“He’s worth his weight in gold, that lad,” was the first thought that came to mind as Richarlison raced down the left flank for the second match in a row and delivered a telling blow for Everton, this time scoring with an excellent finish to put the Toffees 2-1 up.
Of course, he’s worth more than that — a hell of a lot more, given that his weight in gold would only fetch around £3.5m at today’s prices — and the club probably wouldn’t entertain any offers under £100m for their Brazilian star. On days like these he is priceless to Everton.
His individual effort represented a huge pressure valve for Carlo Ancelotti’s side who looked to be in the process of throwing away the good work they had done in the first half. They had already given up the 18th-minute lead they had seized with another moment of Brazilian magic, were inviting all sorts of pressure with their inability to keep the ball and had seen the ball come back off Jordan Pickford’s left-hand post for the second time in the game.
Then Richarlison single-handedly put them back in front and though Jordan Pickford had to make amends for an awful slip-up for the visitors’ goal by denying Christian Benteke what looked to be a nailed on equaliser, it was an advantage they went on to not only protect but augment with a late goal by Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
The result was paramount and Everton were worthy winners on the balance of the contest but Ancelotti will be mindful of the fact that his team, perhaps, narrowly prevented another “Newcastle” or, at least, avoided having to try and press desperately for a narrow victory in the closing stages.
Because there was a phase of about 15 minutes in the second half where Palace looked as though they were going to upset the apple cart in the way they often have at Goodison Park just when it felt as though the Blues were on the cusp of going places in terms of the league table.
Had they done so, you suspect that the post-match inquest would have focused on the manager’s decision to rotate a couple of his players out, especially Mason Holgate who has emerged in recent weeks as a bona fide contender for player of the season.
The defender making way for Michael Keane was one of three changes Ancelotti made to his starting XI on top of the one forced upon him by Fabian Delph’s red card at Watford last weekend and consequent suspension. Morgan Schneiderlin came into central midfield in his stead, Bernard replaced Alex Iwobi on the left and Seamus Coleman returned in place of Djibril Sidibé but none of those changes appeared in the first half to have been detrimental.
Indeed, the home side started on the front foot, pressing hard and high up the pitch and getting an early opportunity to test Vicente Guaita with an early Lucas Digne free-kick that the Spaniard managed to push away despite the sun shining in his face.
But it was Palace who almost took a 13th-minute lead when James McArthur seized on a loose ball in Everton’s penalty area and found Patrick van Aanholt who tried to surprise Pickford with an early shot from the angle that came back off the post.
Having made some early inroads, Everton began to find it harder to play their way through the visitors’ press, they were resorting to longer balls forward and their chief playmaker, Bernard, was largely anonymous.
Typically for the Brazilian, he often only needs to make a couple of telling contributions per game and what was, arguably, his only one on the day came at the end of a nicely-worked goal and the best move of the first half.
Schneiderlin, looking much more like the player Everton thought they were getting when they signed him from Manchester United three years ago, toed the ball away from Wilfried Zaha as the Ivorian tried to escape a clutch of blue jerseys in his own half, Coleman and Theo Walcott combined with quick passes before Gylfi Sigurdsson evaded his marker and fed Walcott again who did brilliantly to make space past Van Aanholt to deliver a deep cross.
His delivery was deeper than Calvert-Lewin on the edge of the six-yard box but was tracked by Bernard who arrived unmarked to despatch a perfectly-struck volley down the centre of the goal to make it 1-0.
Sadly, that terrific contribution would be Walcott’s last meaningful one of the game as he was forced off with an injury shortly afterwards, with Sidibé coming on to play wide on the right.
Bernard missed Calvert-Lewin by inches with a dinked centre after 25 minutes and Richarlison’s choked effort two minutes later failed to trouble Guaita and it wasn’t until the closing stages of the half that Palace threatened again.
First McArthur sliced a volley of his own well off target; then Pickford came to claim the ball off Zaha’s feet and looked to have done so before he spilled it and the winger went down under the attentions of Coleman but his appeals for a penalty were in vain.
If Everton had in the main been professional for the first 45 minutes, their start to the second half was annoyingly sloppy as they struggled to maintain possession and played themselves into trouble trying to pass out from the back.
This game had thrown up a number of potential “Everton that” banana skins — Palace hadn’t won away since the end of November or beaten Everton for five years, were winless since Boxing Day and Roy Hodgson has never won at Goodison Park as a manager — and there were perhaps too many for the Blues to sidestep entirely.
In the end it was Benteke’s run of 1,476 minutes without a goal that predictably came to an end six minutes after half-time, although quite how it did without Pickford appearing to get so much as a touch on the ball as it flew under his gloves was mystifying.
The keeper had knocked a ball straight to Luka Milivojević in Palace’s half that the midfielder knocked forward and Benteke was able to beat Keane in the air. Zaha picked up the second ball and played the Belgian into space behind Digne where he took one touch before despatching a low shot that Pickford should have had covered but instead, inexplicably, allowed it to fly underneath him.
A few minutes after that, Hodgson’s men almost took the lead. Coleman failed to deal with an awkward in-swinging corner from Van Aanholt that bounced onto Benteke’s chest before coming back off the upright and Calvert-Lewin hacked it away.
The game pivoted 90 seconds later as Schneiderlin lofted a clearance over two Palace players and Calvert-Lewin flicked it over his marker with his head sending Richarlison away on the counter-attack. Whereas last week at Vicarage Road he had two players racing up in support, this time he had only Sidibé for company but he didn’t need him.
Keeping the last man, Gary Cahill, guessing, he drove inside the defender and fired a shot past the keeper and inside the far post to put the Toffees back in front.
Had it not been for Pickford, that lead would have lasted just three minutes. Zaha found McArthur down Palace’s left and when his attempted cross kicked up off Mina, it fell invitingly for Benteke in front of goal but Pickford spread himself and diverted the Belgian’s header wide with his shoulder.
Back at the other end, Sigurdsson’s persistent run inside the box where his close control took him through a forest of opposition legs almost yielded a third goal but Guaita palmed his prodded effort aside.
With Bernard withdrawn with 25 minutes to go and Tom Davies introduced in his stead, it felt as though Ancelotti had prematurely adopted more defensive posture and it was hard not to be skeptical of the decision to throw on a player who had been instrumental in that late collapse against Newcastle a fortnight ago. However, while it did have the effect of inviting Palace on to a degree, the visitors were mostly held at bay for the remainder of the contest — Benteke had one half-chance that he half-volleyed wide — and Davies performed admirably.
If the Blues needed some insurance — and, let’s face it, they’ve shown that even a two-goal advantage isn’t enough sometimes, they got it in the 87th-minute. Digne won a corner on the left and then arrowed the resulting set-piece into the box where Richarlison rose to steer a header towards the top corner of Guaita’s goal.
It came back off the woodwork, however, and dropped at the feet of Calvert-Lewin who tapped it in past the prone Guaita from close range to make it 3-1.
And the striker should have had a second in injury time when Richarlison forced one last save from the keeper but though he had almost the whole goal to aim for as the rebound came back invitingly to him, he somehow scooped it into the Park End.
That would have put a nice, if somewhat harsh, gloss on the score line and improved Everton's goal difference in the context of their push towards the top six but claiming the points was the main thing and Ancelotti’s charges’ superior quality told in the end.
It was a poor and error-strewn game at times but Everton under Ancelotti are nothing if not effective, and they scored the goals required for a decent win that takes them up to the dizzy heights of 7th in the Premier League.
With Fabian Delph sitting this one out following his double yellow card last time, Michael Keane is recalled in defence, along with Coleman, Schneiderlin & Bernard getting starts. Holgate, Sidibe and Kean start on the bench.
Former Blue James McCarthy starts for Crystal Palace, but no Cenk Tosun, who is ineligible on loan from Everton, while Wilfried Zaha, who was heavily linked with interest from Everton last summer, makes his 350th Eagles appearance.
The Blues came close early on, Digne powering a free-kick through the wall to test Guaita in the Palace goal. The early exchanges after that were a little cagey, Everton looking ofr a path forward but doing a lot of sideways passing in the process. McCarthy and Digne went in for a 50/50 ball, the ex-Everton man earning an early yellow card as he caught Digne. Mina's header from the free-kick was at best directionless.
Keane was forced to give away a corner and in the afters, Van Aanholt dug out a shot which deflected onto the post and then behind for another corner. Bernard then committed a soft foul, from which Richarlison is shot by a sniper as he bounces off Cahill.
But some great work on the right by Sigurdsson and others to dig out the play saw Walcott cross beautifully for Bernard whose low-struck volley simply flew into the Palace net, a finely worked and executed opening goal for Ancelotti's Azzurri.
However, Walcott picked up a problem and needed treatment, but finally came back on, only to go down again, this time Sidibe eventually replacing him, after buzzing off down the tunnel pick up a missing sock, much to Carlo's annoyance!
Bernard almost became feeder, returning a glanced cross back for Calvert-Lewin to throw himself at and miss making contact by a hair's breadth. But it was not one-way traffic for Everton by any means, Palace looking to do their best to get back into the game. Sigurdsson saw a chance to feed a good direct ball to Richarlison's feet but the Brazilian couldn't really dig out a worthwhile shot.
Everton were applying some pressure but it was pretty scrappy and formless until Richarlison tried to play in Coleman. Everton were trying to find crosses but digging them out was hard work as Richarlison collapsed under the touch of a feather on his back, ignored by the referee. Some lively play from Palace ensued off a free-kick, McArthur finally lashing the shot wide of Pickford's goal.
Everton were not really imposing themselves on the play, which was erratic and saw possession lost repeatedly. A lot of silliness ensued after Digne and Zaha fought for a ball that it seemed Pickford had claimed but he lost as Coleman came in and the Palace man went down, looking for a penalty that VAR denied. Richarlison collapsed again on feeling a hand on his arm...
Zaha, Benteke and Van Aanholt looked to create something around the Everton defence but the Dutchman's wild strike was well off target.
