Everton's midfield axis shines as Lukaku draws level with Ferguson

Another home game, another victory. Goodison Park is becoming a fortress again after last season’s miserable record on home turf.

Lyndon Lloyd 25/02/2017 29comments  |  Jump to last
Everton 2- 0 Sunderland

Another home game, another victory. Goodison Park is becoming a fortress again after last season’s miserable record on home turf.

This may have not have been the most pulse-racing of the games that the faithful have witnessed in the League so far this calendar year but it was, nevertheless, a solid home win secured on the back of another clean sheet — admittedly, by a matter of inches!

It was notable, too, for landmarks achieved by Romelu Lukaku and Leighton Baines, the former drawing level with Duncan Ferguson on 60 Premier League goals for Everton and the latter making his 300th appearance for the Blues in that competition.

As a performance, however, it was gloriously illustrative of the mouth-watering midfield options that are now open to Koeman following the arrival of Morgan Schneiderlin to add to last summer’s acquisition of Idrissa Gueye.

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The Senegalese midfielder had been criticised by his manager for his somewhat rusty display at Middlesbrough a fortnight ago, his first since returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty, but he was back to his brilliant best this afternoon and capped a fine individual showing with his first goal.

While that personal achievement and that of Lukaku grabbed the headlines, it says something of Schneiderlin that the Frenchman was arguably the man of the match. The January recruit was simply majestic in Everton’s midfield, equal parts conductor, metronome and joint enforcer as he stroked the ball across midfield and tackled anything within proximity to regularly thwart David Moyes’s struggling Sunderland side’s forays forward.

Certainly, watching him ooze class and run the game from the centre of the park, it was hard to imagine how he was only granted 11 minutes of Premier League action under Jose Mourinho before the Portuguese sanctioned his sale last month. Evertonians are already thanking their lucky stars that he was unable to see what Koeman clearly did during the one season they spent together at Southampton in 2014-15.

It was Schneiderlin’s near faultless performance that allowed the likes of Tom Davies and Ross Barkley to provide the attacking drive that helped establish a vice-like grip on the match for the first half an hour. It might also have helped usher a bit more balance to the Blues going forward, as both Gueye and Baines appeared to be given greater license to push up on the left side than has been the case for much of a season characterised by a bias towards the right flank and Seamus Coleman.

In the first telling instance, it was Baines who picked out Ademola Lookman with a low cross in the sixth minute that the 19-year-old almost side-footed home via Jordan Pickford’s inability to hold it but the Sunderland ‘keeper was able to pounce before the ball spun over the goal line.

Gueye’s greater sense of adventure then saw him pop up near the byline in the 20th minute where he tried to fire through goalkeeper’s legs but Pickford slammed the door well at his near post.

Despite some nice passing moves and their clear territorial superiority that offset some highly disappointing deliveries from set-pieces, Everton then lost their impetus a bit as Moyes’s outfit began to ask a few more questions of their hosts’ back line. But apart from Fabio Borini’s wayward effort and a couple of free kicks in dangerous areas, the Black Cats lacked teeth.

Instead it was Everton who belatedly found their cutting edge to establish a lead heading towards half time. Davies raked a beautiful ball into plenty of space for Coleman to retrieve and his cut-back met the run of the onrushing Gueye who swept a controlled side-foot shot past Pickford to open the scoring.

Davies almost padded the lead with a sumptuous effort that arced off the outside of his boot but while the curl took the ball away from the ‘keeper’s dive, it also steered it onto the post and then away to safety from the away side’s perspective.

Though it had been set up for Everton to add to their tally and put Sunderland to the sword, the second period was, for the most part, a disappointing affair in which Koeman’s men took almost 15 minutes to really get going again. In that time, the visitors enjoyed perhaps their best spell and had penalty claims for a handball by the otherwise excellent Ashley Williams waved away by referee Stuart Atwell, saw a Jermaine Defoe shot blocked and avoided trouble when Billy Jones’s header dropped wide of the post from a corner.

Sensing that a change was needed, Koeman withdrew Lookman in favour of Kevin Mirallas — very little had come off for the young winger on the day but what a luxury to be able to give him valuable time to adjust and grow with plenty of first-team minutes — and the Belgian screwed a shot a yard or so wide soon afterwards.

The first chance to put the game to bed was spurned by Barkley when he made a mess of Coleman’s whipped cross in the 73rd minute while Pickford beat away a powerful shot from Lukaku as Everton began to exert some pressure but the pivotal couple of minutes in the match began 12 minutes from the end of the regulation 90.

