Everton defender Mykolenko finally finding his feet

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 09: Vitalii Mykolenko of Everton in action during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on April 9, 2022 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 09: Vitalii Mykolenko of Everton in action during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on April 9, 2022 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images) /

There were many positives for Everton fans and manager Frank Lampard to take from Saturday’s 1-0 win over Manchester United. One of them was the performance of Vitalii Mykolenko.

Among the excellent individual efforts such as those of Jordan Pickford, Fabian Delph, Allan, Alex Iwobi, Anthony Gordon and Richarlison, Mykolenko too excelled for Everton.

The Ukrainian left-back has certainly had a difficult time since he made the move to Goodison Park from Dynamo Kiev at the beginning of January.

First of all, he was coming in to replace a popular player in Lucas Digne who had fallen out with then manager Rafa Benitez and was hustled out of the club just after Mykolenko arrived.

And, having just signed for the Blues’ on New Years Day, he then saw the man he was expecting to work under sacked only a week or so later.

Then, while Mykolenko was still adjusting to life in England, the Premier League and a new manager having played only a few times in a struggling team, Russia invaded his country, something that obviously affected him considerably. He also had to miss several games over Covid rules.

All of this has made for a particularly challenging first few months on Merseyside for the 21-year-old Ukraine international defender.

He’s been in and out of the side and has therefore understandably struggled to make much of an initial impression with his team mates and the supporters.

Understandably, although they have been patient, some Evertonians might have started to think maybe he was going to prove another expensive signing who didn’t work out.

However, recently Mykolenko has started to show what talent he does have. Against Burnley away and then again particularly on Saturday afternoon he produced an excellent all-round display.

The Ukrainian was very solid in defence against United and looked suitably composed and comfortable on the ball, always looking to be positive and support the attack. It was a strong modern full-back’s performance. Perhaps, he is finally finding his feet.

If he can maintain this sort of form, it will give Lampard some precious respite as he attempts to find a settled side with so many crucial matches coming up over the remaining weeks of the campaign.

In addition, I think Mykolenko settling in will also help another young player who has had an up and down time since joining the Toffees: Ben Godfrey.

The summer 2020 deadline day signing from Norwich City started his Everton career well enough filling in superbly for the injured Digne at left-back for a period during the 2020-21 season.

Godfrey was however brought in to play in central defence where he spent most of his time at Norwich, although he has also played in midfield too.

But, he has struggled when moving to centre-back this term and appeared to be having a sort of ‘second season’ syndrome at Everton. The constant upheavals behind the scenes and being moved around in the team so much obviously don’t help either.

Against United though he had arguably his most impressive game since joining the club. Godfrey was very assured defensively and even had a commanding game in the air, something that has been a particular failing of his recently.

Godfrey seems to prefer playing on the left where he looks most naturally comfortable, and if he can develop a really good understanding with Mykolenko then these two might represent the long-term on that side of the Blues’ defence.

This sort of understanding and combination is essential for a solid defence. That’s something the Toffees’ have lacked for far too long with so much chopping and changing due to different managers and tactics as well as injuries undermining any hope of finding a settled, consistent unit.

Furthermore, having top quality full-backs who can both defend and provide that crucial width and attacking outlet on the flanks, is a key factor to most successful modern sides and important in allowing you to play a high-tempo pressing game. Look at Liverpool and Manchester City to see that.

With young players like Mykolenko and Gordon coming through (and another exciting full-back in Nathan Patterson waiting for his chance) despite how difficult this season has been, Lampard has some promising young talent to build on for the future – assuming he can keep this team up.