There have been more times over the past few years than most Evertonians would care to remember where they just sat with their head in their hands thinking this just isn’t working. On occasions under David Moyes and, arguably, even more so over the past couple of years under Roberto Martinez, there was almost tangible despair as the minutes ticked by but no action was forthcoming from the touchline or the dugout to address what seemed so obvious from the stands.
Sometimes, of course, there simply were no game-altering options on the bench — in itself a criticism, perhaps, of a failure on the part of the manager to address certain creative needs — but often there seemed to be wilful refusal to change things up. The football equivalent of banging your head against a brick wall.
How refreshing then for an Everton manager to not only have options on the bench but to also have the courage to make significant changes regardless of the stage of the match. If Blues fans needed evidence of Ronald Koeman’s decisiveness, it came seven minutes before half-time of today’s game at The Hawthorns when he withdrew James McCarthy, threw on Romelu Lukaku, abandoned a three-man central defensive formation and, paved the way for a pulsating come-from-behind victory over West Brom.
Make no mistake, what had come before those vital alterations had been dreadfully ineffective from the Everton. With Lukaku held back on the bench because of a lack of match sharpness, Gerard Deulofeu had been tasked with leading the line in a central role, one that soon proved to well beyond him against Tony Pulis’s famously robust back line. The Spaniard had neither the physique nor the desire to use what weight he has to ruffle the likes of Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley and it meant Koeman’s side had almost no presence going forward.
By contrast, his opposite “number” at the other end, Salomon Rondon, the quintessential “big attacking unit” threatened a difficult afternoon in store for the Everton defence when he easily rolled Ramiro Funes Mori in the penalty in on the eighth minute to chest down, fire goal-wards and force the first of two excellent saves on the day from Maarten Stekelenburg.
And when the Dutch keeper ended up prone as the resulting corner was swung to the back post, impeded perhaps by the combination of Leighton Baines and Saido Berahino in front of him, McAuley rose largely unchallenged to head home a typical Pulis set-piece goal.
Everton’s response wasn’t encouraging. Operating in a narrow attacking unit, too much of their effort was foundering against the “West Brom wall” that frustrated Martinez on more than one occasion during his time at Goodison Park.
Deulofeu had shown an early flash of promise but mis-controlled an excellent Ross Barkley pass in the third minute that took away the chance to challenge Ben Foster one-on-one, his eventual centre prompting vain calls for a penalty on Barkley by Jacob for an apparent trip.
But the Spaniard was generally too willing to go to ground at the first hint of contact and he was a poor target for the direct balls pinged in his general direction from a midfield seemingly lacking in ideas and options. Barkley, meanwhile, was happy to lay off the safe pass in the interests of ball retention rather than daring to take men on in an attempt to make things happen.
It meant that with less than 10 minutes of the first half to go, Everton had had just one tame Gareth Barry shot from a Baines centre to show for their efforts going forward and the Baggies must have felt they were in for a fairly comfortable afternoon.
The arrival of Lukaku and the switch to 4-4-2 changed things almost immediately. The attack now had a focal point and Mason Holgate, accomplished and assured as a centre half, could now provide some width and penetration as a full back and the home defence suddenly had a lot more to worry about.
The tactical shift also created the conditions for the wonderful, quick passing interchange that carved West Brom open in first-half stoppage time, presenting Mirallas with the opportunity to score the equaliser. Gueye, Lukaku, Barkley and Jagielka all combined on the left side of the box before the Belgian forward was released in behind the back line by Barry and drilled a low shot across Foster and into the far corner.
Though Everton had controlled the possession in the first period, their more effective shape in the second afforded them more territorial dominance as well. And after Stekelenburg had done brilliantly to cover more poor defending by saving from Darren Fletcher, and Deulofeu had seen a shot come off the back post following a Mirallas header, Koeman’s men took the lead.
Mirallas was fouled by Olsson after he had robbed the Swede of the ball in a central area and when the resulting free kick was swung in, Funes Mori rose highest to power a header that looked destined for the top corner until Foster pawed it away for a corner. That set-piece delivery found Holgate whose volley bounced back towards the near post and Barry was on hand to nod inside the upright and send 2,800 Evertonians massed behind the goal into bedlam.
Koeman, who was already preparing the obvious change of Yannick Bolasie for Deulofeu, now had the platform of a lead on which to introduce his new signing and the ex-Palace winger might, with better finishing from his team-mates, have walked off with two assists to show for his first outing for Everton.
First, an impressive burst of acceleration took him away from Jonny Evans into space to whip in a right-footed cross that was inch-perfect for Barkley but he somehow headed half a yard wide of goal. Then, after smashing a shot of his own over the bar at the end of a surging run, he pulled the Baggies’ defence apart and slipped the ball in for Lukaku but Foster was off his line quickly to block the Belgian striker’s shot.
On either side of that latter chance, Ashley Williams came on to replace Mirallas to make his debut and the defensive resilience that the Toffees would need in the closing stages was exhibited first by Funes Mori as he charged down Ricky Lambert’s shot. Phil Jagielka then shut James McClean down as he tried to work an opening in close proximity to Stekelenburg’s goal, ultimately preventing the Irishman from getting any kind of shot off.
A final heart-stopping moment when Holgate was adjudged to have handled outside his own box and Foster came forward for the last set-piece of the game thankfully ended with Jagielka heading clear and the West Brom keeper half-volleying wide from the edge of the box with Stekelenburg scrambling across to cover.
As Koeman acknowledged after the match, The Hawthorns is never an easy place to come so to have not only take three points but to do so from a 1-0 deficit and the kind of position Pulis’s men love to have opponents in so they can shut up shop, was particularly impressive.
He was miffed that his side didn’t take their opportunities to kill West Brom off but there were plenty at the final whistle who felt that last season under the previous regime, Everton might well have buckled in those final stages.
With Koeman still feeling his way into his new job, his transfer business still not complete and some key players still not 100% fit, every point gained is a bonus. In that sense, this was a big result and one that bodes very well for a season that continues to shape up in very optimistic fashion.
Everton had to dig deep in this one, with Ronald Koeman making a series of key substitutions as the game progressed after an early goal was given up from a corner. But a superb response from the entire team saw Mirallas equalize crucially on the break, and Barry headed in a nice opportunity at the far post to give them a lead to defend.
Romelu Lukaku was not sufficiently ready to face his old loan hosts West Brom at The Hawthorns in Everton's first away game of the new campaign; however, he started on the bench, with new signings Bolasie and Williams, and would come on as a first-half sub.
The side Ronald Koeman started with was the same lineup that faced Spurs, with an attack consisting of Mirallas, Barkley and Deulofeu, with Coleman still out injured.
Everton kicked of with the clear intent of controlling proceedings and getting the ball forward, with Deulofeu playing in Barkley who appeared to be tripped but Yacob got the ball. Barkely was then hit on the thigh but recovered quickly.
Barry took more command, winning the ball strongly, and play developed through Deulofeu on the wing but Barry's shot off the low return cross was too weak and straight at Foster.
Rondon got the better of Funes Mori but Stekelenburg was out very quickly to save brilliantly. Ft from the corner, a far post header and a goal with Stekelenburg clearly impeded, McAuley powering through Mirallas's vain attempt to clear the ball off the line.
Everton were stunned but tried to press a solid wall of West Brom defenders and could do little to penetrate, while the Baggies came forward and won another corner that was defended better. The next Blues attack broke down on a loose pass from Mirallas as Everton had their work cut out to keep it tight and hold possession, while trying to break through an impenetrable defence.
Everton possession was at times painfully deliberate, and far too slow in developing, with The Baggies easily able to stem their progress, forcing Barry to play long balls hopefully over the top for Deulofeu, but McAuley was far too strong for him. Barry came in strongly on him in response.
A freekick from Barkley didn't quite work like last week, that man McAuley heading it away. Berahino was carded for a nasty late challenge on Barry. The ineffective attacks continued until West Brom won another corner but this time took it short and it was defended away.
With little more than half-an-hour played and Everton showing nothing meaningful in attack, Koeman took action: Lukaku was stripped and readied for action, with James McCarthy the one to be pulled. Everton won a corner before he came on, but could not trouble Foster.
A good strong run from Holgate was too easily blocked, but he got forward again and this time Yacob was called for the foul, in a dangerous area, with Baines, Barkley and Mirallas sizing it up, but Baines fired it rather poorly well over the bar, with Lukaku yet to have a touch.
It took until the 44th minute, however, before Everton constructed anything approaching a penetrative attack, Deulofeu doing well from the right this time to hook a ball back from the byeline, but to nobody. Everton kept pressing up to the whistle, and an excellent sequnce of slick first-time passing through the middle involving Mirallas, Barry and Barkley saw Mirallas power in and fire beyond Foster, an excellent goal to put the Blues back in it. Fair reward for an astounding 69% possession statistic in the first half.
Stekelenburg pulled off another fantastic save shortly after the break, when lax passing inside the Everton box set up Fletcher for what seemed a certain goal. At the other end, Holgate powered in on goal off an exchange with Lukaku and won a corner that Deulofeu beyond the far post almost converted, possibly hitting the post. The second corner for Mirallas was superbly delivered but no big heads were where they were needed to be to convert it.
But West Brom got forward again and Fletcher took a shot with Jagielka trying to block it and catching him fractionally late. The free-kick was in a dangerous position, Gardner curling it a couple of feet wide with Stekelenburg stranded.
Everton's controlled possession looked to be creating more penetration until Deulofeu overran his dribble and lost the ball, leading shortly to his replacement by Bolasie after Olson was booked for taking out Mirallas. His free kick was superb to Funes Mori who fashioned a tremendous header that Foster parried away with a tremendous stretching save. From the corner, Holgate volleyed in but somehow the ball bounced up nicely for Barry to head in smartly at the far post, making it a superb turnaround by they yellow-shirted Blues.
Brilliantly, Everton continued to attack with raucous backing from the noisy Blues contingent in the crowd, with Pulis forced to making a double switch. But the visitors continued to take the game to their hosts, with Bolasie now playing an important part in building the attacks down the Everton right.
Bolasie beat Evans with ease and delivered a fantastic ball for Barkley to head in for 3-1... only it went 6 inches the wrong side of the post! — a terrible miss really on a free header. And West Brom were quickly up the other end and another wicked corner causing havoc in the Everton defence, McAuley coming close again.
Bolaise tried to drive through but was thwarted, Lukaku picking up behind him and giving Bolasie the chance to fire, but high and wide. Ricky Lambert came on to a suitable welcome from the Blues fans as he almost scored with his first touch, denied by a fantastic block from Funes Mori, as the unrelenting pace of the game continued with little sign of Everton tiring as they had done last week. Ashley Williams replaced Mirallas for the last 10 minutes as Koeman looked to batten down the hatches and see out the match.
Everton continued to control proceedings with increasing confidence but at no stage could it have been called 'easy', with West Brom providing feisty and physical opposition at every turn. Some fantastic defending by Holgate at the expense of a corner saw a couple more threatening chances determinedly repelled by the Everton defence.
Bolasie again showed excellent end-product, picking out Lukaku, but he was blocked, then Barkley releasing him, and again he picked out Lukaku but the Big Man could not beat Foster and another fearsome attack was waged in response by the The Baggies, with more tremendous Everton defending and another corner repelled as 4 minutes of added time were shown.
Holgate got called for a soft handball as the ball bobbled up, the free-kick fired in by McClean, but straight at the two-man wall, the ball falling to Foster wo add advanced to the Everton area, firing inches wide, as the last gasp, signalling an excellent win for the much fitter, much brighter, much more determined Everton side. The reception at the final whistle from the masse throng of Everton fans was simply marvellous as they showed their appreciation for a superb display and three vital points to push Everton up to 5th in the nascent Premier League table.
West Bromwich Albion: Foster, Dawson, Olsson [Y:59'], McAuley, Evans [Y:90+3'], Fletcher (c), Yacob, Phillips (Leko, 64), Gardner (McClean, 64), Berahino [Y:26'] (Lambert, 78) Rondon.
Subs not used: Myhill, Morrison, Field, Wilson.
Everton: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Jagielka, Funes Mori, McCarthy (37' Lukaku), Barry, Gueye, Baines, Mirallas, Barkley, Deulofeu (61' Bolasie).
Subs: Robles, Williams, Oviedo, Cleverley, Lennon.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
From My Seat: West Bromwich Albion (A)
A trip to The Hawthorns is a handy away day to a ground we have done rather well in over the seasons. Sunshine and showers and quite warm weather led to an array of garb being worn. Still, the away end filled up and the Royal Blue was the dominant colour, the Evertonian throats were where the songs and chants were coming from.
The teams emerged with us resplendent in yellow – no excuse for not passing to your own man. Mr Swarbrick was our man in the middle and on his whistle the mighty ‘Yellows’ kicked off. Within 5 minutes Barkley had run at their defence and was surrounded by four giants, he went down under the weight of tackles and we yelled ‘Penalty’ but our ref was not moved to agree. Just minutes later, a trademark long ball into our box sees Rondon ease past Funes Mori and in on goal but our keeper Stekelenburg made a fine save, blocking the ball for a corner with his foot. From the resultant corner, we concede the lead. The corner is played in long to the far post where McAuley rises highest and finds the net. We complain that our keeper was held on his line by Berahino but the ref waves protests away; I thought we should have been savvier.
WBA, encouraged by the goal, rained in more long balls and gained the odd corner but we dealt reasonably with the threat and tried to use the pace of Mirallas and Deulofeu for breakaways but they looked to be not strong enough and soon lost the ball and allowed another attack to develop. The impressive Barry did put one peach of a through-ball for Deulofeu to run onto but alas the ball beat him to the dead-ball line. On 20 minutes, we put a move of quality together started by Barry and, three passes later, the ball found Barry in their box with a shooting chance that he had to hurry and scuffed straight to the keeper. Within seconds, Barry made progress again so Berahino kicked him and got booked.
It was now looking like our starting formation of three at the back was just not working as both Deulofeu and Mirallas, our two spearheads, were just being smothered anytime they came inside – in fact, they were virtually spectators. Not bad out wide but just not physical enough when coming inside.
The half-hour mark was reached and WBA gained another corner and the away end was definitely edgy; the ball came into the mix but we saw the threat off and the faithful exhaled loudly and clapped and cheered... small things, eh. Some 5 minutes later, the manager had seen enough and Lukaku, who had been warming up vigorously, was readied to appear. He waited until we had completed the corner we had just gained. The ball was cleared and the next break in play, when Evans fouled Barkley, was the opportunity to send him on. I think most of us thought it would be Deulofeu or Mirallas going off; instead, it was McCarthy and it soon became clear why when we went to a back four with Holgate moving over one, Deulofeu in front of him and Mirallas behind Lukaku.
Holgate soon settled at right-back and was racing forward in a good move that was just about thwarted but, in the next move, Holgate was at it again when he raced forward and just outside the box he was fouled. Baines took the kick but skied the attempt. As we entered the last 5 minutes, we were already looking much better as a team and it was noticeable that Lukaku was engaging their big defenders more and helping others to run the channels.
In 2 minutes of time added, we proved we were better for the changes when a super move took place, the type of footy I love. A set of pinging passes: Baines, Barry, Mirallas, Barkley twice, and finally Mirallas, now in the box, to slot across the keeper and into the far corner of the net. Oh the celebration and ‘Oh Kevin Mirallas’ lasted until the half-time whistle and serenaded him off for his half-time cuppa.
An eventful half yet one that pleased the fans – not just for equaliser but for the manager to have the guts to make a sub to change the shape and turn a performance that was going nowhere into a far more coherent one. Players responded well too.
The second half started with our hosts in determined mood and in the first 5 minutes they had three ‘up an at em’ sorties which we dealt with except one that got through and the Stek made a big save. Then Holgate took centre stage again when he made two neat clearances and then raided forward at pace and gained a corner from which we gained another but both were defended away. WBA attacked and got near to our box where Jags made a great block on the attacker but our Ref deemed it to be a foul and WBA had free kick some 23 yards out. Someone took it but the Stek merely watched it past the post.
On the hour mark, we had a free kick which was cleared but we were soon back raiding and forced a corner. It was delivered to the back post where Holgate had found space and he hit the ball back toward goal, the ball hit the deck and bounced up and there on the other post was that man Barry to jump and head home — sheer pandemonium.
When all celebrations had settled down, Bolasie was introduced in place of Deulofeu. This Bolasie looks one bundle of powerful energy with a fine turn of speed, also seems quite unpredictable and has defenders dithering wondering what he might do... I got the impression even he doesn’t know what he is going to do. Will that make him doubly hard to mark?
70 mins and the game was even-Steven as we had something to hold onto and they needed to bomb on. We were looking to keep the back door closed and rely on breaks and from time to time Lukaku and Bolasie burst into life. Although WBA did more attacking, we were definitely dangerous on the break and, in one particular break, Bolasie got down the right and, with no apparent back-lift, put in a first-time cross that just invited Barkley to simply nod home, such was the accuracy. It was harder to miss than score but Barkley did the hard bit... quite amazing. That would have killed the game but hey ho; on we went with fans getting edgier and edgier.
80 mins and Williams is introduced in place of Mirallas who got a fine ovation and song as he left the pitch. The manager obviously upping the insurance policy as Williams went centre-back and Funes Mori moved to left-back with Baines in front. Clocks and watches seemed to have stopped as the last two seasons and a bit conditioning as to how we view the last knockings of games is at the forefront of many minds. Bolasie picked up a fine through-ball from Barkley and went at some pace into the box, he saw Lukaku better placed so he rolled it to him but WBA keeper Foster came charging out and Lukaku’s effort hit him. Let’s put that down as a great block.
Four mins of time added as we keep our hosts at arm’s length. I fight not to look at my watch but, as Holgate is adjudged to have handled just outside the box wide left, I crumbled and looked; we were in the last minute. Blood pressure off the scale for many, it couldn’t happen – could it? Their keeper races up-field to join the scrum, the kick is taken and partially cleared only to their keeper who shoots... WIDE!!! Whistle goes... What a happy band of Evertonians!!!
MotM – Holgate + Barry
Four points from two games and just a glimpse of how we might evolve under this management. I liked the way the game was approached in that you can have possession football but not exclusively, it can be wrapped in direct no-nonsense stuff depending upon circumstance. A win being the ultimate goal. I was impressed with the two lads who tied for my MotM. Barry will be harder to replace than many think. There are not many centre midfielders that affect a game like he can; when father time does catch up with him, I fully expect our new man Gana to be one that will miss him most.
Holgate seems to be coming on in leaps and bounds. Steady as a centre back and excellent at right back. He could be the man to save the club a lot of money in buying someone to push Coleman. If I was Coleman, I would worry a bit about my place when fit as this manager doesn’t seem shy in playing players if they are giving him what he asks for – and he sure is at the moment. If Stones was £50 mil what will City have to throw in for this lad?
Further news to cheer us on the way home: the BBC reported that ‘Big Ron’ had stated that ‘Big Rom’ was staying as well as reporting that Burnley had a good win today.
I hope our club has a good eleven days in the transfer market with their targets that will allow us to have a decent bedding in period and then for the manager to assess things and off we shop again next summer. It would be great to see a plan come together.
UP THE BLUES
Influential changes from Koeman clinch victory
"9:30am? Is it early kick off or something?" texted Ritchie in reply to my suggestion that we set off for the trip to West Brom pretty early. I'd learnt on Twitter that, with the V Festival on, the M6 was likely to be more of a car park though Ritchie wasn't convinced. We eventually settled on leaving at 10:15am, or at least we were supposed to. I forced the issue by turning up at Ritchie's at 10am to "save him the bother of coming to pick me up". The reality was I wanted to ensure we left in good time and Ritchie saw through me no doubt.
I spared him the "I told you so" talk as we crawled through the roadwork traffic on the M6. We made reasonable time navigating through it. Checking ahead on Google maps it showed some very heavy traffic deeper down the M6. We planned to pull off the motorway onto the A34 to cut out the traffic but I ended up misdirecting the turn. Thankfully it all turned out OK, and just as we were on the tip of the heavy traffic, we pulled off, navigating towards Dudley and rejoining the motorway just in time to pull off for West Bromwich. It was one of our prouder traffic-decision-making moments, and we parked up at the cushy car park just off the ring road so we could make a quick getaway later. Arriving at the pub at 12:45pm, we were pretty satisfied with our work thus far.
The pub, the Royal Oak, though busy, offered quick service and decent food. It was a perfect resting point where we watched Manchester City make light work of next week's opponents, Stoke City, before walking on to The Hawthorns amongst singing Evertonians.
We were into the ground and at our seats quickly enough with the away fans in fine voice. Everton unchanged in their new yellow kit and attacking the Birmingham Road End at the opposite side of the ground in the first half.
Though we started reasonably enough, we were behind quickly enough... as early as the 9th minute in fact. Maarten Stekelenburg did particularly well to stop Salomon Rondon's effort on the goal after Ramiro Funes Mori allowed his fellow South American to escape his attentions too easily. From the resulting corner, however, Gareth McAuley headed in comfortably. Stekelenburg went down quite easily once the corner was played, presumably expecting to be able to con the referee into awarding a free kick but Neil Swarbrick, who officiated well I thought, wasn't fooled and West Brom were ahead.
The sequential 30 minutes were very poor indeed. We had no focal point in attack and our shape wasn't right at all. I was even saying to Ritchie on about 20 minutes that we should cut our losses with this and get Romelu Lukaku on, and thankfully it wasn't long before Ronald Koeman had seen enough and on came the Belgian on 38 minutes. By this point, all we had offered was a Gareth Barry effort which was comfortable for Foster, and though not directly involved in the goal, the change in formation that accommodated Lukaku paid dividends when, in stoppage time, Ross Barkley set up Kevin Mirallas who rolled the ball past Ben Foster for a vital pre-break equaliser.
We went into the break buoyant and our tails were noticeably up in the second half; we were right into West Brom from the off. Our retention of possession and pressing up the field was a joy to watch and the way the game was going, it wasn't really a surprise when Everton went ahead to the delight of the travelling fans. A corner kick somehow found its way to the nerveless Mason Holgate who volleyed back towards goal. I'm not entirely sure what happened but the ball seemed to kick up and was attacked at the near post by Gareth Barry who jubilantly bulleted a header into the net on his 100th Premier League appearance for Everton. Definitely a "get in" moment.
Livewire debutant Yannick Bolasie was unfortunate not to claim an assist on his debut from the substitute bench when he darted past the West Brom full back as if he wasn't there and put in a pinpoint cross which Ross Barkley powerfully headed narrowly wide.
That, or Lukaku's miss, would have sealed the game, but as is the Everton way, we were put under the microscope in the closing stages when West Brom worked us hard with set pieces, the final action of the game being an impressive Ben Foster volley from the edge of the penalty area which drifted wide.
It took a little while to leave the stadium as the players lapped up the applause from the Smethwick End but we were away soon enough and on the road back in no time. The return journey was much easier than the outward and we were back before 7:30pm.
So what have we learnt so far about Ronald Koeman? Well I like that he isn't one to wait. Under his predecessor it seemed substitutions were almost always premeditated. We would sometimes even joke as we got to about 68 minutes that the "Deulofeu sub was only two minutes away" under Roberto Martinez, and wouldn't be surprised when it then happened. Koeman's willingness to change what he doesn't like and react to situations is very refreshing, and without his bullishness, we would not have won this game.
A great result and it's great to have that positive feeling back. Actually, when did we last have it?
Stekelenburg: He made two excellent saves (though we conceded immediately from one of them) and seems a very good shot stopper. I want to see the goal again to see what he was playing at, and if I am to be critical of his play I would say his kicking isn't brilliant and his distribution can be slow and laboured. Regardless, from what I've seen so far, he's the best goalkeeper we've had for a few years now. 7
Baines: I thought he was a little off colour last week but he was certainly full of energy this time and had a busy and productive game throughout. 7
Funes Mori: The weak link at the back, I would suggest, and I imagine he will be nudged out of the team to be replaced by Ashley Williams over the coming weeks and months. Unlucky not to score with his second-half header and, though he is always a handful in the opposition penalty area, his defensive frailties remain a concern to me. 6
Jagielka: Solid enough defensively though distribution as average as ever. 7
Holgate: His defensive composure belies his 19 years. When James McCarthy made way, he was asked to get further forward from right back. Though not his natural game and though he isn't the type of full back likely to beat a man, he gave it everything and seldom put a foot wrong. A great effort. 8
McCarthy: Didn't necessarily do a lot wrong, but something had to change and, given it is not really his position out on the right, it was the obvious decision to replace him. These are untested waters for James as he's never really not been one of the first names on the teamsheet in his career. I would say he is definitely worth keeping as it's another midfield option should we lose Barry or Gueye to injury or suspension, but he must be wondering where his Everton future lies at the moment. 5
Gueye: He already seems to have hit a level for which we have come to expect. He's a great defensive midfielder who will provide nuisance value to any opposition. An excellent signing. 8
Barry: A terrific display from Gareth Barry and he's already shown in his two games so far this season that he is far from finished yet. 8
Barkley: A bit hit and miss... though Ross often is. Missed a decent opportunity to seal the game though thankfully it didn't come back to bite us. 6
Mirallas: Somehow we all seem to expect a big season from Kevin Mirallas and he has been right on the money so far. He put in quite a shift at the Hawthorns and grabbed a goal in a very strong display. Long may it continue. My Man of the Match. 8
Deulofeu: Improved massively when moved to the wing but struggled up front. 6
Lukaku (for McCarthy): Though he didn't perform near his best, his presence alone gave West Brom so much more to think about. It was pleasing to read that Koeman has stated that Lukaku will stay for another season at least. I can see him scoring a lot of goals with Bolasie in the team. 5
Bolasie (for Deulofeu): What a player he looks! I don't know how consistent he can be with his performance levels but, if he can play like he did here, he will cause many teams big problems. A fine debut. 8
Williams (for Mirallas): Settled into the back line nicely. 6
Everton's staggered readiness for 2016-17 gets its second examination this weekend with the team's first away game and a trip to The Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion.
Another week fitter under the gruelling training regimen implemented by Jan Kluitenburg under the instruction of Ronald Koeman, the Blues could also be two players stronger depending on whether the manager elects to hand both Ashley Williams and Yannick Bolasie their debuts.
Both are likely to be included in the squad but with Williams perhaps borderline in terms of full fitness following his belated return from the European Championships, he might have to be content with the bench.
Bolasie, though, having had the benefit of a full pre-season at Crystal Palace, could face the Baggies for the second week running after coming on as a second-half substitute against West Brom for what would be his last appearance for the Eagles.
Fitness is only part of the equation for Koeman, however. Just as Roberto Martinez's first few weeks at Finch Farm involved ingraining his new charges with a new way of playing, so his successor is instilling a different style to the one that eventually proved counter-productive under the Catalan.
“It's difficult,” Koeman said in his pre-match press conference on Thursday. “It's not only about the physical state of the players, it's also about our philosophy and how we like to play… with more pressing from the front and sometimes playing direct football.
“Of course we like to keep the ball but sometimes the easiest way to create is [through] direct play and if you can change that in the game that's an extra quality for the team but we need time and that's normal.”
After drawing 1-1 on his first visit as Everton boss, Martinez oversaw victories at The Hawthorns in the next two seasons but thanks to his side's infamous defensive vulnerabilities playing out from the back and from set-pieces, they had to come back from 2-0 down for the first time in the Premier League era since that game against Wimbledon 21 years previously.
Koeman acknowledged the Baggies' renowned strengths under Tony Pulis as being reasons why it won't be an easy ride on Saturday. It could be a physical game with the potential for referee Neil Swarbrick to have a busy afternoon and if you fancy having a flutter on just how exercised his notebook and pencil will be, take a look at cardtips.co.uk
“I know from my experiences that it's a very tough opponent,” he admitted. “Maybe one the strongest in terms of direct football, physical strength, very strong defensive organisation and maybe the one of the best teams at set-plays and that's a really nice challenge for us.”
Whether that need for defensive solidity will tip him towards starting Williams — with Seamus Coleman expected to be out for another fortnight, it would almost certainly be at the expense of Mason Holgate — remains to be seen but the manager will be hoping that it's his team's strengths at the other end that win him the game. Romelu Lukaku is expected to play a part after returning to training yesterday for the first time after sustaining a gash to his heel.
It was the Belgian's heroics in combination with Gerard Deulofeu that won all three points in this fixture last season and, having missed out last weekend against Tottenham, he will hopefully be raring to go. Should both he and Bolasie start, however, it will have interesting ramifications for the rest of the line-up from an attacking standpoint — another formation with a back three would mean both Deulofeu and Kevin Mirallas making way, assuming Ross Barkley keeps his place.
The rest of the side is likely to remain unchanged, with James McCarthy expected to continue in the right-wingback role with which he was tasked against Spurs.
Despite getting the new campaign off to a win last weekend, Pulis has been candid in assessment of his team's prospects this season, saying that West Brom need to sign almost half a team before the transfer deadline. Saido Berahino's future continues to rumble on but in Salomon Rondon he has a dangerous striker that Everton will need to keep shackled.
They lack quality in midfield, however, and, as such, will likely rely on their aerial prowess from crosses and dead-ball situations, an Achilles heel for the Blues over the last couple of seasons but one hopefully shored up by the new regime.
With Koeman's own squad-building efforts still not complete and the players still not where he wants them to be physically, Everton are still a work in progress heading into the second game of 2016-17. However, having obtained a decent result last weekend against a side tipped for the top four again this season, if the boss can steer them to a victory this weekend despite not being at full strength, it will bode very well for when they are firing on all cylinders.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Last time: West Brom 2 - 3 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Jagielka, Funes Mori, McCarthy, Barry, Gueye, Baines, Barkley, Deulofeu, Lukaku