Ok, own up, who had aggregate 7-7 over two games? No one will be pleased with the 7 conceded, but at least the 7 scored have been ‘good’ goals, not scrappy in-off-your-bum-or-your-knee goals. That said, there’s much we can learn from the two games, although this particular pile of written drivel is focused on the Burnley game.
Burnley Away is always a tricky fixture, even before last season’s Burnley Renaissance, but whilst many of you were lapping up goals at the Moor of Turf, those of us unable to get Away tickets (30,000 of us then) had to find other ways to amuse ourselves. My routes to dodgy feeds have been a little, how do we say….”corrupted”….of late, so I went to watch a game of what was allegedly football at Meadow Lane, as the bottom two Clubs in the Football League lobbed trench mortars at each other for 90 minutes, whilst the respective midfields put out their table and chairs and had a cup of tea and a bun whilst watching the aerial route being consistently applied despite all obvious signs that it wasn’t working. My entertainment was from checking my phone by the minute, and 12 checks in we were 2-0 up. Right, we’re losing 3-2 I thought (cheerfully), no way we’ll hold on to that; oh hang on, 3-0, what sorcery is this Everton? Gibson (remember some wanted him from Boro?) playing his first PL game for the Clarets stabbed one home, scruffy, but welcomed, and yet rather than get a sinking feeling, I had every confidence, borne out of not being able to watch the game live, that we would see it through. I hadn’t expected 5-1 I must say, but hey, we’ll bask in the glory that allows us to partly gloss over the failings of pre Christmas.
Having now watched the game, three performances stood out for me. First we have Lucas Digne, then Yerry Mina, and then the little Christmas Elf, Bernard (but remember Bernard, elves are not just for Christmas).
Perhaps being a Left Back for Everton makes you as cool AF. As Baines’ sun sets, most likely in the Wild West (I’m thinking America, rather than Tranmere), step forward a French dude to more than just replace him, more than just to emulate him, the man is a footballing clone, just without the sideburns. I don’t yet know Lucas’ musical taste, I’m guessing more French House than Charles Aznavour, more Daft Punk than Edith Piaf, but so long as he doesn’t trip over whilst giving it large (as the young people apparently say. Or don’t) he can keep his continental Euro pop to himself and his house (the bricks type), and concentrate on protecting that dream of a left foot. His free kick yesterday was a delight, and rather than compare it to Baines, I’d rather celebrate it as a thing of beauty in its own right. It was almost a carbon copy of his late Watford equaliser, and starts to make me think that we have a free kick and dead ball proponent that could be a vital source of goals and assists. I thought in Sigurdsson that we had that, but Gylfi hasn’t cleared a wall yet, and his set piece delivery generally hasn’t been up to his own high standards. In Digne, we have someone who can score, and who can deliver a cross that clears the first man, praise be, I was beginning to think it was illegal. His fine strike for his second is also worthy of note, but before we get all over-excited with that, and indeed, before Lucas gets over-excited about that, I’ve borne witness to 10 long range strikes in to Row Z off his left boot at Goodison, and so that may not be rich source of goals going forward. Happy to be proven wrong however.
What his emergence has done is two things: choice over left peg (him) or right peg (Gylfi) which will keep defences guessing, and also maybe discourage the foul outside the box which will open up other possibilities; but also Digne coming on the scene so impressively (with his 8/10 performances every week) has provided a level of solidity to our defence on that side that was starting to look a bit dodgy. Seems odd writing that after a 6-2 mauling at home to Spurs, but by and large Spurs didn’t bother with either flank, they just drove through our Strawberry Creme of a soft centre. But at Burnley we had a more solid look with three at the back, Gomes a little further forward, and Gueye coming back to fitness so things can improve still further. I was slightly worried at the space Tarkowski (inevitably “Tarky” as Dyche called him) had when he should have buried that early second half chance, and on replays you can see that our 3 CDs were a bit dozy and had assumed the ball was going to go backwards and not hoisted back over their heads to, thankfully, a defender not a forward, otherwise it would have been 3-2 and a quite probably very different second half. But In Digne We Trust on that left side, and I suspect he’ll turn out to be the buy of the season, or at the very least run Richarlison close.
I’ve mentioned a dozy set of Central Defenders, and one of those in particular, conversely, had a great game. Yerry Mina (it would help if he could just change his name to Terry to save me correcting auto-correct every time I type his name) is not yet the finished Premier League article, but his dominance in the air, and desire to take the ball forward out of defence, and indeed pass the damn ball forward as well, was a really refreshing feature of his game yesterday. We’ve seen this with Keane and Zouma already this season, so who knows, maybe a tactical thing from Silva? Well, yesterday Mina looked comfortable for 95% of the game, and hopefully he will keep learning that in this league you have to be switched on 100% of the time, it’s just not like the Colombian League, or even La Liga for that matter. He looks to have the essential components to be a great defender, height, strength, a little joie-de-shithouseré and apparently more skills on the ground than I for one gave him. I was worried about the Agueros of this world slinking round him as he may just be too tall, but no evidence of this yet I have to say, and more power to his angular elbows for it. I also said I was looking forward to his goal celebration for his first Everton goal, and whilst it wasn’t something off Strictly, it was certainly fun enough. But, kids, don’t try that at home, it’s ok if you’re a 6ft 5in Colombian International, not so clever if you’re 4ft 10in from Bootle.
By contrast, our own 4ft 10in ‘local’ lad, Bernard, unquestionably had his best game in an Everton shirt yesterday, and I for one wouldn’t deny him MotM for it (actually, I would, Digne for me). What was different? There is always the unwritten rule that certain players from certain countries from certain leagues, will take time to adjust to the Premier League. Shakhtar Donetsk play Dynamo Kiev twice a season (I assume, unless it’s like Scotland), and after that they just have to turn up and they win. That ain’t going to work here, and previous comments about 100% for 100% of the time apply to Bernard too. So if you accept he’s still adapting to this new world, and let’s face it, he’s been a sub or been subbed in every game he’s featured for a very good reason, something else was different yesterday. Instead of playing out wide, he was much more central, almost an auxiliary No10 to complement Sigurdsson, and it seemed to work. Not only did he move more in to space in the centre and on the left flank, he tracked back, won tackles, and moved the ball quicker than I’ve seen so far this season. More composure, the composure he’s shown before frankly, and he’d have cut the ball back for Walcott after he’d dispossessed ‘Tarky’, and yet I’m also desperate for him to score his first for Everton so quite understand why he didn’t.
His positional play also helped create more space for Calvert-Lewin who also enjoyed his best game of the season.
Burnley looked poor to be honest, and half the side of last year. I don’t buy in to the Europa League malaise, it doesn’t appear to have bothered Arsenal or Chelsea, although of course it does mean you start a season earlier: but surely early round EL fixtures are just as challenging as pre season friendlies. The reality is that Burnley have been sussed out by teams, and key players like Defour, Brady and even Lennon are missing at the moment, and it shows you need depth of squad which clearly they haven’t got. I’m not convinced there’s enough goals in the Austro-NZ strike force of Barnes and Wood, and Vokes is a decidedly 6 goals a season kind of player (hat trick at Goodison then….), so perhaps they need a striker. I’m reliably informed Oumar will be looking for a new Club in January. I’ll leave that there….