2020 might feel in many ways like it’s been an interminable year but it wasn’t all that long ago that Everton, under Sam Allardyce, were ranked rock bottom in the Premier League in terms of attacking production. 20th for shots taken, 20th for shots on target, 20th for chances created and 20th for chances created from open play.
While there was always the feeling that Farhad Moshiri would choose to get his over-arching dream back on track by binning the most unpalatable managerial appointment in the club’s history at the end of 2017-18, nothing was guaranteed and that uncertainty made for sobering times for Evertonians.
Fast forward two and a half years and the outlook at Goodison Park has been transformed. In between, Marco Silva's tenure may have come to an unsuccessful end but he was at least responsible for the arrival of Richarlison and thanks to the Brazilian, the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti and three astute signings this summer, Everton are now an entirely different proposition from an attacking perspective.
So far this season, they’ve played three matches in all competitions and had 64 shots on goal. Admittedly, 32 of those came against League Two Salford City on Wednesday with an almost entirely different team but the statistic does, perhaps, underline a general shift in mindset since last season.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the platform that a primarily defensive acquisition in the form of Allan has been to the side going forward but it's James Rodriguez, a player who promises to be a goldmine of assists for the Blues, who is, predictably, grabbing the headlines.
In his first two games as an Everton player, the Colombian has created more “big chances” than André Gomes, Tom Davies, Fabian Delph and Morgan Schneiderlin created in all of last season combined and 40% of those Gylfi Sigurdsson carved out in 2019-20. He weighed in with an assist this afternoon, scored what will hopefully be the first of many goal in royal blue and generally underscored the size of the coup Ancelotti and Marcel Brands effected when they acquired him from Real Madrid.
And it's Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a player who flew under the radar somewhat last weekend despite scoring the winning goal against Tottenham, who stands to benefit most from the transformation in midfield. The 22-year-old ensured that the lion’s share of the limelight was his this time by grabbing his first hat-trick to bury a spirited West Brom as Everton ran out 5-2 winners to temporarily top the Premier League table for the first time in three years.
Although the Baggies levelled the game early in the second half through an admittedly brilliant Matheus Pereira free-kick when they were playing with only 10 men following Kieran Gibbs’s dismissal in first-half stoppage time, it was pleasing (from the perspective of analysis of the Toffees’ performance) that James’s goal had put the home side ahead because it largely negated any notion that Ancelotti’s men wouldn't have won had it remained 11 vs 11.
It's true that West Brom gave Everton a scare in the first 20 minutes or so and Ancelotti acknowledged afterwards that the visitors had been better than his own for much of the first half. It's to Slaven Bilic’s credit that his side came out with as much fire, energy and attacking effectiveness after looking so short on quality against Leicester in the first game back in the top flight. But, by the same token, there is a swagger and a determination about this new-look Blues to go with their impressive new signings that breeds confidence that they will create the chances to drag them back from losing situations.
There were warning signs from a defensive perspective, however; precedents that will give the manager and his coaching staff things to work on for when they face more difficult opposition in the near future. Indeed, had Jake Livermore’s shot flown a few inches to the right and not cannoned off the outside of Jordan Pickford’s post, Everton would have been 2-0 down with a quarter of the contest played.
The England ‘keeper had betrayed some early nerves at the back when he knocked Yerry Mina’s first-minute back-pass straight to Matheus Pereira and the Brazilian teed up Grady Diangana for a low shot that Pickford had to get down to save. But it was Mina’s backing off and then failure to engage Diangana as the winger broke at speed that had Ancelotti berating him angrily in the 10th minute. West Brom’s new signing from West Ham took full advantage of the space allowed him by hammering a shot past Pickford to give the visitors the lead.
Everton had by that point already had one great chance that Calvert-Lewin could only head wide when he looked odds-on to score while Richarlison also fired off-target, Calvert-Lewin saw another effort deflected behind and Allan lined up a 25-yarder that was too close to Sam Johnstone.
The game was surprisingly open, however, and Pickford parried away a shot from Pereira before Darnell Furlong’s cross from the right picked out Livermore sitting five yards off Mina but he found the woodwork rather than the goal.
That provided a bit of a wake-up call to Everton to tighten things up a bit more and renew their efforts going forward. And after Richarlison had seen another effort deflected wide and Michael Keane had headed a corner over the bar, Calvert-Lewin struck his first of the afternoon to restore parity.
