Everton’s youngsters showed their elders at home how it’s done as Ademola Lookman scored twice to secure The Toffees’ first Europa League win of the season.
With neither side able to qualify for the knockout stage, Sam Allardyce sent a squad made up of youth and fringe players to face Apollon Limassol in Cyrpus. Lookman headed home Nicola Vlasic’s chipped cross to give Everton the lead before his powerful long-range shot beat ‘keeper Anastasios Kissas to make it two.
Everton were rarely troubled in the second half and pressed for more, Kevin Mirallas, debutante Fraser Hornby and Lookman all denied by Kissas. But Vlasic pounced on an error to run through on goal with just minutes of normal time remaining, calmly slotting beneath the on-rushing keeper.
Lookman brace shows he’s ready for first team chance
Lookman must have wondered what an earth he’d done wrong to warrant another place on Ronald Koeman’s bench. On no less than 16 occasions has the young winger found himself kicking his heels as opposed to showing the opposition fullback a clean pair. Out of 19 games this season, Lookman has been an unused sub in eight of them.
And with just three starts to his name this season in all competitions, it’s fair to say Lookman’s not had a fair crack of the whip. His career at Everton may be less than 12 months old, yet the flashes of excitement in his rare appearances have allowed Evertonians a glimpse of a player with huge potential.
His performance in Cyprus will not have gone unnoticed by Allardyce. With an eye catching goal from outside the box and a predator’s instinct to head in Everton’s opener, if Lookman can continue to combine devastating speed and dribbling ability with productivity, then there will be a place for him in Allardyce’s Everton.
Should Vlasic get his chance as the 10?
Out of all of Everton’s summer signings, it’s the Croatian whose performances have sparked the most excitement. Yes Jordan Pickford has been excellent, despite the cast of The Walking Dead playing in front of him. But in Vlasic, Everton have a versatile young attacker who has all the qualities of a top player.
Pace and close control got him out of a few tight spots in Cyprus, but his eye for a pass and ability to play the right ball at the right time shows he has an understanding of the game also possessed by the very best.
After a classy display against the Cypriots, capped off with an excellently taken third goal, there’s no doubt that the former Hajduk Split man has a bright future in the game. The question is: in which position? Everton have an embarrassment of number 10s, and while Vlasic has so far been deployed as a winger in his short time at Goodison Park, he looks most comfortable supplying a number 9 in a central role.
Would Allardyce give him a chance ahead of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney or possibly even Ross Barkley should he decide to stay?
These two still have a lot to do to convince Big Sam
While Lookman and Vlasic look like players ready to make a break into Everton’s starting XI, there are two players who have never looked further away.
With over 100 appearances in a blue shirt -and someone who has done very little to warrant his chance to wear it again- it should have been Kevin Mirallas staking his claim for a starting berth in Sunday’s derby, and in Allardyce’s future plans. But instead we got a sulky performance; something that’s become far too typical of the Belgian in the past few seasons.
While Schneiderlin fared better against Limassol, it seems he has a long way to go in forcing his way back into reckoning for a regular starting place at Everton. If there’s one thing Allardyce should be able to sniff out, it’s a bad egg. Someone unwilling to pull their weight, who refuses to dig in when times are tough and who fails to take on board instructions from coaching staff will not last long under Big Sam’s regime.
Youth policy pays off
It was a strange lead up to this final Europa League game. The news that Allardyce would send a mixture of youth and fringe players to Cyprus to conclude Everton’s European commitments this year was of course welcome ahead of the 229th Merseyside derby on Sunday.
And with the manager also opting to stay behind with his first teame, it almost felt like a completely different club heading out to play Limassol.
But it was completely the right decision. Despite thousands of Evertonians making the trip, the feeling seems to be shared amongst even those travelling, who headed out with the attitude that they would enjoy watching their team in Europe one last time: no pressure, and a little jolly to be gained out of it.
That the likes of Lookman and Vlasic had the chance to stake their claim for the first team made it a decision well made, and lots of teenagers impressing at U18 and U23 levels were able to gain some invaluable experience.
What does this win say about Koeman?
Vlasic’s only other goal for The Toffees came in the reverse fixture in September, a match in which a full strength Everton featuring Sigurdsson, Rooney, Pickford and Baines were held to a 2-2 draw by the Cypriots.
Okay, the final match of the group stage had nothing riding on it, with Atalanta and Lyon already guaranteed of progression to the knockout stage, but it was a starting XI with an average age of 23 years, 15 days, managed by a newly appointed first team coach and featuring three debutantes.
That this team managed to comfortably beat by three goals to nil the same side that frustrated Koeman’s team of experienced pros raises questions of the Dutchman. Perhaps it’s a bit of a low blow to compare (after all football moves very fast, and two back to back wins has seen Everton’s confidence rocket) but Farhad Moshiri must be feeling vindicated in his decision to relieve Keman of his duties.