Idrissa Gueye scored his first goal for the club with a fine strike as Everton beat Sunderland 2-0.
The Senegal midfielder capped off a swift Everton attack just before half-time with an emphatic finish from Seamus Coleman’s pull-back.
Sunderland showed fight in the second half but The Toffees’ class was too much for the visitors and victory was wrapped up ten minutes before time thanks to a powerful run and finish by Romelu Lukaku.
“If you want a vision of the future, imagine Gana and Schneiderlin’s boots stamping on their opponent’s face – forever.”
Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, there’s been an outpouring of George Orwell quotes and references to 1984. But allow me put a positive spin on this much-used quote, because as long as Everton can field a midfield of Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin, the future is sure to resemble a Toffee-utopia.
The expected partnership when Schneiderlin was brought to the club was a mouth-watering one and while a subdued performance in the north-east a fortnight ago meant Evertonians had to wait to get a real glimpse of their potential as a midfield duo, it was well worth the wait.
Gana was the engine, buzzing and covering every blade while Schneiderlin lay in wait, ready to ambush and regain possession when required and distribute with care.
Had it not been for Gana’s one-man-team heroics, the Frenchman would surely have pipped the summer signing to the Man of the Match award. Of course his goal set Everton on their way to three points, but his contribution for the second was equally important.
Blocking the cross in the right back position, Gana’s follow up tackle only resulted in a partial clearance before his interception allowed Mirallas to free Lukaku.
The pair contributed eight of Everton’s 11 interceptions in the game (4 each) and missed only one tackle each (3/4 and 5/6), while Gana leads the Premier League when it comes to total tackles made. In fact, no one else in Europe’s top five leagues has more than the Senegal man’s 101.
And the ease in which they kept Everton in possession was a joy to watch. An exciting glimpse at a tantalising future.
Coleman back to his best
While it wasn’t always going for him at the back end of last season, and in some games early on this campaign, Coleman has been a model of consistency since the visit of Arsenal back in December.
Lung-busting runs down the right flank evaded his performances in Blue for some time last year, but a change in hierarchy and a decent spell at the European Championships in France in the green of Ireland (as well as receiving the honour of his nation’s captaincy) has revitalised the Sligo man.
While his attacking exploits have been rightly applauded for some time during his spell in England, some fans haven’t been as quick to praise his defensive side. But I can think of few games this season where the Irishman has let himself and his back four down.
He’s looking solid, full of energy and is scoring too – his four goals this term make him Everton’s joint-second leading scorer with Ross Barkley.
Keeping it clean
The consistency of Joel Robles has surprised many Evertonians and I’m pretty sure it’s taken Ronald Koeman aback too.
There were more than a few standout performances last season when he deputised for the increasingly erratic Tim Howard, but it was felt that his aerial weakness and tendency to concede too easily from long-range ruled him out of staking a claim for number one.
A questionable effort at a save for Robert Snodgrass’ goal at Hull aside, the Spaniard has been in fine form, with six clean sheets in nine league games.
It seems to have given Koeman food for thought with regards to his number one position.
Defence looks better with each game, but expect changes
And with Joel’s fine form between the sticks, there seems to be little reason to change the back four too much. Since the away draw at Hull, Phil Jagielka has lost his place to Ramiro Funes Mori and has been fourth choice in the centre-back pecking order.
With Mason Holgate sometimes preferred in a back three, Everton’s captain will be wondering whether his opportunity will come back round.
But despite the success of what looks like a settled back four, don’t be surprised to see Koeman mix it up. After all, the Dutchman has seamlessly changed from back 4 to back 3 when the occasion has called for it.
Schneiderlin even seemed to fill in as a third centre half during the visit to Stoke, while you’ll notice his role as protector of a back four is to effectively drop in and receive the ball as the middle man of a ‘back three’, forcing Williams and Mori wide, and Coleman and Baines higher into enemy territory.
With someone so calm in possession and the ability to play long or short with pin-point accuracy, this means opponents are either worried enough to give Everton the space to play, or they’re foolish enough to have the likes of Gana, Tom Davies, Ross Barkley and Schneiderlin play through them.
And let’s not forget Koeman has form in being quick to change personnel should he not see the standards he expects. The Dutchman demands high levels of effort and application in every game and he’ll be more than happy to hook, drop and omit those not meeting his expectations.
A short tribute to The Golden Vision
I have to confess to knowing little about Alex Young, who sadly passed away aged 80 on Monday. But when you know someone by a nickname such as ‘The Golden Vision’, you know you must be on to someone special.
Forever linked to the Ken Loach docu-drama of the same name (a film not only about the Everton player and his relationship with fans, but documenting the lives of the working-class in 1960s Britain), Young notched 89 goals in 275 appearances for The Toffees, winning one league championship and the FA Cup.
Rather than try and fail to describe the man, I’ll leave you with the words of another Everton great, Alan Ball: “He oozed God-given ability. Unlike me, he could head the ball, shoot, pass and dribble with both feet and keep his mouth shut under the severest provocation (…) I place Alex Young on my shortlist of the greatest footballers that I have been lucky to witness up close and personal.”