Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Michael Ball

Everton are letting opponents off the hook - it's time to embrace the dark arts

First and foremost, I was pleased with Everton’s showing against Manchester City on Sunday afternoon at Goodison Park.

When you look at the line-up there was a few little unexpected additions. Unfortunately and frustratingly for Sean Dyche, Vitalii Mykolenko had picked up a muscle injury the day before and was therefore unable to feature. That would have upset Dyche’s plans going into the game.

Look, we were playing against the team at the top of the Premier League, they’re top quality, they’re champions. They were always going to make a few changes here and there with the game in between their Champions League semi-final ties against Real Madrid, but they showed a lot of respect and put a strong side out against us.

READ MORE: Pep Guardiola embraces Everton defender after fuming at Yerry Mina over Erling Haaland

READ MORE: Alex Iwobi shares reaction to what Everton fans did after Man City defeat

I think the only issue that Dyche had was either sticking to the plan we played early on against Newcastle, as well as in the Leicester and Brighton performances, or he could have chosen to go to a back three which could have upset the flow and rhythm we showed in those games and had been successful in causing problems on the counter-attack.

I think the game plan was working against City. We were frustrating them. Jordan Pickford didn’t have much to do. Manchester City did what they do best; they make the opposition hurry the final pass. We had moments, Mason Holgate’s chance, breakaway attempts.

We were hurried into a final pass and couldn’t get our final ball into Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Unfortunately, Manchester City started to up the tempo a little bit just after the half-hour mark and you could see they were stretching us, causing us problems here and there.

Look, it was a fantastic opening goal from Ilkay Gundgoan. Great awareness. From our point of view, I thought it was a little bit soft. There was no pressure on Riyad Mahrez’s cross into the box, he put the ball right in the middle of the six-yard box. Look, fantastic touch and finish - Pickford has no chance - but if you look at Yerry Mina’s role, he’s obviously keeping hold of Erling Haaland, he’s left his position. Haaland dragged our main defender out of the way and Gundogan dropped into the space with his brilliant awareness.

I felt a bit deflated after the first goal because I didn’t think Everton deserved to go a goal down. Obviously, City were controlling the game but I thought we were still in the contest, and the fans’ reaction to try and get the boys back into the game was really good.

But soon after it was another soft goal. A bit too easy. Alex Iwobi didn’t really track his runner and left Nathan Patterson in a two-on-one, and, again, Haaland found space in the middle of the six-yard box for his header. Two of their goals were in the middle of the six-yard box really.

Before the game, I would have backed us to win those challenges with our centre-half pairing; defend the centre of the goal. You’ve got to try and defend that area as best as possible. Similarly to the first goal, there was no pressure on the cross and then Haaland does what he does best and punished us, and it was just difficult for Pickford to scramble across. That’s what Manchester City do to you though, they drag your players out of position and exploit you.

We were 2-0 down going in at half-time and I didn’t feel as if we deserved to be two goals down, but you kind of take it on the chin given the type of team Manchester City are. I felt the players and Dyche’s tactics were working and it was just the final ball that let us down in that first half.

Second half there was a change as Neal Maupay replaced Calvert-Lewin. We’ve now heard Calvert-Lewin was complaining of a tight groin and he wanted to play on and Dyche therefore took him off. I think that’s a really good decision - it’s a gamble not worth taking when you’re losing to the reigning Premier League champions.

For the third goal, James Garner had to bring Phil Foden down as it was two against three on Patterson’s side. Again, we saw the cuteness and cleverness from Manchester City, similar to Southampton at Goodison Park in January, when the referee marked out ten yards for the wall and then Gundogan moved the ball back so it was 12 yards.

I think the Park End was trying to point that out to players and tell them to move further forward so they could make that chance to score more difficult. We didn’t spot that. None of the players spotted it. Those sort of dark arts is what we lack. That third goal well and truly killed off the game for us.

I don’t think the performance or the desire deserved to be three goals down.

Dyche then made changes and we went to a back three and we looked quite comfortable. But I think City were happy with the three goals. I don't think they felt the need to chase a fourth or fifth and that was lurking in the back of my mind with the goal difference so slim between us and Leeds United.

Look, we’re not going to be staying in the Premier League based on games against Manchester City. It was a free hit for us. We had chances in the second. For me though, we do let teams off the hook.

One thing I did notice throughout the game and in recent weeks is whenever we have a throw-in it ends up at the feet of Pickford and that, to me, shows a bit of naivety.

I feel like with our height in our team we could cause teams problems in those situations. There surely must be a player on the pitch who can throw a ball 20 or 25 yards. Brentford are brilliant at it.

They scored one of their goals against West Ham by sending the defender, Ben Mee, up. Even if you don’t score a goal, you might get a corner or a set piece. Our set pieces under Dyche have improved, but those moments can make a difference because goals do change games. It's like we haven't got an idea so we think we'll just keep the ball to try and hurt the opposition. We have Mina, Tarkowski, Doucoure. We have the players there.

I'm sure Dyche will be aware of it, but at the moment I feel like we're letting teams off the hook a little bit at the moment. That's where we could definitely improve between now and the end of the season. Moments like that, for me, are what we need to improve on.


Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.