Everton’s final home game of the Premier League season ended in victory after a dominant first half display against Burnley.
The Toffees burst out of the traps at Goodison Park, with most of the first 15 minutes played out in Burnley’s half. The pressure paid when Richarlison’s long-range strike took a nick off Ben Mee, and minutes later Seamus Coleman headed in the rebound after Lucas Digne’s swerving strike was parried by Tom Heaton.
The win moves Marco Silva’s side up to 8th, 1 point behind Wolves who occupy the final European spot.
Fri-yay – It’s fun being at Goodison again
We’ve all watched enough Sky Sports coverage to know that “2-0 is the worst lead”; a cliché that implies the winning side become so complacent they allow their opponents a way back into the game.
Whether you believe it to be true or not, there wasn’t much danger of Everton relinquishing their advantage once Coleman doubled Everton’s lead. The Toffees may have taken their foot off the gas towards the end of the second half, but a combination of astute defending and a lack of adventure from Sean Dyche’s side meant the usual nerves on the terraces were almost non-existent.
Where there was usually tension, on Friday night there was joviality. A party atmosphere replacing a collective feeling of unease. The confidence of recent home results and performances swelled from the terraces, spilling onto the pitch and sweeping the players up too. There was urgency about Everton’s play, momentum from the first whistle flowed one way and it was as much as Heaton and the 10 men in front of him could do to succumb to the early pressure.
Despite taking 10 points form 12 against top six opposition, there were worries Everton might struggle against Burnley, where the onus would be on them to enjoy the majority of possession. But The Toffees were utterly dominant in the opening half an hour, passing forward with pace, moving the opposition, and finding space behind a tight rear guard. They overwhelmed Burnley to the extent that Evertonians felt the game had been won before their opponents had a chance to get out of their own half.
Waiting in the wings
A key aspect of Everton’s success on Friday – as well as their recent spring resurgence – is their wide men. Not just the flair and creativity of Richarlison and Bernard, but their overlapping full-backs who have been so influential in the last few months.
Everton’s heatmap from Friday night shows us where the action happened, with Digne and Bernard turning up the heat on Lowton. Digne’s 99 touches were the most of any player on the pitch, nearly double that of his Burnley counterpart Charlie Taylor, while only Idrissa Gueye (88) took more touches than Coleman (83).
Silva’s game plan is quite clear: use the full backs to create width in high positions, create 2 on 1 situations against opposition full backs and look to cross or drive in from this position. Coleman was on hand to provide this support to Richarlison, with numerous successful give-and-goes, while Digne and Bernard’s partnership on the left flank has blossomed into a potent weapon in Everton’s arsenal.
Out of ideas?
So it was frustrating to see this pattern of play diminish once Everton doubled their lead after 20 minutes. What’s served them so well in recent months is the ability to mix up their style of play: utilising the marauding full-backs or playing direct balls to Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
With Burnley starting to play in Everton’s half, the hosts looked to get the ball forward as quickly as possible to the striker, who was tasked with battling two centre halves and keep the ball long enough for support to arrive.
In moments he was able to do just that, however James Tarkowski and Mee soon got the better of Everton’s lone striker. So it’s a shame Silva, or indeed the players between them, didn’t appear to identify this with the aim of changing Everton’s approach.
“He just needs a goal”
Calvert-Lewin’s performances in the last quarter of the season have been exemplary, with only his goal tally stopping Evertonians getting too carried away. For a striker with 19 starts all season, six is a modest return for a 22-year-old still learning in the Premier League.
Since making the CF starting berth his own, he’s netted just twice (against Cardiff and Newcastle). How desperate the U20 World Cup winner was for a goal last night; his best chance of the game blazed over when teed up just outside the area.
He cut a somewhat disappointed figure on Friday, despite the overwhelmingly positive team performance. More than likely the striker was worn out by the physical battle with Burnley’s centre-halves, both excellent in the air. By the time a decent opportunity came his way, Calvert-Lewin snatched at it; his demeanour that of a man who knows it just won’t be his night.
But as with all strikers, one goal can change everything, and a more confident and composed Calvert-Lewin will make a big difference.
We don’t hear much about zonal marking any more
The shutout against Burnley at Goodison Park was Everton’s eighth in their last 10 matches. Considering they had kept just six in the previous 31, the turnaround has been something of a miracle in the eyes of Evertonians.
Keeping hold of leads has been Everton’s Achilles’ heel in recent seasons, Roberto Martinez’s final season signalling the start of a confidence-crisis for the club when finding themselves in winning positions. Indeed there have been games overseen by Silva which fit that very narrative: Bournemouth away, Newcastle at home and the still haunting 2-3 reverse at St James’ Park.
But the resilience shown over the last few months, from goalkeeper to centre forward, has been exceptional. We look less vulnerable to counter attacks and less likely to concede from set pieces, despite half of Merseyside bemoaning the zonal marking system Silva has employed. It’s for the Portuguese to take the plaudits for getting the message through on the training ground and changing Everton’s fortunes. As long as we keep up this rate of clean sheets, then we’ll thankfully never have to hear the words “zonal marking” ever again.