Sean Dyche now has his first chance to reflect after a whirlwind start to life at Everton.
The 51-year-old was appointed Blues boss in the closing days of January, a month that was chaotic on and off the pitch for his new club. Flung into a relegation battle with a squad that had suffered a damaging return from the World Cup break, there was little opportunity to settle in.
Against that backdrop, Dyche delivered a debut win over table-topping Arsenal that galvanised the players and fans and has since led Everton on a run better than any other team in the survival fight. Danger remains, however, and there is still work to do. This makes the international break a useful period to evaluate what has happened so far, and what needs to happen next.
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Sixteen days separate Everton’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea and the Monday night home tie with Tottenham Hotspur. Dyche will allow those of his squad not on international duty to have a short break and the intensity of some training sessions will be relaxed. This is partly an acknowledgement from Dyche of the work his players have put in since his arrival. There is an awareness the players have been asked to take on a significant amount of different instructions, styles and information as the new regime asserted itself at Finch Farm.
Recent form has improved, suggesting the players are buying into Dyche’s demands. But while Ellis Simms’ last minute equaliser at Stamford Bridge ensured Everton’s positive momentum continued, Dyche dismissed the suggestion this break came at a bad time for his team.
Instead it is seen as a precious opportunity to take a step back from the relentless Premier League schedule and take stock of Everton’s position. One major benefit is the additional time it gives for Dominic Calvert-Lewin to continue his work towards match fitness. The 25-year-old has been out of action since being taken off an hour into the win over Arsenal. His hamstring issue has persisted and while he spent some time training with the first team at Finch Farm in the days before the win over Brentford, he then missed sessions last week after, according to Dyche, he “felt something we’ve had to be careful with”.
Dyche refuses to do injury timelines in public and Everton have revealed little of the battle Calvert-Lewin is enduring. Yet even with the positive signs from Demarai Gray and Ellis Simms in their efforts as the lone striker in Dyche’s 4-5-1, Calvert-Lewin remains key to Everton. The bigger the role he can play in Everton’s final 10 games, the greater the club’s chances of staying in the Premier League.
Everton staff will also be monitoring the performances of two other players on the brink of a return to the first team. Neither Nathan Patterson nor James Garner have played any minutes under Dyche, having both been sidelined with long-term injuries. Garner did make the final matchday squads before the international break but did not make it onto the pitch. Patterson has been involved in first team training for some time but did not make the bench on Saturday.
Both are involved in their national squads though, with Patterson called up for Scotland’s games with Cyprus and Spain and Garner included in the England Under-21 squad for matches with France and Croatia. Both could add welcome depth to the first team if they find what Dyche refers to as their match ‘sharpness’ while on international duty.
Everton’s number one priority remains the short term, with top flight survival the focus. That does not mean longer-term issues will not be considered over the coming fortnight though. Dyche is aware of contract situations and this is the first chance he has had to look at some of the upcoming issues with a bank of evidence to inform his opinions.
Abdoulaye Doucoure has been the biggest winner of Dyche’s appointment, repaying his new manager’s faith in him by producing several stand out performances and big goals against Nottingham Forest and Chelsea as well assists against Brentford and at Stamford Bridge. The Mali international pushed for talks on a new deal last summer and was frustrated by the club preferring to hold back. With him frozen out under Frank Lampard his future looked uncertain with his contract due to expire in the summer. Dyche laughed off the suggestions that Doucoure’s displays in his first four games would spark a new commitment, but now that form has been held over eight matches he might start to consider Doucoure’s importance to his Everton setup.
The club holds the option to extend the deal by a year - though Doucoure’s wages may prohibit talks, at least until it is clear which division Everton will be competing in next year. The same is true for each of the players whose contracts are expiring. Of those, Tom Davies and Yerry Mina could be the most likely to depart - Davies being keen for first team football and Mina having not yet played a minute under Dyche. The future of Conor Coady is also up for discussion. The option to buy Coady would have been exercised under Lampard but, with Coady having lost his starting role to Michael Keane, the next step is now less clear.
Dyche said this break would also be a time for him to assess the situation over Dele Alli, whose loan move to Besiktas has turned sour. Dele, Andre Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin are three midfielders who are all set to return to the Blues in the summer and present dilemmas over whether to give them an opportunity in the new regime or look for suitors elsewhere. All three are under contract until 2024 and only Gomes has been a regular this season. Contracts and returning players will not be the primary concern of Dyche during this break, with Premier League survival foremost in his thoughts. But he will use this break to start to broaden his knowledge of the wider situation he has inherited at Everton.
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