Everton analysis – Player once fighting for his place emerges as leader with creativity spread out

Royal Blue: Carlo Ancelotti on James Rodriguez performance in West Brom win



Keane to impress

Only one player has started each of Everton’s three matches so far this season – Michael Keane.

And there’s little doubt the centre-back will play a crucial role for Carlo Ancelotti over the course of the coming season, especially with the injury concerns the Blues currently have in that area.

Earlier in the week the 27-year-old claimed that he was playing the best football of his career right now and it’s clear to see the confidence flowing through him in these opening stages of the term.

It wasn’t all too long ago that the defender was fighting for a regular place in the Everton starting line-up, but he’s grabbed his chance excellently in recent weeks and months.

Keane was one of the club’s top performances in the period following lockdown in 2019/20 and has managed to continue that form into the beginning of this.

West Brom were dangerous in the first half at Goodison Park on Saturday but most of their strong play was coming down the opposite side of the pitch.

Keane looked composed in possession and was constantly in the way of the visitors when they tried to break forward.

His confidence only grew in the second half with Everton starting to cruise against ten men, and yet again he proved to be important at the other end of the pitch.

The defender bagged his second goal in as many games when reacting quickest to a rebound inside the penalty area.

It wasn’t quite the towering header that he had bagged in midweek against Salford City, but it will mean just as much.

Regardless of whether the defender was scoring or not though, the qualities he has on display will be great for Ancelotti to see.

Keane is experienced and is becoming a real leader in central defence, using his experience to not only position himself well but also to direct those around him too.

With the manager’s options limited in central defence right now thanks to injuries to both Jarrad Branthwaite and Mason Holgate, those attributes could be more crucial than ever.

Having been fighting for his place not so long ago, Keane has established himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet.

He’s another Ancelotti success story from the manager’s relatively brief spell with the club.

Creative all over

The second half was much more like what Evertonians wanted to see after what was a generally fairly disappointing opening 45 minutes.

But what is most impressive is that the Blues weren’t just relying on one player to be their creative engine, it was being spread all around the pitch.

You might have thought James Rodriguez would be the man to take that claim all by himself and certainly he turned it on in the second period.

a group of young men playing a game of football: James Rodriguez controls the ball during the match between Everton and West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park

© NICK POTTS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
James Rodriguez controls the ball during the match between Everton and West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park

His chip over the defence before Everton’s fourth goal was exquisite, but some of the other passes he was playing throughout were truly mesmerising as well.

But he wasn’t the only one who took on board the responsibility to create chances for the Blues.

Lucas Digne was fantastic throughout for his side once more, both in getting back to defend and going forwards.

He was a constant threat for the West Brom defence, always making himself available on the flank so that Everton had a man over.

The France international played five key passes across the 90 minutes, three more than anyone else on the pitch managed.

Then you come to Richarlison as well, who might not have got himself on the scoresheet on this occasion but certainly proved to be just as effective.

His great play in the first half handed the ball to Rodriguez just outside the box for the summer signing to brilliantly get his goal tally for Everton off the mark.

And, in the second half, the Brazilian bagged his second assist of the afternoon when his driven effort was poked in at the back post by Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

He could have scored himself if he hadn’t strayed just offside before slamming Gylfi Sigurdsson’s great cross into the back of the net.

While he might still think his best position is as a central striker, and he may well bag more goals from that area, he is still a crucial member of the squad from the left wing.

His creativity, awareness of teammates around him and quality on and off the ball are key to the way Ancelotti now sets up his side.

Add all that to Andre Gomes providing a key pass of his own and Sigurdsson coming off the bench to look strong as well and suddenly Everton are looking creative all over the pitch.

That’s a far cry from the situation last season.

Shaky defence

For all Everton’s strong play going forward, especially in the second half, a few moments in defence will have had many shaking their heads.

The match started with one such incident, with Jordan Pickford attempting to chip a pass over to Seamus Coleman but getting it all wrong and giving West Brom a shot at goal inside the first minute.

Problems with distribution would continue to be an issue for the goalkeeper throughout the half, although he wasn’t the only one.

Yerry Mina was another who struggled in this sense, with too many of his passes finding opponents rather than teammates.

Then, in the build up to the first goal, the defender stood off for too long and didn’t get a challenge in time before the ball was slammed into the back of the net.

West Brom played well in the first period, most notably through the impressive Grady Diangana who bagged their first goal, but a lot of that was down to Everton letting them play that way

For large sections of the opening 45 minutes the Blues were second to loose balls, sloppy in their own possession and were allowing West Brom to gain the upper hand.

In particular defensive lapses from the likes of Mina and Pickford threatened to prove costly throughout that first half, although things obviously subsided in the second period with the visitors down to ten men.

It won’t be a huge concern to Ancelotti to see this, of course. This is still a team gelling together in the early stages of a season and they did win the game after all.

They got away with a bit of a shaky performance defensively this time around, but might not be so lucky in the future.

Momentum counts

Three games, three wins.

Ancelotti couldn’t really have asked for more from his side’s start to the season, but the hard work doesn’t stop here.

The manager spoke in his pre-match press conference about the need for consistency, which is something his squad desperately lacked last term.

The games at this point of the campaign are still coming thick and fast, with another two on the horizon next week – equally as important as any the Blues have already managed to win.

A visit to Fleetwood Town will be tough, but Ancelotti knows how important the League Cup will be to the fans over the course of the season.

A cup run is absolutely vital to many and, with the prospect of another favourable draw at home to either West Ham or Hull City on the horizon, it’s an opportunity they can’t afford to let slip through their fingers.

Then another tough away game follows against Crystal Palace, a fixture which has tripped Everton up in the past.

The importance of momentum is key. Everton are in a great run of form here, confidence is high around the fanbase and optimism is really growing for what the season might bring.

If the Blues can keep this up for the foreseeable future, who knows how well they might do.

But, one thing is for certain, the next two games are hugely important.

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