Everton began their 2020-21 Premier League campaign with a deserved 1-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur to break a run that hasn’t seen them win an game in the capital since beating West Ham in March 2019.
As the kick-off approached, Everton supporters were probably wondering most of all how their three new recruits would perform, if indeed they did all start.
The three of them did start and they all played their respective parts in a strong all-round performance that enabled the Toffees to win an opening day game for the first time since they defeated Stoke City at Goodison Park in August 2017.
Carlo Ancelotti picked a side that played in a sort of 4-5-1/4-3-3 type formation with Rodriguez starting wide right and Richarlison in more of an orthodox left-sided position.
This is only one game and there is still more to improve on. In particular the Blues need to be a bit more clinical in front of goal as they wasted some good chances today, especially Richarlison who should really have scored a couple. Perhaps it’s just opening day rustiness.
But let’s enjoy a performance and a result that seemed a million miles away from the tepid, lacklustre and infuriatingly poor efforts seen far too often last term.
James Rodriguez inevitably caught the eye most of all with his skill, technique and creativity. He had a fine debut and made five goal-scoring opportunities for his new team mates. His passing was pinpoint and incisive and he put some lovely balls into the box for the Blues strikers.
If he can keep up that level of productivity, or even increase it as he settles in and his match-fitness improves, Everton’s attacking potency will be onto another level from where its been for far too long in the recent past.
However, the contributions of Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure were just as important. Allan was outstanding, rock solid and tidy in his midfield defensive role and looked easy and totally composed in possession too.
Doucoure, as hoped, was everywhere, winning balls, breaking up Spurs attacking moves and bringing the ball forward for his new side. In fact for me, he was if only just, the man-of-the match, as I don’t think he put a foot wrong all afternoon and did so much tracking back.
Having the kind of energy, workrate and dynamism these two brought, was like night and day from last season’s static, one-paced, almost non-existent midfield.
Before we get too carried away though, it has to be admitted that Spurs had several very good chances before the Toffees scored and but for the much maligned Jordan Pickford, (not least by me!), the visitors might have conceded.
I wasn’t at all confident about Ancelotti picking him, but he had one of his best games and made the saves he needed to, so fair play to him today.
It certainly will help him to have such a strong and dominant central midfield in front of his defence and I hope that he has a more settled backline as well.
Speaking of the Everton defence, Ancelotti went with Seamus Coleman at right-back, who had a solid enough game and a central partnership of Yerry Mina and Micheal Keane.
I’m not convinced that Mina and Keane can work together long-term as they are both very similar types. I worry that against an opposition attack with more pace and movement, they might struggle a lot more.
But they were strong enough today and dealt with most things pretty well, apart from a few hairy moments defending set-pieces.
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Taking of set-pieces it was an Everton one that led to the game’s only goal. And it came from a player who was overshadowed today, but who has been the Blues chief creative outlet for the past two seasons; Lucas Digne.
Digne has been a consistently outstanding creator of chances and goals since he joined the Toffees and it was his superb free-kick that Dominic Calvert-Lewin rose to head magnificently past Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal.
Calvert-Lewin was lively and a constant threat throughout the game. His header was a superb, bullet-like effort that was unstoppable.
This is a big season, again, for the former England youth international. Let’s hope today’s goal was the first of many during this season. With a player like Rodriguez now as well as Digne to plant the ball on your head, surely he will have many more chances like this one in future matches.
So overall a very satisfying start to the new campaign with plenty of really positive evidence that the Blues new recruits will make a huge difference to the team’s prospects this season. One down, 37 more to go!