, that he can certainly claim credit for, was that at Half Time he realised that in Huddersfield Town we didn’t have a massive threat, so maybe shift Lennon and Sigurdsson further forward, and make the oppo think more about us than the other way around. And of course, like the magician very few of us believe he is, it immediately paid dividends for Allardyce, with Sigurdsson finishing off a brilliant move. Gueye, getting close to being back to his best, wins the ball in our half, Lennon drives at the heart of the Huddersfield defence, in to Calvert-Lewin, an immaculate flick, Sigurdsson finishes with aplomb. Superb goal; if City or Arsenal had scored that, the media darlings would be all over it. Delighted for Gylfi (not Gunnar Sigurdsson as Allardyce called him on a BBC interview this week – he has all the makings of another Merson when it comes to pronouncing Johnny-Foreigner’s names), and equally if not more so for Lennon and DCL’s roles in the build up.
Lennon’s return to the first team, and not just making the numbers up on a Thursday evening, is an absolute joy. His struggles for mental health ‘fitness’ last year are well known, and now is not the time to go back over that, but suffice to say I welcome him back to full fitness in the same way I will when Bolassie, Mori, Coleman and even Barkley rejoin the first team after their own returns from treatment. Just because his injury was (maybe still is?) in his head, there’s no need to treat it any differently to any other medical condition that needs treatment of one sort or another. More to the footballing point, and after all this is a blog about football, his return to fitness means we have a potentially potent threat out wide right with his pace and trickery, and praise the lord, on one occasion we had a wide man going round the outside of his defender. Wonders will never cease. Lennon also provides excellent support for Kenny at RB, and their understanding and energy are going to be an important part of the rest of our season one suspects. Kenny, as said after West Ham, is a real player; and he’s getting better with every game, defending, prompting, passing, attacking. His balls up the line for Lennon and DCL to run on to got an “at last” from me, a much under-used pass for Everton in the last few seasons. Mystifyingly.
Another lad who gets better every game, is Calvert-Lewin. The lad deserved his goal, because he pretty much ran himself in to the ground over the course of the match. We love a lad who runs a lot, hence the popularity of Andy Johnson, Denis Stracqualursi, or DCL, compared to Lukaku; only difference is: one scores loads of goals, the others score more occasionally: 1 in 4 for us by Johnson, 1 in 21 for the big Argentine, and almost 1 in 9 for DCL, compared to 1 in 2 for Rom. Lazy him.
But let’s get some perspective. In age terms, Dom is the same age as Lukaku was when he joined us after his West Brom spell; whether he turns out to be as prolific, time will tell, but his pace, his energy, and his movement give him an excellent platform. He doesn’t have the sheer brute strength of Lukaku, but he moves – a lot. I watched him a lot yesterday, just to see what he does when he hasn’t got the ball, and it’s a real education to watch. Great centre forward play, and all he needs now is prolific goalscoring. Two so far this term in the PL is clearly not enough, but let’s be patient, it’ll come. Good lad. And before we bemoan our lack of goals due to a lack of a Lukaku replacement, we’re the 9th best scorers in the Premier League; I just hope when we score 2 in the future, we aren’t beaten 2-5, and so we all know the defensive solidity has to be right, as well as whatever goes on ahead.
Which brings me back to shape, and by deploying a 4-5-1, with the 5 being pretty close to the toes of the 4, the preferred shape appears to rely on not conceding as a first priority. Whether that’s possible when we play more potent opposition than the last two, we will soon see on Sunday. Salah and Mané’s pace terrifies me, as does the trickery and movement of Firmino and Coutinho, but let’s hope that Matip, Lovren, Gomez and pals are just as worried about the hard time DCL will undoubtedly give them, as well as the creativity, improving over the last two games, of Sigurdsson and Rooney.
Two swallows don’t a summer make, let alone one, but we can safely say that we are on firmer foundations than we were even a week ago. The players are the same, the shape is different, and so, it appears, is the application. Let’s see what we can do from here.