Abdoulaye Doucouré and Seamus Coleman exchanged passes down the right flank and the Irishman accelerated past his man on the outside, clipped a dangerous cross into the six-yard box where Richarlison and Furlong challenged for it and it fell to Calvert-Lewin who back-heeled it over the goal line. The referee’s assistant’s flag went up straight away against the Blues No. 9 but a check by Video Assistant Referee, Simon Hooper, corroborated the Brazilian’s fervent assertion that he hadn’t touched it. The last touch before Calvert-Lewin’s had been Furlong’s so the goal stood.
A loose touch by DCL at one end allowed West Brom to power forward again on the counter-attack and Pickford had to bat away another shot from Pereira. A succession of corners back at the Park End, however, as the first period wound down was followed by a piece of individual brilliance from Rodriguez.
The Colombian needed just one touch after receiving the ball on the edge of the box following 18 consecutive Everton passes, Richarlison’s purposeful run and a timely block by Gomes on an opponent to set himself for a swing of his wand of a left foot and the ball arrowed into the far corner of the goal past Johnstone’s despairing dive.
That might have been the last action of the half had it not been for Gibbs’s inexplicable rush of blood to the head immediately after the restart following the goal. An innocuous-looking coming together with Rodriguez ended with the West Brom man striking James in the face and earning a straight red card, one that made the visitors’ task that much harder. His manager would also get his marching orders from Mike Dean for remonstrating with him on the field after the whistle for half-time and he spent the second half watching on from the stands.
West Brom initially made a decent fist of their situation, though, because after Allan had conceded a free-kick 25-yards from goal, Pereira swept the resulting free-kick over the defensive wall (for some two of the four players elected not to jump to try and block it for some reason) to make it 2-2 less than two minutes into the second half.
And while West Brom continued to attack with belief despite their numerical disadvantage, Everton’s irresistible attacking options eventually prevailed. Richarlison won a free-kick in the 54th minute, Lucas Digne swung in a free-kick, the Brazilian connected with a close-range header which the keeper did well to push away off his line but Keane was on hand to tuck away the rebound.
Eight minutes after that, Everton scored arguably the pick of their five goals on the day. An initial attack had been repelled but the Blues retained possession, worked it across the outside of the penalty area before James knocked a perfect ball over the top to Richarlison who knocked it goal-wards past the keeper and Calvert-Lewin slid in to toe it over the line and make it 4-2.
Then, after Doucouré, who had been on a yellow card since early in the first half, made way for Gylfi Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin wrapped up his hat-trick. When Digne’s free-kick glanced off the walk and over, Everton won yet another corner which was curled in by Rodriguez and Calvert-Lewin met it with the back of his head to send it flying in past the stranded Johnstone.
It could be argued that no one deserved to get a goal more at that stage than the tireless Richarlison and he would have the ball in the net with a wonderful finish from Sigurdsson’s arcing ball into the box but the flag went up — correctly this time — to deny him his first of the season. On the evidence thus far, he shouldn’t have to wait much longer.
Perhaps out of mercy for a beaten side, the Blues eased off the pedal in the final 20 minutes and Ancelotti threw Alex Iwobi and Moise Kean on for the closing stages and apart from an excellent volleyed cross by Digne that Richarlison glanced wide, there wasn’t much danger of the Baggies’ margin of defeat getting any wider.
So, three wins out of three in all competitions and a brief stint at the top of the Premier League represent a terrific start to the new season for Ancelotti and Everton. The exciting thing about this team now is the variety of options they have going forward and the multiple threats they carry in the final third.
Demonstrably capable of scoring from set-pieces (as they were last season as well), the Toffees now have a player in James capable of conjuring a goal or assist from seemingly innocuous situations to add to the goal-poaching talents of Calvert-Lewin. Once they had gone back ahead in this game, there was only going to be one winner.
Again, on the defensive side, there is work to do, particularly given that Ancelotti has three central midfielders who are all capable of operating in a holding role but who also like to get forward. The problem this afternoon was that too often they were all caught in advanced positions together and that caused problems on a number of occasions, including for the opening goal.
Whether Allan is content to sit in like a traditional No. 6 or whether the manager has to work out some sort of rotation when the team is going forward is something for the Italian to work out but he has at least had the issue exposed without any cost in points which is as positive a development early in the season as you can ask for.
Fleetwood in the cup next with, we expect, another extensively-changed team before a different kind of challenge looms at Selhurst Park against a Crystal Palace side that also has two League wins from two to start the campaign. Come away with a win from that one and Everton will have added another piece of evidence to support to the notion that they can be top-six contenders this season.
Everton eventually built on their impressive start to the new season when newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion were well beaten at Goodison Park in Saturday's lunchtime kick-off.
Of course, the game was played behind closed doors due to continuing fears over spreading Covid-19. TV coverage in the UK was available to BT Sport subscribers, Live on BT Sport 1 from 11:30 am.
Everton were unchanged from last week at Spurs. Iwobi came onto the bench for Walcott, who was dropped from the squad. Holgate, Branthwaite, Delph and Gbamin are out injured.
Everton kicked off in brilliant sunshine but Pickford almost immediately creating a cloud with a ridiculous non-clearance that could have easily led to a goal but he fortunately saved the ensuing shot.
But a very neat piece of play won an early corner at the other end, and an absolutely brilliant delivery from Rodriguez that Calvert-Lewin should have totally buried but he completely missed the target. So much for being "more clinical"!
Coleman did well to get back and cover but the nonsense playing out from the back from the goal-kick caused all sorts of panic until Pickford finally put his boot through the ball. An Everton attack looked like it should have created more but Calvert-Lewin could not get much purchase on the header.
James swung a free-kick in way too deep, with Mina going down but off the ball. Dianganna got free and scampered through, firing well to open the scoring, with absolutely dreadful defending from Everton.
Everton should have done better from a free-kick that seemed to drop for Richarlison but he drove it wide, off a defender, so he claimed, but no corner given. Everton's play lacked confidence and fluidity, with West Brom making things difficult for the Blues, who kept playing it backwards.
Some close-quarter play saw Calvert-Lewin win a corner that was cleared out, Doucouré slipping and fouling Dianganna for a very early yellow card. Allan hit a crisp shot from a long way out, straight at Johnstone.
Robinson got forward and tested Pickford, who had to punch clear as Everton refused to settle, while Slaven Bilic's upstarts from the Championship looked very comfortable striding forward against an increasingly nervy Everton side.
Another Everton corner was defended away and WBA put together a lovely move that had Everton chasing shadows, Livermore getting in to shoot and hit the post off Pickford. Wake up, Everton!
Richarlison got a glimpse but was staggering as he hit the ball well wide. Digne, with acres of space ahead of him, stops and passes backwards. But they did finally build an attack and win another corner, this time stolen off Richarlison's head.
A long throw-in was flicked goalwards and then behind leading to a series of corners, the last one getting headed over the bar by Keane. From another good forward move, the ball was backheeled in by Calvert-Lewin from 6 inches after he had gone too far forward and was flagged offside, but Richarlison hadn't actually headed the ball forward to him — it had come off a defender, so it should be a goal. A loooong VAR check finally reached the right decision.
Calvert-Lewin lazily gives the ball up allowing WBA to spring another attack that waltzed through all the way to Pickford, who did well enough to stop it. Still, despite getting the goal back, Everton looked simply awful, farting about with the ball so much around the centre-line. Finally, Rodriguez dug out a chance but his ball in was too close to the goalkeeper.
Everton won another soft corner that was again delivered well by Rodriguez but punched away by Johnstone. Smart thought by Gomes set up Richarlison to win another corner, but Digne's effort was cleared, although the workaround won another corner, Digne driving it too deep this time.
Finally, a moment of sheer quality that we had been led to expect from James Rodriguez, after great desire from Richarlison to feed the Colombian, who's simple touch and left-foot strike inside the post was a goal all the way.
Soon after the restart, Gibbs was then shown red for reacting to Rodriguez, smacking him in the face for getting gently barged after the ball had gone. Bilic was livid and it left a serious bad taste in the mouth, but West Brom would have to play the second half with 10 men and now a goal down — and then a manager down as Bilic continued to berate the referee at half-time until he too was shown a red card! What an astounding turnaround of fortunes...
West Brom came out of the blocks determined to make amends, winning a free-kick that was brilliantly delivered by Pereira from an awful long way out, Pickford day-dreaming, not even getting his arm out to stop it.
But Everton responded quickly: a free-kick wide left was put to good use by Digne, who picked out Richarlison for a powerful header that Johnstone could only parry and Keane was first to the ball to drive home Everton's third.
West Brom, amazingly, still looked full of confidence, and caused Everton problems at both ends, defending resolutely and attacking with simplistic clarity in a manner that continued to confound the leaden-legged Blues, denied so much space on their own home turf.
But another exquisite moment from Rodriguez, a gorgeous clip over everyone, perfectly weighted for Richarlison to shoot past the keeper, was going wide with Calvert-Lewin sliding in at the far post to score from 3 inches out. That made it 4-2.
Rodriguez was fouled just outside the dee. Sigurdsson came on for Doucouré, with Digne clipping a wonderful strike off the bar. Form the corner, Calvert-Lewin crouched and twisted, the ball flying in off the back of his neck! What a hat-trick for 5-2!!!
That finally blew the mojo out of poor old West Brom, who knew the game was up. Richarlison got past his man to convert a fantastic cross with a brilliant volley but he had ventured a foot offside and Everton's sixth goal was called back.
As Everton played out the last 20 minutes, knocking the ball around casually, a brilliant set-up for Kean was lashed woefully wide of goal. Another great play deserved a goal, Sigurdsson's wide crossfield ball to Digne volleyed first-time at Richarlison's head but he did not make the clean contact required that would have brought goal number six.
The whistle finally brought to an end a crazy game that Everton had looked lost in for 40 minutes, but some absolutely brilliant interventions from James Rodriguez were key in turning things around and making his favourite manager very happy.
Scorers: Calvert-Lewin (31', 62', 66'), Rodríguez (45'), Keane (53'); Diangana (10'), Pereira (48')
Everton (4-1-4-1): Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne, Allan, Doucouré [Y:16'] (65' Sigurdsson), Gomes, Rodriguez (78' Kean), Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin (71' Iwobi).
Subs not Used: Virginia, Kenny, Davies, Bernard.
West Bromwich Albion (3-4-2-1): Johnstone; Ajayi, Bartley, O'Shea; Furlong, Livermore, Sawyers (75' Field), Gibbs [R:45']; Pereira (70' Phillips), Diangana (71' Edwards); Robinson.
Subs not Used: Button, Kipre, Harper, Robson-Kanu.
Referee: Mike Dean
VAR: Simon Hooper
Everton hope to build on their impressive start to the new season when newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion visit Goodison Park for the Saturday lunchtime kick-off in the Premier League.
The Toffees followed up their stirring 1-0 win at Tottenham with a comfortable victory in the second round of the Carabao Cup, although the triumph over Salford City was achieved with just two the starters from the weekend.
Michael Keane marshalled the defence with authority and grabbed the opening goal while Lucas Digne was required to step off the bench to replace Jarrad Branthwaite when the young centre-half was forced off with an injury after just 24 minutes.
Both players will be back in the side for the visit of the Baggies, with Carlo Ancelotti expected to restore the entire XI that started against Spurs. That would mean home debuts for Allan, Abdoulaye Doucouré and James Rodriguez, all three of whom will have had the benefit of an extra week training with their new team-mates.
Not that there was any hint of unfamiliarity about Everton in North London on Sunday. Ancelotti's men put on a performance of pleasing cohesion and effectiveness and the Italian will be looking for more of the same this weekend.
In terms of formation, it will surely be a case of “same again”, with James playing down the right, Allan sitting in front of the back four and Doucouré supporting André Gomes in a more dynamic, box-to-box role.
It is unclear whether Fabian Delph or Alex Iwobi, both of whom have been missing since pre-season with suspected soft-tissue injuries, will be passed fit to take spots on the bench but Branthwaite's injury means that Lewis Gibson will likely be called into the squad as defensive cover.
West Brom had a chastening re-introduction to the top flight after a two-year absence when they met Leicester for a Midlands derby at the Hawthorns on Sunday. A 3-0 defeat, by way of a debut goal for Timothy Castagne and a brace of penalties by Jamie Vardy underlined, perhaps, the struggle that the Baggies will have to stay up this season.
A general lack of cutting edge up front is something Slaven Bilic is hoping to rectify before the transfer window closes next month and although he has just added Conor Gallagher on loan from Chelsea (it's not clear whether he will be eligible for this weekend) and veteran Branislav Ivanovic, who won't be ready to play just yet.
Nevertheless, Bilic does have players capable of producing in attack. All three of his new permanent acquisitions, Matheus Pereira, Callum Robinson and Grady Diangana, caused Leicester some problems before the Foxes eventually ran away with it but the Croatian will no doubt return to Goodison charging his players with generally being disciplined and hard to break down.
Those are the kinds of teams that Everton have had problems breaking down in the past but the hope and expectation is that this new-look Toffees side will have the guile and creativity to prise open even the most stubborn of defences. In that regard, it will certainly be an early test of the Blues' new line-up but one which Ancelotti will be confident the players can pass if they perform the same way they did at Spurs.
Kick-off: 12:30pm, Saturday 19 September 2020
Referee: Mike Dean
VAR: Simon Hooper
Last Time: Everton 1 - 1 West Bromwich Albion
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne, Allan, Doucouré, Gomes, Rodriguez, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin