Everton vs. Fulham – Hope Yet for the Blues?
Goodison Park played host to Everton’s first game of the Premier League season on Saturday, with the Merseyside club falling to a 1-0 defeat against Fulham.
Despite the loss, there were clear signs of promise from Everton. But, was there enough cause for optimism amongst fans?
It has been a summer of turmoil in the transfer window, for Everton fans. Eager to see an experienced striker arrive at the club, as well as a right-winger, things have fallen a little flat in Merseyside.
With Everton entering game week one already under pressure, they produced a surprisingly promising performance against their West London visitors. The Toffees created a number of great chances for themselves, taking 19 shots in total with nine of them on target.
The chances came early, with Neil Maupay flashing a shot across goal before Abdoulaye Doucoure charged into the box with the ball, forcing a smart save from Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno. Maupay, in particular, had a number of a chances for the Blues, placing three of his four shots in the match on target.
The biggest moment for Everton, however, came in the 36th minute. Nathan Patterson crossed the ball into the Fulham box from a deep area, which led to James Tarkowski holding his ground well as Leno tried to claim the ball in the air. The Fulham goalkeeper fumbled the ball, which fell to the feet of Tarkowksi’s CB partner Micheal Keane, who finished his chance nicely into the empty goal.
Any potential jubilance was drowned out in an instant, though, as referee Stuart Attwell a foul against Tarkowski before the ball had even hit the net. Deliberation will be had over the legitimacy of the foul, but Everton will rue the decision as a game-changing moment.
Although it wasn’t a totally dominant performance, the Blues did take the spoils in the attacking aspect of the game. Everton came out on top in expected goals (2.73xG-1.50xG), shots, shots on target, and big chances created (4-2). They also had a significant lead in expected goals on target (3.31xGOT-1.12xGOT).
These stats are positive, as it shows the side are creating frequent chances despite their perceived weaknesses, and an xG in open play highlights a reduced reliance on set-pieces.
In a somewhat makeshift starting XI, there were a number of solid performances. The most notable coming from two of Everton’s most criticised players, in Michael Keane and Alex Iwobi.
Off the back of another tough season, Everton centre-back Michael Keane was named in the starting XI, much to the frustration of fans. With Jarrad Branthwaite returning to the club after a successful loan spell at Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, the general consensus is that the young defender is ready to take control of the Everton defence.
However, manager Sean Dyche opted for what he knows, and Keane produced a sterling performance on the day.
Contributing to both attacking and defensive phases of play, the centre-back clocked in with two shots on target; 88% passing accuracy, and 12 passes into the final third, 71% long ball accuracy; six ball recoveries, and won 100% of his ground duels.
While he still faced some inevitable critique on social media, Keane gave a mature, positive showing and fans will be hopeful that he can push on from this and regain some confidence.
Another standout performance came from midfielder Alex Iwobi. The Nigerian has had to be versatile during his time with Everton, where he has played as a right-back/right wing-back, a right-winger, and a central attacking midfielder.
For this game, he was played as a left-winger, where he was probably Everton’s most dangerous player. He generated a lot of threat down Fulham’s right-side throughout the game, creating three chances for the Blues with some great crosses, as well as hitting two of his four shots on target.
Iwobi finished the game with 86% pass accuracy, 67% long ball accuracy, and two passes into the final third; 3/4 successful dribbles; 5 ball recoveries, and 4/6 of his ground duels won.
The midfielder has been heavily relied upon in a side devoid of creativity, and he’ll be important again if Everton hope to start the season strong.
It’s clear to see that Everton are still in a state of transition under Sean Dyche. The stats from Saturday’s game show that there is creativity to be found in the team, but they still lack a much needed clinical edge.
With the deadline for the summer transfer window only 19 days away, fans will remain nervous about the club bringing in the necessary improvements. Following the arrival of 19 year old Youssef Chermiti, there hasn’t been much movement in bringing an experienced striker to the club, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin is still a fitness concern.
Outside of the goalscoring troubles, Everton also still lack depth on the right-side of their midfield, as well as lacking comfortable cover for their centre-backs. Rumours aside, there is nothing concrete as of yet to suggest the club will strengthen these areas.
To conclude, Everton are showing promise despite being in a poor situation.
Sean Dyche is working in a versatile manner under financial constraints, by adapting his tactics in a positive way. His man management and experience are also playing a key part in the sides’ morale, and could be important in building confidence amongst the players.
If Everton can strengthen in the necessary areas as well as pushing through some of their promising youth prospects, a change in fortune is likely.
One thing they will be able to rely on once more, is the support of their fans. Evertonians have been endlessly praised for their support of the players in their toughest moments and this season will be no different.