Referee Atwell ignored what looked to be a foul on Schneiderlin in midfield, Sunderland quickly worked it to Defoe in the box and he rattled a deflected snapshot off the crossbar, one that bounced heart-stoppingly close to the line before Coleman headed the resulting hooked ball back in behind for a corner.

From that set piece, the ball fell to Mirallas just outside his own area and almost instinctively he pinged the ball down the channel for Lukaku to race onto and, with former team-mate Bryan Oviedo in virtually vain pursuit he tore towards goal and found the net via the Costa Rican’s legs to make it 2-0.

Lukaku looked to have laid on goal number three for substitute Enner Valencia in the 87th minute but Pickford came out the victor in a one-on-one duel with the Ecuadorian.

The top six clubs remain, for now, elusive but there are very encouraging signs that Koeman is getting his arms around his Everton “project” and that even if his team aren’t able to catch those above them, the building blocks of a serious tilt at the top four next season continue to be laid in preparation.

An unbeaten start to 2017 in the Premier League, including four successive home wins, and nine games without defeat stretching back to Boxing Day is indicative of that, as was the fairly routine nature of this victory over a team that will do well to beat the drop this time.

Tougher tests await Everton — their next three away games take them to White Hart Lane, Anfield and Old Trafford, while the visit of West Bromwich Albion, the tail in eighth place that the Blues just can’t seem to shake, won’t be an easy proposition at Goodison on 11th March — but they seem to be settling into an encouraging pattern of strong defending, increasing assuredness in possession, and moments of attacking brilliance that could be the platform for great things.

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Reader Comments (29)

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Mike Gaynes
1 Posted 26/02/2017 at 06:44:30
Great report, Lyndon. I concur that this was the first true presentation of a defensive midfield partnership that will be the envy of the Premier League... it's what I foresaw when we brought in Schneiderlin, and it was truly a delight to see him meld so well with Gueye.

Having watched it several times, I am highly suspicious that Davies's "beautiful" ball was in fact intended for Lukaku and accidentally (and fortunately) tailed away into the path of Coleman. I'm also unconvinced that Coleman was trying to pick out Gueye... I think his true target may also have been Lukaku. But the goal was so lovely, why quibble?

Finally, credit to Gueye for starting the second goal with a fine tackle and a quick interception... and even a bit of credit for our old friend Oviedo, who maintained pace with Lukaku stride-for-stride and in fact got his tackle in cleanly in front of him, only to deflect the ball in.

David Ellis
2 Posted 26/02/2017 at 08:26:59
Good report. Gueye and Schneiderlin majestic... but we didn't really click as a team with a lack of composure with the final ball too often.

I thought Lookman looked a bit short of confidence . However pleased with the win and the clean sheet.

This game also reinforced my view that Valencia is never going to cut it. I'm glad it was West Ham and not us that paid £13m for him.
Trevor Lynes
3 Posted 26/02/2017 at 09:00:04
Fine report and I agree with most of it completely. IMO though a complete midfield would see the attacking side of it score more goals. Teams are really concentrating on frustrating Lukaku as he is seen as our only real goal threat.It is high time Barkley and others chipped in with regular scores. All the top six sides score from other attackers than just their main man. Delli Ali has eleven league goals, Son has seven and Erikson five to supplement Kanes haul. This takes the weight off the main striker and creates space.Until we have more from the rest of the attacking midfielders instead of just relying on Rom we will not break into this glass ceiling above us.We are absolutely crying out for a second top striker and a bit of guile from midfield. What I would give to see a Hazard in an Everton shirt. Willian who I also rate highly is on the Chelsea bench FFS.I must admit that we have our own top midfield dynamo in Gueye. I hadn't realized he was so fast across the pitch. He and Schneiderlin are our diamonds and must be first choices in midfield.I just hope that Barkley can start scoring as otherwise he is not the full package for me.
Paul Conway
4 Posted 26/02/2017 at 09:10:26
I stated this on a thread a couple of months ago, that Gana has the ability (time served!) to become the best player ever to don a blue shirt. I was slightly ridiculed by a couple of the more wiser ToffeeWebbers!! A statement I would have thought not in the 5,000/1 bracket!

Yesterday he was mopping up and creating and is extremely versatile. I'll settle for 100/1 for him to achieve the achievable!

Paul Birmingham
5 Posted 26/02/2017 at 09:27:18
Good result and good signs but also a typical EFC Jekyll and Hyde game of two halves. Let's hope the team get it together starting next Sunday at Spurs, which will be a very tough test for this team.

