It almost wasn’t fair at times. Struggling at the wrong end of the Championship but perhaps taking heart from Rotherham’s performance at Goodison Park in the last round, the last thing Sheffield Wednesday needed was James Rodriguez taking control of this FA Cup tie and directing it like the laid-back conductor of an orchestra re-finding its tune.
The Colombian has had a predictably injury-affected season since joining Everton from Real Madrid last summer but this evening he was looking in as fine a fettle as at any point so far in the Royal Blue jersey, something that bodes well for what will be a run of very important games in the coming weeks.
Granted, this was lower-division opposition who, apart from a couple of early sighters that demanded Robin Olsen be on his toes in the Everton goal, never really looked like pulling off a cup shock, but James has played like this before at times already this season and against far better opposition.
For the Owls, he was largely untouchable, dropping deep to pull the strings in midfield alongside a pleasingly effective André Gomes, wriggling out of tight situations, pinging cross-field balls to Richarlison, splitting the defence with sublime passes, pulling off a Rabona pass in the box to set up Gylfi Sigurdsson, and, decisively, putting pin-point corners onto the heads of Richarlison and Yerry Mina to put the result beyond doubt with a little more than an hour gone.
As if anyone needed one more reason to put this awful pandemic behind us, it’s that Evertonians might finally get to witness James’s genius in the flesh. It can’t come soon enough.
Carlo Ancelotti named a strong line-up for this Fourth Round tie, one that featured the returning Dominic Calvert-Lewin who would end his brief goal drought with his first goal in six games.
The striker had missed the previous two matches with a hamstring injury but returned to the lead the line playing off Richarlison to his left and after Adam Reach had forced a parrying save from Robin Olsen at one end with a strong drive, it was the Brazilian who had Everton’s first effort on target.
Seamus Coleman swung in a cross from the right flank that Richarlison met with a looping header that Joe Wildsmith tipped over the crossbar in the eighth minute.
Four minutes later, the Toffees thought they had opened the scoring. Rodriguez slid a perfect pass straight through the visitors’ defence that Richarlison collected and tucked inside the post but the goal was chalked off for offside. That decision robbed the match of what would have been a brilliant James assist but he would serve up two goals in the second half by more conventional means.
Andre Green then tested Olsen with a shot from just inside the penalty area and James had a promising shot blocked before Everton did break the deadlock just before the half-hour mark thanks to a really well-worked move.
It ended with André Gomes out-witting his marker, driving to the byline and fizzing the ball across goal where Calvert-Lewin slid in at the back post to knock it in. It marked the second occasion on which the Portuguese has found himself wide on left with an opportunity to whip a cross in with his left peg and it, too, is hopefully a sign of more attacking intent from a player who has been curiously unadventurous for much of his Goodison career.
Perhaps understandably, Calvert-Lewin wasn’t quite at his sharpest. He had either overlooked or not seen a couple of chances to back-heel the ball into Gylfi Sigurdsson’s path in front of goal earlier and might have doubled his tally a few minutes after his goal but failed to make contact with Sigurdsson’s tempting cross and the Icelandic midfielder had a chance of his own off James’s cheeky lay-up but lashed his shot wide.
With such a slender advantage heading into the second half, it was important that Everton didn’t take their foot off the pedal in the manner in which they did against Rotherham in the previous round.
Pleasingly for Ancelotti, they remained on the front foot and went close when Ben Godfrey headed wide at the back post, Calvert-Lewin forced a good near-post save from Wildsmith and Abdoulaye Doucouré sliced past the post following a corner.
Two goals in quick succession around the hour mark made the game safe for the Toffees, both served up by the set-piece talents of Rodriguez. First, the Colombian curled a corner onto the head of Richarlison who steered the ball past the keeper in the 59th minute; then, with an almost carbon-copy delivery, James connected with his compatriot Mina who headed home from just outside the six-yard box.
Having endured long spells of Everton set-piece takers failing to beat the first man or pose much threat from corners over recent years, no Evertonian is taking this brilliant service by James from corners and, by the same token, their consistency shouldn’t be under-estimated. They were deliveries just begging to be converted and both Richarlison and Mina were happy to oblige.
Calvert-Lewin had one more chance off James’s dinked ball over the top but his attempt to hook the ball past the keeper was cleared away from the goal line by a defender before the striker made way for Bernard.
Josh Windass, a half-time sub for the visitors, saw one shot from a direct free-kick saved and another blocked by Holgate before Ancelotti made four more changes that included senior debuts for Tyler Onyango and Thierry Small who became Everton’s youngest ever player at 16 years and 176 days old.
It was a nice moment for two players with very bright futures if the buzz at Finch Farm is any indication and while neither player really had enough time on the field to really make a big impression, the experience is something they will surely remember, even if it was at an empty Goodison.
Apart from a chance for Jonjoe Kenny, himself a second-half introduction for Ben Godfrey, that the defender spooned over after Bernard’s shot had been charged down, the last quarter of an hour passed without incident and the Blues saw out the win that ensures a meeting with either Wycombe Wanderers or Tottenham Hotspur back at Goodison on the weekend of 10th February.
Everton have four Premier League matches of potentially hugely importance before that Fifth Round tie, though, starting with Leicester back in L4 on Wednesday evening before flailing Newcastle come to town next Saturday. If all goes well in those two matches, Ancelotti’s men could find themselves almost unbelievably well-placed in two competitions heading into February.
