If there's a measure of the progress made under Ronald Koeman in just a few short months, it's that a 3-0 win over the only team likely to challenge Everton for seventh place could feel so routine.
A year ago, the notion of a four clean sheets in five home games felt a world away, while in the weeks following the Blues' 2-1 win in the reverse fixture against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns in August, many Evertonians were bemoaning the team's inability to not only win against teams they should have but to simply control games through simple retention of the ball as well.
Koeman's team have been guilty of being too direct at times this season but yesterday against the disciplined and organised Baggies, they were patient, focused and bided their time until the breakthrough came towards the end of the first half.
Morgan Schneiderlin's first goal for the club on the stroke of half time put the Blues into a secure position for the second period and with West Brom below strength until Salomon Rondon and James Morrison were introduced late on and curiously unadventurous throughout, it felt like only a matter of time before the home side padded their lead. They eventually did through Romelu Lukaku — of course! — to complete a thoroughly professional performance.
Koeman's starting XI had raised eyebrows an hour before kick-off. Gareth Barry, so disappointing at Tottenham last Sunday, was in the line-up again, Idrissa Gueye was dropped back to the substitutes' bench and Phil Jagielka was recalled at the expense of Ramiro Funes Mori after several weeks watching on from the sidelines. Pleasingly, however, Tom Davies kept his place and Kevin Mirallas was restored to play off Lukaku, the former Belgian justifying his selection by plundering the first goal.
After a rousing minute’s applause in memory of Alex Young, the game kicked off but it would see only handful of clear-cut openings. Almost inevitably, the first had fallen to Lukaku early on as he was played in between two visiting defenders to set up a shot from a position slightly wider than his goal at White Hart Lane last weekend. This time, however, he cut a low shot inches past the far post.
He mis-timed a header later in the half before the effervescent Ross Barkley dipped a shot over the bar but was instrumental in the first goal which arrived six minutes before the break. He held the ball up well near the touchline before cutting inside before his attempted ball for Seamus Coleman deflected to Barkley. Ben Foster couldn't hold the midfielder's side-foot shot and Mirallas was onto the rebound quickly, lashing the ball past the 'keeper from close range.
On the stroke of half-time, more brilliant work by Lukaku after he’d been picked by Barry ended with him tucking a neat pass into the box to meet the run of Schneiderlin, who took the ball past Jake Livermore before extending a telescopic leg to prod it past the advancing Foster and just inside the far post. His celebration revealed just how much opening his account meant to a player clearly calling in love with his new club.
The start of the second half brought the surprise news that Leighton Baines had not re-emerged from the dressing and that he had been replaced by Funes Mori — it was revealed after the game that his back had seized up and he was unable to continue — and a resumption in the pattern of Everton dominance.
Having offered very little going forward in the first half apart from Nacir Chadli's low drive that Joel Robles pushed wide of the right-hand upright, West Brom began to ask a few questions of the Blues' back line. However, save for more good work by Chadli where he was able to engineer space for a direct shot that was parried away by Robles, they struggled to make inroads.
That left Everton in the comfortable position of being able to dictate their own tempo, even it was a little too pedestrian at times for the home faithful’s liking. The desire from the packed house of Evertonians to see the team drive forward rather than turn back towards the safer option of defence was tangible at times but from Koeman’s first two substitutions, which were prima facie conservative, to the players themselves at times, the emphasis was on securing the victory and not allowing the opposition to creep back into the contest.
It was Idrissa Gueye and not Ademola Lookman who replaced Kevin Mirallas midway through the second half and Dominic Calvert-Lewin didn’t make his entrance in place of Barry until the 84th minute. But, as both Schneiderlin’s goal and Gueye’s shot off the base of the post in stoppage time demonstrated, the presence of three primarily defensive midfielders in the side plus Tom Davies isn’t necessarily a negative formation. All four have license to roam forward while the likes of Barry and Schneiderlin drop back to cover and it has yielded goals from that area of the field in each of the last four home games.
Davies’ exuberance and desire to drive forward whenever possible was matched by Barkley and it was the latter who, having run the show for the Blues in pleasing fashion in front of England manager Gareth Southgate, smashed a ball into side-netting before serving up Lukaku’s 19th Premier League goal, one which represented his best return of goals yet in that competition.
Gueye and Funes Mori combined with the Argentine feeding the ball to Barkley on the left side of the West Brom area where he teased the defender in front of him, chipped a perfect cross to the six-yard line and Lukaku picked his spot with a header to make it 3-0.
Eight minutes were left at that point and save for Gueye’s solo effort off the woodwork at the very end, it was job done. Three more points at home where Koeman’s Blues have kept four clean sheets in five and the gap to Manchester United in sixth has been cut to just two points. They have played two games fewer but Everton are doing what they need to in racking up as many points as they can while hoping that their rivals above slip.
What the result also did, of course, is effectively end the argument, at least for now, over who will finish seventh if the Toffees aren’t able to sneak into the top six. In outplaying West Brom and scoring such a convincing victory, they have moved seven points clear and cemented their status as “best of the rest”.
More importantly, the building blocks for even better next season continued to be laid and “routine” victories like this – one that eluded them last season under Roberto Martinez despite similar dominance – with the two star 23-year-olds at the top of their game are all part of that development.
Reader Comments (27)
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1 Posted 12/03/2017 at 23:10:24
Koeman could now shed his normal conservatism for the upcoming away fixtures at Anfield and OT and really go for victories, because the one point for a draw is no longer significant. We need a win in one of those two games to have a clear chance at the top 6.
Come on, Ronnie, balls to the wall.
2 Posted 13/03/2017 at 04:04:56
3 Posted 13/03/2017 at 08:44:00
I will choose bottom of the Top 7, that way there is always room for improvement.
4 Posted 13/03/2017 at 09:17:49
2-0 win against RS and 1-0 win against Man Utd. Slime-ball Ibra sent off – in disgrace! (if his suspension is already served by then?? I think it will have been.)
5 Posted 13/03/2017 at 09:48:38
6 Posted 13/03/2017 at 10:06:33
Missed this what nationality is he these days? :)
Trust you stayed over for the game Lyndon, and had a blast.
7 Posted 13/03/2017 at 15:02:56
8 Posted 13/03/2017 at 20:00:19
As far as I am concerned, we are (and have been for some time) ahead of Liverpool in terms of player quality, and now in terms of current form and results (and possibly manager, especially given that we don't have a clowning showman who is at the moment overseeing mediocrity).
We are also ahead of Arsenal in terms of current form and results, and comparable with Man Utd. We are not 'best of the rest', but rather in the 'top-7', heading (on current form) upwards.
9 Posted 13/03/2017 at 20:42:04
The time to claim this current Everton team is deserving of donning anything over and above the (admittedly bollockso) 'best of the rest' mantle would be when we manage to finish ahead of any of those teams in the final league table.
Taking just the RedShite as an example: how many times over the past decade have we heard the claim that, man for man, our strongest eleven is superior to theirs, that we're in much better form or that their manager is an absolute Goler Clan gobbed blert, whilst our own is the best we've had since the last guy to have smoke prematurely blown up his arse for basically getting us in and around where our wage budget suggests we probably should be?
Then how many times have we immediately proceeded to generously roll over for them when given the chance to actually go out and fucking prove it?
10 Posted 13/03/2017 at 20:56:35
We are 3rd in the form table behind only Chelsea and Man City. Fortress Goodison is back (a net score of 18 v 3 in the last 5 home games). We're 7 points clear of any team which could stop us playing in Europe next season.
Not bad foundations being laid by a man only three quarters into his first season at the club.
11 Posted 13/03/2017 at 21:11:47
I think we still roll over away. The fact that we don't at home indicates a systematic problem of tactics away, the Spurs game being an example, and Koeman could surely address that. He seems to have his tactical shit together at home, so why he hasn't managed it away is beyond me, apart from assuming it's taking him time to adapt.
So I'm assuming, as a basis for what I said @8, that he will get his away tactics sorted better, in turn on the basis that he learns from his mistakes. At home, we can (I think) compete with most, so in principle we can do it away. But, yes, I could be wrong, and it could be wishful thinking.
12 Posted 14/03/2017 at 08:07:47
I believe it's down to our mentality, for some reason our players never believe they have the right to be on the same pitch as them, this mentality exists more when we go to Anfield but it's not much better when we play them at Goodison either.
This I believe has slowly developed since the David Moyes era took hold, it was not even as prevalent during the Walter Smith tenure, at least we went to Anfield and went there with the aspiration to win, and win we did, with far less talent in our ranks than we now possess in the current era.
No it's beyond what players we have had, we have gone into Merseyside derbies when they have had dross like Jay Spearing, Martin Kelly, Raul Meirelles, Djimi Traore in their team and they've still turned us over, we have played them when they've had 10 men for 70 minutes remaining... and still lost!
It's about mentality and trying to free ourselves from the small club underdog shackles, the "knives to gunfights" mentality that Moyes gave us...
That's why we turn up so often away to the top sides and appear happy to simply make up the numbers, we don't believe in ourselves, that we have a right to best these sides on their own patch.
Until that mentality changes, we will forever be having the same discussion.
13 Posted 14/03/2017 at 09:10:37
So how would we all feel if we used the phrase "Worst in the Elite"?
Is that more negative than "Best of the Rest"
OK, back to my philosophy course!
14 Posted 14/03/2017 at 09:27:33
Like the Wimbledon team who came to play Liverpool and spat all over the 'This is Anfield' sign. Their stance was 'Fuck you and Anfield'; they won 2-1 and helped us to win the league in doing so.
Up and at them and every other team as well.
15 Posted 14/03/2017 at 09:35:27
To me, a 'winning mentality' is an approach where you go out to win regardless of the opposition. It requires mental conditioning, as well as the obvious physical conditioning. It's what tennis champions do for example, and it's why Andy Murray is now one of the elite. He has the right mental conditioning to complement his talent. A champion like that plays the same way regardless of whether he's in a winning position or a losing position.
I'm assuming (certainly hoping) that Koeman is developing this 'winning mentality' in our players, to complement the increased fitness regime. If he is, this could be a new departure for us, where we have a mentally more robust team, with less scope for having 'bogey teams' like Liverpool. That's where I'm coming from in criticising the term 'best of the rest' @8.
16 Posted 14/03/2017 at 09:43:48
There's no excuse and no logical reason why we have such a woeful record in a local derby that has gone on for so long, we aren't talking about five or six games we are talking 18 years.
It's become a disgrace, an embarrassment that we are both Premier League clubs at the top end of the table, yet our record against Liverpool over the last 40 matches or so has been what your expect Millwall to hold against Chelsea.
It's about time we changed that and soon and no better than April 1st. I'm sick of feeling like every derby is a waste of a game, it shouldn't ever have been like that.
17 Posted 14/03/2017 at 10:56:51
I loved reading Van den Hauwe's chapter on playing at Anfield and, like Dave says about Wimbledon, it's how you turn up that's the most important thing when going to play a big game of football.
Winners expect to win, whilst everyone else just hopes for the best, which is why I'm prepared to give Koeman some time. He's stopped a lot of the pretty stuff because it was pretty ineffective; hopefully long term this more pragmatic way of playing can give us the belief that's needed to help us become winners again?
18 Posted 14/03/2017 at 11:32:01
The performance in derby matches goes back further. In fact, since Billy Bingham took charge in 1973 our record in games (excluding Charity Shields) is
W18 D36 L51. That is about a win every two and a half years. What is worse, that's 4 wins at Anfield in 47 years, and none this century.
Only Joe Royle has a record of any note; Howard Kendall's record is surprisingly poor, especially in his first stint. It certainly supports Dave Abrahams view of being more aggressive, especially away from home.
So for the record W D L
Billy Bingham: 0 3 4
Gordon Lee: 2 6 4
Howard Kendall (1): 3 4 11
Colin Harvey: 2 2 6
Howard Kendall (2): 3 3 3
Mike Walker: 0 0 1
Joe Royle: 2 3 0
Dave Watson: 0 1 0
Howard Kendall (3): 1 1 0
Walter Smith: 1 3 4
David Moyes: 4 8 13
Martinez: 0 2 4
Ronald Koeman: 0 0 1
19 Posted 14/03/2017 at 11:33:39
20 Posted 14/03/2017 at 11:55:09
Sorry Stan. I don't see the logic at all.
That's like a team that narrowly finishes second in the league bristling at being dubbed 'runners up' because their record is "comparable to" the Champions.
Fair enough, wearing the 'best of the rest' badge with pride or proclaiming your satisfaction at that situation might signal a "lack of ambition", but simply stating, as a matter of fact, that's where we reside right now, with the current league table stood in your corner ready to back you up and confirm it, doesn't signal anything other than your recognition of the single most important stat in football: points in the bag.
It doesn't matter if a team stands just outside the top six, if on current form they would be in the top six, or if they're playing scintillating stuff while the boys in fifth are stumbling about all over the fucking shop like 'Fly Boy' from Dawn Of The Dead. They're not in the top six. Until they actually overtake the points haul garnered by any of the teams above, then they aren't getting in either. They're seventh. They're stuck outside looking in with the rest, only rasping on the door a little louder, that's all.