I'd start with Mirallas and rest Lookman for this one and use him as a sub for the last 20 minutes. Spurs is massive – a point would be great and a win fantastic.
Paul Kennedy
6 Posted 26/02/2017 at 11:09:02
It is a sign of the expectation we now have as a club that the manager came out and publicly states he was not happy with our second half performance. He stating what we felt.

This is the way to progress – nothing less than 90 minutes of power, passion, energy and commitment will be accepted... love it!!

Christopher Timmins
7 Posted 26/02/2017 at 11:16:37
With our central midfield options – 5 players for 3 slots – we should be able to play a high intensity game for for the whole 90 minutes and for all games to the season end.

We are no longer a soft touch at Goodison and we can now play below our best at home and win.

Derek Knox
8 Posted 26/02/2017 at 14:05:20
Yes, we do have two excellent players in Gana and Schneiderlin, who not only are starting to gel magnificently, but compliment each other beautifully, in that should the game, like yesterday, allow one to drop deep if need be (Schneiderlin) and Ghana to foray forward.

This obviously won't happen in every game, but it's good to have that dimension to change things, should the situation allow.

I'd be over the moon next week if we can perform well against Spurs, and even nick a win; that's like taking 3 points off them and bolstering our own European place target.

Jim Hardin
9 Posted 26/02/2017 at 14:12:27

Don't hurt yourself reaching around to pat yourself on the back. Funny, you wait until he finally scores a goal to mention your prediction rather than after a couple of his average or worse performances. You don't have to look too far back for those by the way.

He is thus far a very good player on a limited view. He may even be one of our top players at the moment, but the best ever? I think that may be the source of the past ridicule. He has appeared some 23 times for Everton. Shall we wait a little while before erecting the monument or naming a stand after him?

Seamus McCrudden
10 Posted 26/02/2017 at 14:19:07
Spurs currently four-nil up at home and it's only half-time!
David Hallwood
11 Posted 26/02/2017 at 15:17:32
Great report as ever, Lyndon, and I agree with the consensus that although the 3 points were welcome, it should've been a lot more controlled; after all, they could've levelled, but all's well etc.

As some posters' thoughts have already turned towards next Sunday's game, like Seamus, I'm watching the Spurs game... Even allowing for a piss-poor Stoke 1st half, next week's game will be a tad harder than v Sunderland.

I'd like to see Lookman replaced by either Holgate and go with 3 at the back, or keep the flat back 4 and put McCarthy in. Some people may say that there's too many central midfielders and that they'll get in the way of each other, but what they demonstrated yesterday is how fluid they were, and we would have energy all over the park.

It will be interesting how Lukaku does with probably the best pair of centre-backs in the Premier League. If we get something from WHL, we're onto something.

Charlie Lloyd
12 Posted 26/02/2017 at 15:34:33
Schneiderlin was just magestic. Fully agree there and he controlled proceedings.

How on earth he managed just 11 minutes for Mourinho mystifies me.

However their loss is our gain.

Paul Conway
13 Posted 26/02/2017 at 15:57:19
Jim @ 9.
I made a prediction and stated it a couple of months ago, simply based on his performances Vis a vis his teammates, who were turning out nightmares. His goal was no surprise.

I have been supporting EFC now for 50 years. And in the last 20 years there has only been (IMO), Rooney and Arxeta that could have achieved that success.

As I said, my statement is only an opinion or a hunch. People often feel the need to state or back their hunch. Stranger things have happened...

What odds would you have got on Shergar getting Kidnapped, Leicester winning the title, Ranieri getting sacked 6 months into the season (especially 2 weeks after getting the boards undying loyalty statement of support!?

A black president of the USA? A billionaire reality TV contestant becoming president? Nick Lesson becoming Manager of Galway United?

Denis Richardson
14 Posted 26/02/2017 at 20:09:11
Nice write up, Lyndon, although I have to say I'm a bit irritated with the whole 'Lukaku matching Ferguson's Premier League scoring record' thing. We constantly get sky/premiership mantra shoved down our throats. English Football didn't start in 1992 and Dixie Dean scored that many league goals in a single season!

Main facts: Everton all time top league goal scorer is Dixie Dean with 349 goals (Young second on 113 and Sharpe third with 111). Ferguson and Lukaku, with their 60 goals a piece, don't even make the clubs top 10 (yet) – for which Lukaku will need 84 (which he will likely make if he stays for another season or two – which is a big IF at the moment).

Both Ferguson and Lukaku are joint 32nd on the all-time list btw – a long long way for Rom still to go!

