Down to South Wales and Swansea for Everton after they managed to best Jose Mourinho and Chelsea,and it was an Everton side without one of either Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines (who knew the value they would go on to provide long term for Everton) for the first time since the 2011/12 season. In place of Coleman and Baines would come Ty Browning, and Brendan Galloway continued his run down the left hand side.
Coming into the game and Everton were yet to concede a goal away from home, keeping clean sheets away to Spurs and Southampton prior to the Swansea game, and Roberto Martinez would continue to marry the midfield industry of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry with Ross Barkley- who continues to exude confidence, thanks to his impressive form in central midfield this year. It’s worth noting that regardless of result, this was a performance of huge promise from Everton’s young players. Browning, occupying the Everton right against Jefferson Montero deserves special praise (in part because of how normal and routine it is to see Galloway, Barkley and Stones perform so well).
Swansea, a defeat to Watford aside, have had a good start to the season, and manager Gary Monk’s handywork makes them likely to enjoy another top half finish come May. Finding the right balance, and a consistency to our play will be of paramount importance to Everton and the season ahead. Should the Gwladys see the return of European football next season, is partly dependent on the performances of Galloway and Browning, and the rest of the players on the fringes, when the inevitable injuries and suspensions add up. So far, the signs are encouraging.
Piercing, watery sun shone down as action got underway at the Liberty Stadium, greeting the royal blue inpouring from Merseyside. Onto the game, and the team was as many had predicted. Continuing was Galloway, joined by Browning and hat trick hero Steven Naismith, in for his first league start of the season.
The average positions were as to be expected, but full credit has to go to Galloway and Browning, tasked with handling one of the better, more fluid attacking sides in the league, they did exceptionally well. Browning in particular (given it was his first start for the club), did himself proud: left at times in one on one situations with the electric Jefferson Montero, but he was able to do an admirable job all afternoon. Browning’s athleticism is genuinely exceptional, meaning his powers of recovery appear to justify his apparent reputation for being ‘the best one on one defender at the club’. It’s still early into his own career, and he has played very little football for the first team so it’s still difficult to know how good he’ll become, but everything points towards him being a good player for the club. Fingers crossed. The influence of Phil Jagielka, anchoring an all- English back four, playing with three players twenty one and under, cannot be understated. Jagielka has started the season well, and has forged an increasingly impressive partnership with John Stones at the heart of the defence. Stones’ own performances have undoubtedly benefited from playing alongside the evergreen Jagielka.
Everton were stifling Swansea early on. James McCarthy (circled) was afforded more freedom than his midfield partner Barry, and pressed high, Duncan Goodhew’s illigitimate son (Jonjo Shelvey- circled alongside Ross Barkley) was not able to get as involved as Swansea would’ve liked. I found this quite interesting, given Swansea and Everton are quite alike in their play, and for Everton to press so high up would suggest this is a perceived weakness of the style brought by Roberto Martinez to both clubs. Everton have gotten better at facing sides who seek to pressure the ball high up the pitch, but perhaps it remains the most effective tactic to counter the approach preferred by the Catalan tactician.
Swansea had a couple of decent chances, both coming to Bafetimbi Gomis. A simple ball in from the right hand side bounced across the Everton box and found its way to Gomis who had managed to drift between Browning and Stones.
Fortunately for Everton, the chance didn’t come to anything with the overhead kick being saved easily by Tim Howard in the Everton net. With nobody close behind him, Browning’s inexperience was evident as he allowed Gomis to find space in front of him but behind Stones. This would go on to be the only such occasion anything like that would happen, a testament to the play of Everton’s youthful backline- Jagielka aside.
The second chance for Gomis was after a misplaced header from Barry which allowed Gomis to run through, only to scuff his shot badly wide. It was a lax moment from Barry who is otherwise enjoying a renaissance from last year’s performances only bettered by Ross Barkley. Barry is playing well, especially given the aforementioned inexperience of the Everton defence thanks to injuries thus far. When Leighton Baines went to the world cup in 2014, he was criticised by many for his play, particularly against Italy as he was caught out of position. The reality of the situation was: Baines was playing the same way that had gotten him rave reviews for Everton throughout the season, he wasn’t suffering from a step up in standard: he’d played the entire season with Gareth Barry covering for him on his forays forward. Baines went to the world cup and was reliant on Steven Gerrard as England’s holding midfielder- Gerrard was unable to offer the kind of cover and tactical nous Gareth Barry had, and Leighton Baines suffered. On (what felt like) the only occasion John Stones lost the ball yesterday as he skipped out of defence, Barry had dropped in to centre half to cover for him and Swansea’s opportunity to break went as quickly as it came. Keep an eye out for that next time Stones (or anyone else) takes a risk: it’ll be Barry who has read the situation unfolding before all the others and will have tried to put himself into a position to nullify any danger- regardless of whether he touches the ball or not.
Twenty minutes in and an excellent chance for Everton…
A sweeping counterattack after a Swansea corner left the Swans exposed. Kone had done well down the right flank and fed the ball inside to leave Everton two on one with Lukaku and Naismith. This chance really shouldn’t end with anything other than a shot on target at least. Perhaps Lukaku might have taken a touch and tried to commit the defender closest to him, but he didn’t do anything wrong by feeding the ball into the run of Naismith from deep. As Naismith cut back inside on the edge of the Swansea box, he couldn’t really get the ball out of his feet quick enough and Swansea’s scramble defence was able to clear the danger. An ultimately disappointing moment after superb work on the counter. This would go on to be indicative of Everton’s wasteful play throughout the course of the afternoon.
Everton were playing well as the away side. Our fullbacks were keeping Swansea’s wide pair of Andre Ayew and Jefferson Montero at bay, while Gareth Barry was doing a good job of keeping Gylfi Sigurdsson at bay…
Sigurdsson only touched the ball eighteen times as he was kept out of the game by Barry. Less than any other player on both sides.
As we can see here, as Neil Taylor turns inside with the ball, he probably wants to play it into Sigurdsson but Barry is denying him the opportunity. Swansea were constantly stifled down the middle, and McCarthy was helping in that sense too, but Barry was quietly excellent again.
Meanwhile, Brendan Galloway, fresh from having to turn his shorts pockets inside out prior to washing them after the Chelsea game to ensure Pedro wasn’t still in them, was a nuisance to Swansea throughout, his confidence soaring with each passing game…
In this picture, Galloway has managed to nick the ball off Kyle Naughton and set up a break. Given the fact Everton are the away side and it’s right on the stroke of half time, Galloway would’ve been well within his rights to pass the ball and get back into position, but his confidence couldn’t be higher…
As the chance unfolds, Galloway is the most advanced option for Barkley to find. The shackles that appeared to constrain Everton throughout last season have been shaken off. Risky? Maybe…. Probably… But it’s about the intent Everton are trying to show. Swansea did actually manage to break from here and get a shot away down the Everton left before Galloway had a chance to get back into position properly, but you already know who was there to block the shot from Gomis, don’t you? Gareth Barry:
Into the second half and Everton create three glorious chances to score. The first two were created by the outstanding Barkley. Teasing work down the Everton left ended with him fizzing the ball into Kone only for the chance to be onto the Ivorian too quickly for him to sort his feet out, missing the ball completely and the chance went begging…
The second was with again down the Everton left, with Barkley goading Naughton into making a challenge before finding the advanced Galloway who turned well only to drag a shot wide from the angle…
Barkley was everywhere, willing his side on. He couldn’t have done much more to take his side by the scruff of the neck. Barkley touched the ball 67 times, passed it 50 times and had a pass completion rate of 94%, creating six chances for teammates (double the total of anyone else on the pitch) in the process. He was excellent all afternoon long. The third chance fell to Romelu Lukaku who had another difficult afternoon. A simple through ball from Gareth Barry slipped between Swansea defenders put Lukaku through.
Rom snatched at the chance and smashed his shot well over the bar. Rom has struggled for a couple of games now, and in his defence, Everton haven’t played to his strengths as much as they could’ve (especially given the high line Swansea would adopt when in possession), but it’s moments like this that remind you how raw his game can be. Wasteful Everton should have a comfortable lead by now.
With twenty minutes left, Gerard Deulofeu- just on for Arouna Kone, makes a glorious chance for Everton to take the lead. Attacking Neil Taylor down the Everton right, he manages to beat the left back and put a superb ball between defenders and the goal, just out of reach of the onrushing Lukaku and Naismith…
On closer inspection, had Naismith have gone for the ball with his left foot rather than his more comfortable right, he may well have been able to get to the ball and give Everton the lead…
Should this game be 5-1 now? Or 6-1? Because I’ve lost count.
Another chance would come and go before the end, this time for Lukaku, but that was it, really. Everton kept pressing but couldn’t find a way through. Oh, and Mirallas got sent off about a minute after coming on. And rightly so.
But this was a very good performance from Everton. We imposed ourselves on Swansea, creating chances at will, and keeping their danger men out of the game. Seventeen shots (two on target) might worry some, but as long as we keep creating the kind of chances like we did against the Swans, we’ll win a lot of games throughout the remainder of the season. Just one of those days in front of goal for Everton, but on the evidence of Saturday: we won’t be finishing underneath Swansea this season, a side with genuine top 8 (6?) ambitions. And for as long as Chelsea and Liverpool continue to struggle, there might be a champions league spot up for grabs for whoever else gets their act together….
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