Sean Dyche opened his reign as Everton manager with a fine and deserved 1-0 win over Arsenal at Goodison Park yesterday. The question now is, can his team maintain that standard?
After so much turmoil and uncertainty, with one manager fired, another new one installed very late on and no signings made in the transfer window, it has been a dreadful January for Everton.
But yesterday, Dyche’s Toffees’ team produced their best performance of the season and brushed aside the Premier League leaders.
It could have been a two or three nil win, and in truth such a result would not have unduly flattered the Blues’ side Dyche selected.
After so many listless and dispiriting performances in recent week, there was energy, intensity, concentration, hard work and quality on display thoughout the team.
From full-backs Seamus Coleman and Vitalii Mykolenko working so hard to seal the flanks, Conor Coady and James Tarkowski an unbreachable central defensive wall, a midfield three that bossed the engine room, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin leading the line with verve and purpose.
There looked to be coherent plan and that every player knew his role in it. Critically too, Everton’s performance didn’t tail off after half-time as has happened so often in recent past games.
Instead, they maintained the levels they had established in the first forty-five mintues and then scored to take a lead that was fully deserved and which they ultimately held onto.
However, having said all that, it has to be pointed out that not only is this one game at home, and we have seen this type of effort and performance before, especially with a new manager, only for the players to lapse back into bad old habits.
When Frank Lampard took over a year ago there was a new manager ‘bounce’ as well with Everton beating Brentford and then Leeds United in comprehensive style at Goodison.
It didn’t last though, and was quickly followed by chastening defeats away at Newcastle United and then Tottenham Hotspur and a difficult and inconsistent final stretch that so very nearly ended in relegation.
So, it’s absolutely essential that this level of effort and concentration is continued if the Toffees’ are to pull away from the drop zone.
That’s obviously not going to be easy, especially with a group of players who have previously been defined by their inconsistency and capacity for producing infuriatingly lacklustre and almost casually inept efforts.
Getting up for games against the better sides is all fine and good, but it’s the huge drop in levels of performance when playing teams they should on paper have a much better chance of beating that has been the problem.
On reflection, in a way playing Arsenal was almost the perfect start for the new manager. There was little expectation of a good result so anything taken from the game was always going to be seen in a positive light.
In addition, the Premier League leaders haven’t enjoyed coming to Merseyside for a while now and Everton’s recent record against them at the Grand Old Lady is good.
Furthermore, a team such as Arteta’s – which is playing a Manchester City-esq style of patient passing football and was going to dominate possession and come onto the home side – suits this Blues’ teams’ limited strengths, as they showed at the Etihad on New Year’s Eve.
Perhaps though, these players finally have a manager with the right sort of background and mindset to push them successfully to perform well week in, week out.
Dyche has certainly come across very well since taking the job, exuding a straight forward and no-nonesense but still considered and subtly thoughtful approach.
Rightly, he demands huge effort and commitment as the foundation, with his now increasingly commonly heard ‘maximum effort is the minimum requirement’ and ‘leaving sweat on the badge’ becoming sort of watchwords for his management style.
Finding a way to most effectively communicate your ideas to players is a critical, maybe the most critical, skill in modern football management, particularly because all Premier League squads these days contain so many different nationalities.
So, keeping it as simple as possible without losing any necessary tactical nuance is a primary requirement for success.
That doesn’t mean being simplistic in your approach, but rather being able to clearly distill the essentials of what you need your players to do, into its key points.
Dyche has obviously managed to instill much of his philopsophy into the players very quickly, indicating his communications have been clear and understood.
And, up to this point, he has not put a foot wrong in terms of his dealings with the media or fans since taking over.
Now, the test is can he keep repeating what he has achieved so far and manage to find a way to enable these players to consistently perform at their peak to get Everton across the line again this season.
Next up, a trip across Stanley Park a week on Monday to Anfield for a derby against a Liverpool team that is having an unexpectedly poor campaign (which makes for a pleasant change!).
As we know though, the Blues’ recent record at their neighbours’ ground is horrendous and the Reds will be very keen to bounce back from yesterday’s Wolves’ defeat in front of their supporters.
If Dyche’s charges can pull off another unlikely result – perhaps even a win again- then we might be able to start believing this transformation is for real.