If that position means the moniker of 'best of the rest' and you don't like it? Don't try and wriggle out of it, shaking your head and saying how you really deserve better because you're not that far off. Concentrate on improving, come back next year and have a right good go at finishing higher.
For some to try and suggest that talk of a 'top six' should now, by rights, be extended by one to a 'top seven' so as to encompass Everton's current position, is the sort of face-saving, sleight of hand red shite boosters have so often stood accused of by ourselves:
Fallen out of the Sky fellatio'd 'TOP FOUR'? No bother! We'll just bang on about there being a 'BIG FIVE' until enough people buy into it to further blur the fact you're a bit more shite than you were the last few seasons. Fear you're going to struggle to finish fifth, my mephistophelian meffs? Better make the 'TOP SIX' the brand new barometer to measure by so we can still squeeze you in.
We're seventh. We deserve to be seventh.
If we finish seventh that means there were six other teams better than us over the course of the season.
If we finish seventh we will be widely considered 'best of the rest'.
Ambition isn't recoiling at people pointing that out and saying in response "We're just as good as any of them, despite them getting more points. Points aren't everything, are they? FUCKING SHUT UP, FORSYTHE, BEFORE YOU EVEN START!! Recognise."
Nah, surely it would be more ambitious to resolve to jostle at least one of the six above aside, sling them out on their arse, take their place and then patronisingly pat them on the head, before telling them "Don't feel too bad about it. You're 'best of the rest' after all."
21 Posted 14/03/2017 at 12:00:37
The moment when I remember that it all changed might have been the 1984 League Cup Final; I am not sure but they visibly gave up the match after we had outplayed them for most of the game. They stopped trying!!
We only won 1-0 but they lost their mental dominance that day. Sadly it only lasted a couple of years but there were two wins at Anfield in that time.
The '80s gave us seven wins (3 at Anfield), the '90s seven wins (2 at Anfield), the 00's three wins (0 at Anfield) and worst of all there has been only one win since 2010, and that was in 2010 at GP. The deterioration is clear, the current run is worse than the '70s (3 wins) when they dominated everyone, not just us.
Why? A (small) core of scousers in their team drove them on? They have been better funded than us for decades and we have spent the most part of 20 years short of investment so our squads have been weaker if not always weaker man for man in the first eleven.
The game in December offered a few clues. These games are full of effort and aggression that tends to cancel out quality on both sides & there are few chances. They attacked, we tried to retain possession. We were more hesitant, fearful of tweaking the tigers tail? Hopeful that they would accept a draw or we might nick one towards the end. And that was just the crowd. Not good enough.
Times are changing, perhaps they already have after our form over the last 3 months has showed marked improvement. Time to step up or go in the summer. And we are now the team with a core of scousers who can play.
22 Posted 14/03/2017 at 12:21:40
Too often when you see the players in the tunnel lined up before kick-off there's nobody there being vocal, slapping a few faces and giving a few war cries, we go there too nice, too fearful almost see the fear in their faces of. "oh my god it's Liverpool at Anfield listen to that atmosphere"
Our players need to start relishing the occasion, I mean you had John Stones practically begging to be subbed at half time there last season, he should have been embarrassed...
Look at what it meant to the players the last time we won there in 1999, you had Richard Gough going around every player screaming congratulations in their face and pumping fists..
When are we going to see a modern day Everton skipper do that there??
23 Posted 14/03/2017 at 12:47:18
You're right about Stones as well, he was like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Asking to come off in a derby game against them because of an upset tummy was a disgrace.
24 Posted 14/03/2017 at 13:26:35
Tony Pulis basically acknowledged that we're on a different level to West Brom. We could be that whilst also being on a different (lower) level than the top-6. But we're not, we're comparable, enticingly so. To the extent that, if Koeman manages to get our away form to be comparable to our home form, then we're away. Yes, that's an 'if', but it seems something that can readily be achieved by him tuning the tactics.
25 Posted 14/03/2017 at 14:20:55
Going by your argument, there is no top four or top five or top six. It's just:
Yeah... Sky was the one invented the term "Top Four" anyway.
26 Posted 14/03/2017 at 14:26:25
If, for example, we finished within 4 points of 6th, 6 points of 5th, and 10 points more than 8th. I think "top 7" is more appropriate than "the best of the rest".
27 Posted 14/03/2017 at 15:06:20
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