Everton's defending from the restart looked rocky at best and Benteke would expose it with fearsome alacrity, firing under Pickford's body to equalize with the Blues looking like they had already gone on the Winter Break. Really really poor from Pickford.
Everton gave up a couple of corners to further encourage the Palace attack, the ball so close to going in off the second as it bounced off Benteke onto the post, Everton all over the place. But then Richarlison saw daylight off a nice feed from Calvert-Lewin and ran at pace, firing superbly just inside the post. Blues back in business.
But Palace were not beaten yet, a cross coming to Benteke for him to power in his header only for it to hit Pickford, who had made himself big, advancing out of the Everton goal to prevent what seemed to be a certain second equalizer.
Sigurdsson then produced some impossible magic to get through 4 defenders and scoop a shot that Guita somehow parried away for a corner, Davies replacing Bernard. And immediately Everton's movement looked better, Davies always looking for the forward ball.
Sidibe tried to find Calvert-Lewin with a volleyed crossfield ball from deep that would have been fantastic finish if it had come off. But this was not a game for the purist, apparently spoilt by the swirling wind. Calvert-Lewin tried the Richarlison "blow me over with a feather" trick to win a free-kick but the ref was having none of it.
The scrappy play resumed with the game hardly a classic for long spells as each side took turns to show how poor they were, Place again coming close with a shot driven just wide. Holgate replaced Sigurdsson with 5 minutes to go.
A fine Richarlison header from a Digne corner came back off the bar for Dominic Calvert-Lewin perfectly positioned to tap the ball in for what must be the winning goal.
Calvert-Lewin, full of confidence now, ran in on Guita and fired over off the keeper's fingertips. More pressure from the corners, then Richarlison stinging Guita's hands and dropping the ball perfectly for Calvert-Lewin to rifle home the fourth goal... only he whacked it high and not so handsome — well over the bar! What a miss!!!
Kick-off: 12:30pm, Saturday 8 February 2020
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne, Walcott (24' Sidibe), Sigurdsson (86' Holgate), Schneiderlin, Bernard (65' Davies), Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison.
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Baines, Iwobi, Kean.
Crystal Palace: Guaita, Ward (79' Kouyate), Tomkins (61' Dann), Cahill, Van Aanholt, Ayew, McCarthy [Y:8'] (68' Meyer), Milivojevic, McArthur, Zaha, Benteke.
Subs not Used: Townsend, Hennessey, Mitchell, Riedewald.
Referee: David Coote
VAR: Stuart Atwell
Everton are back at home this weekend for the visit of Crystal Palace in an early kick-off that affords them the opportunity to vault themselves into the conversation around European qualification.
The Blues can move up to seventh in the table and level on points with sixth place Sheffield United before the rest of their immediate rivals in the table play their games over two weekends that will form the Premier League's first ever winter break.
Carlo Ancelotti's men face an unpredictable opponent in the form of Palace who have come to Goodison and rained on Everton's parade on a few occasions in recent years. Under Roy Hodgson, the Eagles have flirted with the top half this season and despite coming into the game back down in 14th place, they are only three points behind their hosts this weekend.
They can also be dangerous away from Selhurst Park where they set up to play on the counter-attack and use Wilfried Zaha's pace, power and trickery to try and hurt players on the break. They drew 2-2 at Manchester City in their last away game in mid-January but you have to go back to the end of December for the last time they picked up three points on their travels.
Since that 2-0 win at Burnley, they've been averaging less than a goal a game home and away so while they can be a difficult side to break down, they also have problems scoring which is why they drafted in Cenk Tosun on loan until the end of the season.
The Turk won't be able to play this weekend as he is ineligible to face his parent club which will likely mean that Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate will be marshalling the likes of Christian Benteke and Jordan Ayew in Palace's attack.
Everton will have returned to Merseyside on the crest of a wave last Saturday after their thrilling 3-2 win at Watford which went a long way to banishing the lingering bad taste of that calamitous finale to their last home match against Newcastle.
A repeat of the performance in the first 93 minutes against the Magpies would be very much welcomed by the home faithful, with the obvious proviso that it delivers the requisite goals and is backed up by disciplined game management!
Ancelotti will be forced into at least one change following Fabian Delph's red card at Vicarage Road which means he must serve a one-match suspension and it is expected that Morgan Schneiderlin will come in to partner Gylfi Sigurdsson in central midfield.
With Bernard, the main source of creativity against Burnley, Brighton and Newcastle, having sat out the win at Watford, the Brazilian could be drafted back in to replace Alex Iwobi who would drop to the bench.
Elsewhere in the side he will, fitness permitting, most likely prefer to keep the side unchanged, particularly in view of the fact that his players will have another two weeks off after this one.
That's when the reverse fixtures of what was feared would be a difficult run of games in December roll around, starting with a trip to Arsenal on the 23rd. A win over Palace would provide the ideal platform for that clash at the Emirates and games against Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool beyond.
Kick-off: 12:30pm, Saturday 8 February
Referee: David Coote
VAR: Stuart Atwell
Last Time: Everton 2 - 0 Crystal Palace
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Sidibé, Mina, Holgate, Digne, Schneiderlin, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Walcott, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin