Green shoots of optimism as Benitez's Blues comfortably see off Brighton

Lyndon Lloyd 28/08/2021 35comments  |  Jump to last

Everton won 11 times on the road last season, an impressive tally no doubt but some of them were excruciatingly tight affairs, secured with a backs-to-the-wall posture and extra centre-halves thrown on by Carlo Ancelotti to see out the game. Today, with only two of his senior centre-backs available, Rafael Benitez didn’t have such contingencies available to him but, in truth, he didn’t need them. This was as professional and comfortable an away performance as you could hope for and it extended the Spaniard’s unbeaten start as the Blues’ boss to four matches.

Brighton had started their season with three straight wins in all competitions, scoring two goals in each match and looking, perhaps, as though all that promise they exhibited under Graham Potter last term — what with their slick passing, dominance in possession and impressive xG tallies — was going to come to fruition with a tilt at the top 10. It still might but Everton shut them down effectively this afternoon and notched another two goals of their own while also squandering a few more promising situations that might have made the victory all the more emphatic.

Demarai Gray scored his second Premier League goal in the space of a week, one taken with aplomb at the end of the kind of electric, direct run that the Toffees of last season were so sorely lacking, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin made it three goals in three appearances with another confidently-taken penalty… but only after Richarlison had to be put back in his box by skipper Seamus Coleman and the other more elderly statesman in the side, Andros Townsend.

The Brazilian had an ill-advised “Kevin Mirallas” moment when he seized the ball after Coleman had been felled in the box by Joel Veltman 11 minutes into the second half and insisted on taking the spot-kick himself even though it had already been decided that the first penalty awarded would go to Calvert-Lewin. Richarlison complained on Instagram afterwards that he had been waiting three years for his ”turn” to be the first-choice penalty-taker but he was successfully over-ruled and the Toffees’ No.9 wasn't unduly put off by the added unwanted pressure as he tucked the ball home from 12 yards.

It’s the kind of hunger and desire to be involved in everything that prompted Richarlison to want to play as much as he could for Brazil in the Copa America and the Olympics over the summer and then come straight back from Tokyo to feature in the opening match for Everton against Southampton. That kind of commitment comes with moments like today — the key is that it doesn’t affect him because he is part of what looks to be a much more balanced and focused Blues side under Benitez.

There were good performances throughout the line-up today. Michael Keane and Mason Holgate alleviated concerns over their hitherto questionable partnership with solid displays and Townsend kept running for the cause right up to the 90th minute when he raced back to make an important saving challenge. But it was the central midfield partnership of Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré that was at the heart of this fine victory.

The Frenchman has been revelling in his box-to-box role under the new manager and he was all-action again, covering his back four and galloping forward to support the attack while also weighing in with a couple of decent digs at goal.

Allan, however, was a thrilling mix of Peter Reid and Andre Pirlo, snapping at ankles and breaking up play in his own half and then spraying pin-point passes forward to set up both goals. Having witnessed Everton labour under an obsession with two holding midfielders for years, it’s refreshing to see a partnership in the middle with interchangeable pieces who can rotate in and out of the pivot and also go forward together when required.

Brighton made the early running and threatened in the early going to cause Everton’s back line plenty of problems, particularly as too many of the Blues’ players were wanting too much time on the ball and were being swamped in possession. Neil Maupay fired a dipping shot just over from distance in the 12th minute and Alexis Mac Allister saw a shot of his own deflected over by Michael Keane.

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The visitors visibly grew into the game as the first half progressed, however, and Townsend was the first to test Robert Sanchez in the Seagulls’ goal with a low drive that the keeper did very well to turn behind.

Richarlison, who hadn’t been given an inch by Brighton to that point, smashed a half-volley into the stands as Everton began to assert themselves further but they broke the deadlock five minutes before the break thanks to a fine, direct move instigated by Allan. The Brazilian picked out Gray's run with an excellent pass and the winger drove past Adam Bennett from deep before drilling the ball across the keeper and into the far corner to make it 1-0.

Calvert-Lewin then collected Allan's smart back-heel as the Toffees looked to double their lead before half-time but his shot flashed across goal and wide of the far post.

Brighton began the second period with purpose and when substitute Joel Veltman crossed low for Leandro Trossard, his shot was stopped by Keane but when Doucouré was adjudged to have committed a foul just outside the box, it have Pascal Gross the chance to repeat the feat he achieved in this fixture two years ago with a direct free-kick.

Jordan Pickford was equal to it this time, however, the England man making a terrific stop as the shot flew through a gap in the defensive wall before Veltman blazed over from 20-odd yards.

A minute later, though, Everton were handed a chance to make it 2-0 when Allan threaded a perfectly-weighted ball inside the full-back for Seamus Coleman and Veltman sent the Irishman sprawling in the box. Referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot and Video Assistant Referee Simon Hooper backed up his decision.

After Coleman and Townsend had pulled rank and insisted that the designated penalty-taker get the ball, Calvert-Lewin powered the ball under Sanchez's dive to put the Blues into a strong position at two goals to the good.

Pickford beat away an effort from Trossard as the hosts tried to get back into the game straight away and the Belgian had a free-kick deflected behind but it was Everton who looked the more likely to add to the scoring in the closing stages, even after Calvert-Lewin had to come off with what looked to be a thigh strain.

A lovely passing move almost unlocked the Seagulls’ defence for Gray to score again but Louis Dunk timed his tackle in the box to perfection before Alex Iwobi played Richarlison in on the counter-attack but he lashed wide from the angle. On another breakaway, Doucouré received a return ball from Gray but ignored Richarlison to shoot himself and forced a save from Sanchez while Iwobi himself also had a late shot blocked as Benitez's men saw the game out with laudable composure.

In the final reckoning, Everton, looking balanced, organised and confident, had just 34% of the possession on the day but managed 14 shots on goal, five of those on target. In that latter respect, it was “night and day” from the turgid display the Blues put on in this same fixture under Ancelotti in a costly goalless draw just a few months ago.

With the prospect of more movement in the transfer market before Tuesday’s deadline and the hope of adding a bit more fire-power and flair to the attack, this could well be a more profitable season than many fans were fearing. It is early days, of course, but Benitez so far is showing himself to be a man with a plan and a good sense of how he wants his new charges to play.

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Reader Comments (35)

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Ben King
1 Posted 28/08/2021 at 18:09:32
Brilliant win and we actually look like a team that plays for 90 mins

Long long way to go but

A) Already super impressed by Rafa;
B) The ‘team' looks better than under Carlo (I'm aware it's only been 4 games);
C) Squad isn't big enough – we need to find a way to back Rafa in the transfer market;
D) It's become fun to watch the Blues again!!!!

nb: Where is Godfrey??

Jerome Shields
2 Posted 29/08/2021 at 03:50:58
An interchanging, inter-passing midfield was the key in this game, Lyndon, as you described, ably assisted by Townsend. Dynamic in attack and determined in defending.

The defence were moving forward with the attack and moving back as part of a tight unit, with each defender knowing their job and doing it. The attacking options were enhanced with good final-third passing and movement.

Everton looked solid and professional; fine-tuning of individual performances, with a few astute additions, could finally result in the Everton we all have been looking for, for so long.

A real confidence-building teamwork display.

David Pearl
4 Posted 29/08/2021 at 08:28:07
Great report as always Lyndon but Michael beat you with his headline 'Consummate predation steals the Seagulls' chips.'

Benitez has taken off the shackles; the team know what they are doing and are enjoying themselves. Townsend and Gray can't believe their luck and our centre-mids have hit top gear. And to think Allan was written off after the first game of the season.


Gareth Williams
5 Posted 29/08/2021 at 08:58:05
A great win; we are playing so much better than last season.

It's a pity we did not get Rafa before Carlo came...

Mal van Schaick
6 Posted 29/08/2021 at 09:31:42
Spot on #1. A few ins and outs will strengthen the team with decent quality and, given our start under Rafa, I'm optimistic for at least a Top 6 finish. The key may be no injuries to key players.
Kevin Walsh
7 Posted 29/08/2021 at 10:43:55
Be brave, attack, and you will have almost all Evertonians behind you, just like Howard's Way. What we had to endure last season was Coward's Way by the Don, sorry... Con Ancelotti.

The Professor even brought his star pupil with him but let him stay off school when he wanted, a spoilt brat.

I know where you live, Rafa. If you keep playing with bravery, dynamism and integrity, I'll be round with a bottle of wine, flowers for the missus, and I'll even cut the grass.

Brian Williams
8 Posted 29/08/2021 at 10:55:47
Kevin #7.

Make sure you take a long extension lead, very long! 🤣

Ray Mia
9 Posted 29/08/2021 at 11:01:05
Great result, great performance. I echo the points about adding to the squad, everyone saying a winger, a striker, a right-back...

I'm also looking for us to move out players that don't want to play for the club... Moise Keane looks set to rejoin Juventus (where I'm sure he will do very well – he clearly never settled) and the disappointment that has become James Rodriguez after such a blazing start last season...

Point being is, there is no point having players take numbers and salaries that they don't want to earn... Which brings me to our manager.

I'm very pleased with his attitude; we're all seeing his abilities and knowledge and experience, he's been in charge less than 8 weeks and he's already transformed the playing style and given clear instructions to an expensive and talented squad that has woefully underperformed for >5 years now.

We've spent >£300M in 5 years. More money on this squad than in the entire history of the club. We've seen very little return – no silverware, middle-of-the-road league results, pedestrian commitment, and a loss of identity. Successive managers have stripped the club of pride. We've been absolutely left behind by the old Big 5... We are barely a Top 10 team and we think we are Top 4... Look at the reality of the league table over the last 8 years...

I am really pleased that we finally appointed a manager that a) wants to be our manager; b) has the pedigree to be our manager; and c) has just gotten on with the job of coaching our expensively constructed squad...

Is it too early to tell? Absolutely not: 8 weeks in, look at the results, look at the performances, look at the press conferences and post-match interviews. This is a manager with a plan, and he's been allowed to run with it – and the results are showing. Yes, we got mauled by Man Utd... a great game that ruthlessly exposed what our weaknesses are. But this manager is showing that he can learn, and adapt, and change the shape of games – mid-game. The characteristics of an exceptional manager.

The day I learned Ancelloti was leaving – on the day he left – I was sitting outside the Mal Maison Hotel next to The Liver Building with a colleague. The news broke, I was pretty stunned like all of us were...

Even though we finished a rubbish 10th, and even though our home form was appalling, and we laboured and struggled to kill games, and we seemed at sea on many occasions - showing little spine almost every game... I was still really happy we had a manager with Ancelloti's history and class.

But the moment I read he'd gone. I looked up and said to my colleague, "Rafa Benitez." I have always been convinced he was the right man, at the right time, right club and right city... I knew at the time his name wasn't in the frame, and I knew there would be many, many, many Toffees – and many on this site, including Lyndon & Co, that would need convincing...

Convinced yet?

Of course he's going to lose some. But he's going to win more, and he's going to coach a very expensive squad, he's shown he can identify players we need – to play the way he wants them to play, and build strength and depth... Just as (if not more) important... He is showing a winning mentality. He wins trophies.

We need to win a trophy. 1995... I can't believe it's been so long. We need silverware. We lost our 'once every 10 years' rule under Moyes...

We absolutely need to change that narrative; if it's Benitez that can do that – great, especially as he would write a bigger name for himself in this City – in Royal Blue, if he managed it with us...

Time to get behind our Manager – in full...

Only the best will do.

Lee Courtliff
10 Posted 29/08/2021 at 11:45:58
Just like to say thanks to Andy Burke for recommending a decent stream yesterday.

Forget the results, I've actually enjoyed watching us play so far this season. Pacy, direct and some lovely interchanges.

BTW, Burnley have just signed Maxwell Cornet from Lyon for around £15M. I mention this because he plays on the left side, winger or full back. And, as far as I know, there have been no rumours of Charlie Taylor (their first choice left-back) being sold!!

Dwight McNeil could be on his way to...

Brent Stephens
11 Posted 29/08/2021 at 13:08:30
Nice report, Lyndon, as ever. Allan was superb – after some were writing him off at the start of the season.

Gray – another really good contribution, ditto Townsend. Two additions to the first team that have made an immediate impact.

Mal van Schaick
12 Posted 29/08/2021 at 13:23:01
Everton seem to better balanced with Gray and Townsend in the team. A few more out and a few more in and we can look forward to the rest of the season.
Mark Murphy
13 Posted 29/08/2021 at 13:23:43
Thoroughly enjoyed the whole day and it's great to enjoy an away win with our great away support. There were empty seats and I'm thinking it may be because people are worried about ID and Covid checks?

My spare was in a girl's name and I wasn't even asked for Covid pass so I wouldn't let that stop anyone getting a ticket for the ride!


Jay Harris
14 Posted 29/08/2021 at 13:55:37
Echo all the positivity. A great performance all round.

The only negative for me was Calvert-Lewin's injury. Let's hope it was only a mild strain..

Colin Glassar
15 Posted 29/08/2021 at 15:02:03
If we'd been counting on “green shoots” over the last couple of years, we'd be living in the bloody Amazon jungle by now. Still a good start and long may it continue.
Ajay Gopal
16 Posted 29/08/2021 at 17:07:04
Lee (10), I too am a big fan of Dwight McNeil, just the type of clever, hardworking, attacking midfielder we need. If we were to sign him, who would he replace from yesterday’s starting XI: Townsend, perhaps?
Lee Courtliff
17 Posted 29/08/2021 at 22:07:25
Squad depth, Ajay. That's what we need.
Paul Birmingham
18 Posted 29/08/2021 at 22:44:37
For me, the reality is the last 35 years and the matters beyond EFC are matters within our reasonable control, and the other factors – Heysel, Patomine Board, as starters and the rest, people with due respect, as part of the club, we can reek, - Media, Red Echo etc.

But Evertonians, are Born, Live and Die a Blue, and each to their own view, respectfully.

This season is another massive challenge but very early days, for me we are getting the best tune from any squad in many years.

I've taken age-old adages from the Alan Biley debut a month ago, and yesterday for me was like being at the Goldstone – Kevin Sheedy's brace and sublime second goal, if scored in modern times would be given grace to Zico, Marco van Basten, Ronney, Messi, etc.

The initial touch, to almost kill and caresse the ball and roll it in, for me has not been met closely in almost 40 years.

Everton at that time were emerging and becoming top class.

I do sincerely hope and as being as Partizan as an Evertonian, that this season, could become a catalyst season, genuinely as it was almost 40, years ago.

“What's Our Name?”

Paul Birmingham
19 Posted 29/08/2021 at 22:56:58
Colin, Lol “The Lost Empire”..

It could have been, but we know that history and fate over the last fifty years, has made history.

But the banter, grit, whit, fortitude and passion of Evertonians, is the best !

Dave Long
20 Posted 29/08/2021 at 23:05:00
The astounding real story behind Roy Keane's Aston Villa resignation revealed

Bit off topic, but watched excellent Roy Keane interview by Gary Neville. He mentions being dismayed with some of the players at Villa when he was assistant manager. He was annoyed with attitude and professionalism little delve into who it might be. Our own F Delph is probably one of the culprits

Danny O’Neill
21 Posted 30/08/2021 at 00:26:42
Really good report as always, and I like the call out of Allan and Doucoué, Lyndon.

Allan was outstanding. I love that mix of Reid and Pirlo description!!

I've said many times, although we have Seamus, who demonstrated his leadership qualities when the kids were arguing over who's ball it was, Allan is a captain without the armband.

Constantly talking and pointing to the team. And something we haven't had in many a year of being plucky or nice little Everton, he's a flea in the official's ear. Watch closely when Coleman goes down after being on the end of his pinpoint pass. He's the first to be telling the ref what decision he needs to make.

Jamie Sweet
22 Posted 30/08/2021 at 00:55:50
Rafa needs to stop all this good management malarkey or I might have to start liking the guy!
Jerome Shields
23 Posted 30/08/2021 at 06:11:08
Everton at last have leaders in the team: Coleman, Townsend and Allan lead throughout the game, with direct instructions from Rafa.

I don't think we will get the helpless manager look of Silva and Ancelotti on the sideline this season. Everton will be more effectively adaptable with leadership both on and off the pitch doing everything possible whilst there is still time on the clock.

This will be needed as opposition teams try different tactics to counter Everton as the season progresses.

"But we huffed and puffed without really playing to our highest level and when you are playing a team that is in good form like Everton are, that are well organised with good players, that it is hard for us to get results and that has been proven today. " — Graham Potter.

Martin Mason
24 Posted 30/08/2021 at 09:03:57
Two other contenders for MotM? Michael Keane and Mason Holgate were magnificent. I'm very happy to see Everton exceeding expectations and playing pretty good football with it.
Bill Fairfield
25 Posted 30/08/2021 at 09:25:05
Great to see the team playing attacking football with power and pace. It's been a very encouraging start to the season.
Steve Carse
26 Posted 30/08/2021 at 13:25:02
Mark (13), every ground in the country is experiencing less than full turnouts, Brighton was no exception. In fact it was well below capacity in both the visiting and home sections. Our not selling out for an away PL game must be the first time in 3 or 4 years. Doubtless a strong Covid factor at play, be it because of supporters' edginess over virus transmission or the vaccination/testing restrictions on eligibility to attend.
Doubtless Arsenal will continue to announce 61,000 sellouts though.
Brent Stephens
27 Posted 30/08/2021 at 13:32:06
Steve, was Brighton really not a sell-out for the away section? I thought the Everton site had it down as all tickets sold. I know that for the away game at Leeds there were some empty seats due to severe traffic problems. I wonder if there were similar or other reasons for empty "sold" away seats at Brighton?

Peter Neilson
28 Posted 30/08/2021 at 13:50:03
Yes Brighton was an away sell out. While a few might not have made the trip it’s not easily possible to calculate as there were quite a few of us in the aisles and doubled up in the rows. Top day out and best team performance in an age. Yet to hear “Rafa fantastico”, give it a derby win!
Brent Stephens
29 Posted 30/08/2021 at 14:05:04
Apart from which, Peter, there are always guys up and down getting the beers in.
Phil Guyers
30 Posted 30/08/2021 at 14:31:34
I was surrounded by about 300 empty seats in the section I was sitting in at Brighton on Saturday. Given that it was 'sold out' for away fans, what is the explanation for this?
Peter Neilson
31 Posted 30/08/2021 at 14:53:28
Maybe, and just guessing, some Blues couldn’t sell their away tickets as we only got them 48 hours before and they had the individuals name on it?
Paul O'Neill
32 Posted 30/08/2021 at 18:09:05
Great performance and result. I’m quite disappointed at the absence of Ben Godfrey though. Is he injured? Or not part of Rafa’s plans?
Terry White
33 Posted 30/08/2021 at 18:20:25
I think that if you followed this and other EFC sites, Paul (#32), you would know that Godfrey is recovering from Covid. To suggest, even in jest, that he would not be a part of our team development, is, frankly, ludicrous.
Mark Murphy
34 Posted 30/08/2021 at 19:27:09
Peter @31,

That's my point. My ticket had a girl's name on it (not mine) and it made no difference. I understand that it doesn't matter. I was just going to tell them it was my mother-in-law's ticket and the sour auld cow had decided to go to Anfield instead but I wasn't even asked.

Nicholas Ryan
35 Posted 30/08/2021 at 23:57:43
It would be difficult for Rafa to 'park the bus' as he clearly doesn't tolerate 'passengers'!
Phil Guyers
36 Posted 31/08/2021 at 13:09:43
Peter @31 I take your point about some fans not being able to move the tickets on in the time available but this was a 'block' of empty seats as though they hadn't been sold in the first place.

It was just really annoying to see the empty seats when we know there are so many Blues who would love to be sat there and can't get away tickets.

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