It's like Sky are constantly trying to wipe out all pre-1992 football history with the whole 'x stat in the Premier League era'. Very disrespectful imho to the thousands of top flight pros who played over the last 150 odd years!

Don't get me wrong, 60 league goals in 3.5 seasons is a great achievement by Lukaku but it hardly puts him at Everton legend status yet.

Tony Abrahams
15 Posted 26/02/2017 at 21:32:32
Trevor 3, although I agree with what you mostly say, I was also thinking that maybe Kane helps to take the weight off the rest of his team-mates by working harder than Lukaku?

Maybe it's our system or maybe it is our players, but when Rom works hard and gets hold of the ball, we do look like a lot better team.

Peter Murray
16 Posted 26/02/2017 at 22:26:08
By now, I would have obviously thought that you would realise Lukaku will always score goals anywhere, with any professional club – but to display normal essential team attributes (interest, availability - when without the ball, or build up play, control, etc) – with or without our Dutch manager... it's not going to happen!!!

Surely a nondescript outfit as the Black Cats should have been taken apart in an exercise to improve our goal analysis, with perhaps 3 or 4 or 5 goals scored???

To comment that our 2nd half performance was disappointing was obvious to allthe 30,000+ supporters – but it should have been remedied by him (IMO), at the half-time "chat", with some faster build-up play, more forward commitment... and goals scored!!!


David Hamilton
17 Posted 26/02/2017 at 22:53:33
Paul @ 5

Totally agree about Mirallas and Lookman. Had exactly the same thought after the game, including the 20 minutes.

A note about Davies. Goes quiet at times but he's the one player in the middle who can suddenly pull out a match-winning pass or move. He's done it three or four times now. Great vision.

Eddie Dunn
18 Posted 26/02/2017 at 23:06:22
Mike (#1). I completely agree.
Colin Glassar
19 Posted 26/02/2017 at 23:09:44
Hands up who thought Gana was an absolute joke of a buy? I was dumbstruck when we got him but I'm chuffed to bits I was completely wrong about the lad.
David Barks
20 Posted 27/02/2017 at 01:09:58
I wasn't impressed when we signed him, didn't think he'd be any more than a decent defensive midfielder in an already crowded spot. But he's been a very good signing and, after adding Schneiderlin, I'm very happy with our central pairing.

He absolutely has room to improve, but to come off of a game where Koeman rightly said he underperformed, to get a very good goal and play so well in the middle of the park, that's a fantastic response.

The thing I think we have to hope is, other than continue to win matches and finish as high up the table as possible this season, is that a couple of our players make big strides next season. In Lookman, I think we need to hope we have a player like a Sterling or Hazard. We need him to progress into a player who is quick, dangerous with the ball at his feet, and provides goals.

We need Davies to continue to progress as the box-to-box midfielder that Koeman seems to believe he is. He's been given the free role, to get forward but also get back in support. He's not afraid of the moment, that's for sure. If he continues to progress into next season with Gana and Schneiderlin behind him, very good for us.

Then we absolutely must keep Lukaku. He's a fantastic goal scorer who has made a big step forward this season. He was slammed for his hold-up play in past seasons. He's done quite well this year. He wins aerial challenges.

He can bulldoze through a defender when given the chance and we can all see how many goals he scores. It should never be taken for granted, he's a star. And if we can have him and Barkley up top, along with Lookman if he progresses into a Sterling type player, we have something very special at this club.

There is no reason for us to have to sell. If a massive club comes in for Lukaku I know what the result will be. But if we can get one more season with the strength that we've built, and a few real quality additions, we should be aiming for the top next season.

And I truly believe that, aim for the top. It wouldn't be a Leicester type miracle. If we come up short, we could live with it. But we have something growing here that if we do it right, add the right pieces while keeping the ones we have, and get a few of the young stars to progress the way they need to, we could be on the cusp of finally getting out of this almost 30-year funk of just existing. And we as supporters must be pushing for exactly that.

Laurie Hartley
21 Posted 27/02/2017 at 03:08:08
Good report Lyndon. I picked up on this :

"The ball fell to Mirallas just outside his own area and almost instinctively he pinged the ball down the channel for Lukaku to race onto."

I noticed that also. In my view, Mirallas knew exactly where his team mate was before he received the ball and despatched it straight away – a beautiful pass. What is more, that is the second time in our last two home games Mirallas has done that. Well done, Kev.

Also Mike Gaynes ( #1) – good shout on Oviedo sticking with Lukaku all the way into the penalty box and getting in his tackle. He was very unlucky to see it bounce off him into the net (I'm not complaining). He certainly did a much better job than Wes Morgan did against Lukaku in exactly the same circumstances some weeks ago.

Good footballer, Brian Oviedo.

Peter Gorman
22 Posted 27/02/2017 at 11:36:12
That empty vessel Garth Crooks has claimed that Idrissa Gueye is the nearest thing he has seen to N'Golo Kante.

Surely he means Kante is the nearest thing he has seen to Idrissa Gueye.

Eugene Ruane
23 Posted 27/02/2017 at 12:39:22
Re Mr Lukaku, this (apparently) from Talksport this morning..

"Raiola has previously claimed the deal is 99.9% done, and appeared on TalkSport earlier this morning to confirm that remains the case. Asked if Lukaku still intends to sign the deal, he said: 'Yes' and then when pressed further about whether it is done, he added: “99.99999999%!"

Not sure what Raiola (who really does look a picture of sweaty grasping meffness - Link ) meant by that, but that percentage suggests the pen ran out of ink at ROMELU LUKAK

Ian Hollingworth
24 Posted 27/02/2017 at 12:39:40
Schneiderlin is class.

I have kept saying on here that you have to buy better players than you already have to keep on improving.
Morgan is a classic example.

Scott Hall
25 Posted 27/02/2017 at 12:57:27
Denis, you are spot on with that point. Sky only ever bang on about the premier league era because of course to do otherwise would be to recognise the achievements of clubs not in their little clique. Funny how the achievements of teams like Nottingham Forest, Everton and to a lesser extent your Sheffield Wednesdays and Leeds of this world, are being slowly removed from the knowledge of an entire generation of football fans. Yet, despite not winning the league during the same era, we must never forget the history of Liverpool.

Dixie who? Never heard of him. Ah but that Peter Crouch is some player though isn't he. 100 Premier League goals. If only we'd had a player like that in the 80s hey Imagine what a wannabe team like Everton could have achieved.

Mike Berry
26 Posted 27/02/2017 at 13:33:53
No team is going to pass through or bully our midfield, and I really look forward to the Spurs game and taking three points of the media luvies.
We are Everton and we are coming to get you ! !
Tony Draper
27 Posted 27/02/2017 at 16:58:07
I'm looking at our line-up each game now and thinking "Keep the winning/unbeaten side, no changes please Ronald".

I'm looking at our manager in his press confernces and thinking "Bloody hell! That was undiluted!"

I see this feller called "Ross Barkley", same jersey as a lad we had last season similar name, just different class.

I see this scraggly blonde haired teenager turning defence into searing attacks.

I see this big 'keeper... ordering his defence into place, taking responsibilty and keeping the sheets clean.

I see an unsung hero who is (always) there faster than Clark Kent can emerge from a phonebox, intercepts and then move the ball ALWAYS to a teammate.

I see this unsung hero who (apparently) never scores – then he scores a goal with such ease... a considered touch.

I see this unsung hero celebrate scoring with some crap, choreographed, ball-ache embarassment. No, he hugged the assistant manager.

I see a defensive midfielder, move the ball with comfort to any of his midfield colleagues or rampaging wingbacks.

I see a striker who can run 60 yards and put the keeper on the deck and rip the onion bag.

Still feels like Everton, to me, but in me guts I'm still pit pony.... Blinking.... Blinking at the prospect of light.
Don't send me back into that damp, miserable, filthy place.
Where Davey MacMisery trades dignity for obediance.
The place where 'hope' is a dirty word.

I see change and I hope.

I just need a bit of time to catch up.

Jamie Sweet
28 Posted 27/02/2017 at 23:57:19
While Spurs away will be a very good barometer of just how much we have improved, I can't help thinking that West Brom at home is going to be the real test for our defence.

They will be coming to Goodison to keep things tight and then throw the kitchen sink at us on set pieces. Robles, Williams and Funes Mori had better bring their A game that day!

John Pierce
29 Posted 28/02/2017 at 19:10:55
Schneiderlin was exquisite on Saturday, albeit against a limited Sunderland.

Strangely I thought eventually it would be Gana that picked the ball up off the back 4.

But I can see good sense in Scheiderlin being there. Splitting the CBs and his range of passing is good. Never looks hurried, it releases Gana to rampage about the pitch.

The Frenchman is now, even in a short space of time, the first name down, clearly the leader in the side, without a doubt looks a good shout for captain next term.

Koeman gets a pat on the back for his hissy fit in January about this one.

Proper player, this fella.

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