Reader Comments (23)
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1 Posted 25/01/2021 at 08:49:42
2 Posted 25/01/2021 at 08:57:15
3 Posted 25/01/2021 at 09:04:25
4 Posted 25/01/2021 at 09:15:21
5 Posted 25/01/2021 at 09:19:34
The BBC gave it as 26 of which 8 were on target. How many do you want? 90 or more than 90? 😉
6 Posted 25/01/2021 at 10:30:15
Gomes had acres of space to strut his stuff and could have brought a picnic. James Rodriguez was on a different planet football wise to any Sheffield player and was running the show without getting out of second gear.
Onwards and upwards, Leicester will be a tough one, especially without Doucoure and Allan, but Tom and Gomes have been doing better. Leicester are without their talisman Vardy so it sort of evens things up a little. Weve already beat them so I think we can have confidence.
Then Newcastle, we have to be ruthless like last night. Like Lyndon says, get positive results from these two games and we are setting ourselves up really well to be serious contenders for the top 4.
Exciting stuff, I am delighted we are back in the game big time. Keep up the good work.
7 Posted 25/01/2021 at 10:48:40
Obviously Wednesday will be a lot sterner task, especially without Doucoure and Allan, but you take a lot out of Leicester with Vardy not able to play. But we have already beaten them with Vardy in their side, so there wont be any inferior complex or fear on Wednesday.
8 Posted 25/01/2021 at 11:41:20
More from James and more goals from play. Everton did play well , but Sheffield Weds where not a strong team.
9 Posted 25/01/2021 at 11:42:28
But we've already played Wednesday Sunday. Unless you don't mean Wednesday at any time but Wednesday after Tuesday? Though if we were drawn against Abergavenny that could be Thursday on a Wednesday.
10 Posted 25/01/2021 at 12:07:21
11 Posted 25/01/2021 at 13:24:22
Regarding the Leicester game I think we should play Godfrey, Mina, Keane and Holgate at the back as they have been a formidable unit in defence.
Then maybe we should look to accommodate Coleman and Digne further forward or if not both then one or the other. Doucoure isnt available so its important to get that position right. The midfield will be the key to winning this game. They are a very good side but then so are we.
12 Posted 25/01/2021 at 13:55:04
13 Posted 25/01/2021 at 16:27:32
14 Posted 25/01/2021 at 17:36:06
Brent #9, you've raised an important point, particularly since rumor has it that if Wednesday lose Wednesday, on Thursday Wednesday will change managers to Sunday (Oliseh), in which case he will be their Man Friday in time for their game Saturday.
While you ponder this conundrum, enjoy this musical interlude from The Kingston Trio:
15 Posted 25/01/2021 at 17:43:35
16 Posted 25/01/2021 at 17:49:23
17 Posted 25/01/2021 at 17:50:58
18 Posted 25/01/2021 at 18:09:58
19 Posted 25/01/2021 at 18:13:05
20 Posted 25/01/2021 at 19:25:21
21 Posted 26/01/2021 at 05:40:48
Maybe his improved performances have suddenly appeared because he is looking for an extension. Should he be given one would he then revert back to being the invisible man he has been in months previous?
We need more pace in the midfield area and Sigurdsson is not the man to provide it. His best days are long gone and we should send him on his way once his contract expires.
22 Posted 26/01/2021 at 08:19:29
The number of goals we have scored from set-pieces this season seems to be a record high, in recent years? James's corners and set-pieces are not whipped in with power nor pace, but the accuracy is brilliant.
We are unlikely to be able to get any resale value for Sigurdsson, whether we extend his contract or not. He is a likable and hard-working player, whom I think we can still call on from the bench, or to plug the gaps, even in next couple of years.
From the way he plays, he doesn't rely on pace, and so technically, can still play at a high level for a longer period, compared to those who rely heavily on pace or power.
Supposedly, James, Gomes and Sigurdsson are our creative players. Given the injuries that occur from time to time, having all three gives the manager options to change things around.
The plus to not renewing Sigurdssons contract, is the wage bill. But he's still prepared to put in the hard shift, and that can be valuable. The alternative is younger players stepping up to fill in the gaps (Gordon is the only young player that is an offensive player, whilst our other young talent are defensive players, and Gordon is not of the same ilk). Or we splurge on a better player.
To me, I'm on the fence about renewing his contract.
23 Posted 26/01/2021 at 12:40:26
The mark of a truly good player is an ability to really influence the outcome of a game; in this regard, Sigurdsson just doesn't cut the mustard for me. I didn't see anything from him on Sunday night to get excited about, nor do I see anything from him, week-in & week-out.
I accept he does a lot of "leg work" but this is very much just about looking busy. He doesn't ever put a foot in a tackle. He runs towards opponents in possession but suddenly pulls up 3 yards short of them if they retain the ball (which they've all worked out for themselves). And when we have the ball, he is like an orchestra conductor. Pointing out the tune he wants without ever playing a note on an instrument himself!
The best midfield players want the ball, they do not continually direct it be given to others. I can't recall him making one worthwhile pass the other evening.
I go back to my original point about influencing the outcome of a game. We all saw James Rodriguez do exactly that on Sunday night. What a joy he is to watch, by the way. As another guy posted, I hope we all get to see him "in the flesh" before this season is out. The difference between him and Sigurdsson is truly like chalk and cheese.
I accept it is all about opinions but for me Sigurdsson is simply not good enough to help us really take significant steps forward. Unless his salary is halved and he accepts being a squad player only, I would let him go.
Good luck to him should that be the case.
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