The goalkeeping heroics of Maarten Stekelenburg helped Everton to a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Manchester City.
The hosts were frustrated at the Etihad Stadium by the Dutch international who came to Everton’s rescue on two occasions from the penalty spot, as well as pulling off a string of outstanding saves throughout.
The Toffees’ rear-guard was under pressure from the first whistle to the last and the result looked to be heading away from the visitors when David Silva was felled inside the area. But Stekelenburg was equal to Kevin de Bruyne’s firm penalty, throwing himself to his left side.
Everton took the lead against the run of play, with top marksman Romelu Lukaku netting his sixth of the season with a fine individual run and finish.
City got the chance to reply almost instantly when Sergio Aguero stepped up from 12 yards, having been scythed down by Phil Jagielka. But the Argentine’s poor recent record from the spot continued as Stekelenburg guessed right to keep Everton in the lead.
Despite the save the visitors failed to keep the lead for more than a few minutes, substitute Nolito heading in from David Silva’s cross.
No doubt the man between the Steks was MOM
The Etihad’s stadium announcer may have declared David Silva as the home side’s man of the match as the game drew to a close, but the home fans won’t have needed telling who the outstanding player on the pitch was.
Six goalkeepers had reached the feat of saving two penalties in a single Premier League game before Saturday, with Stekelenburg adding his name to that list against City. Edwin van der Sar managed it, so did Brad Friedel. Huerelho Gomes managed it twice, most recently for Watford in April against the same player (Berahino).
While he may only have 44 Premier League appearances to his name, the Dutchman is an experienced keeper of the Eredivisie (191) and Serie A (48), and has 56 international caps to his name. Some have been surprised by the way in which Stekelenburg has performed as Everton’s number one, with it looking certain that another goalkeeper was inbound before the window closed.
But Everton’s man between the sticks is showing fans just what he’s capable of, and it’s been some time since we’ve seen a goalkeeping performance of that quality in a blue shirt. Not only did he stop City from 12 yards on two occasions but he made a string of excellent stops, especially in the second half when Pep Gaurdiola’s side began to turn the screw.
Jags-Wills could prove a fashionable pairing
Everton’s defensive limitations were laid bare last season under the previous regime. Unprepared, naïve, and lacking leadership. But how things have changed.
Koeman hasn’t just brought in personnel to correct Everton’s failings, he has completely changed the team’s mentality towards defending. Every player is required to fulfil a role when they haven’t got the ball, contributing to an overall setup that makes it more difficult for opposition to break through.
If it were not for Stekelenburg’s outrageous performance, Ashley Williams would surely have picked up the MOM gong. According to Squawka, the summer signing made 3 blocks, 14 clearances and 3 interceptions and is demonstrating the leadership qualities all Evertonians could see the team were short of last season.
Phil Jagielka had a similarly good day at the office (7 blocks, 10 clearances, 6 interceptions) in comparison, yet it’s hard to ignore his part in the award of two penalties. Everton’s skipper has been one of Everton’s most dependable players since arriving at Goodison Park but moments of naivety never seem too far away. But the longer Koeman can keep the Williams-Jagielka partnership together, the more fruitful his time at Everton will be.
Koeman’s standards set; his demands being met
It’s not just the centre halves who’ll take the plaudits for Everton’s defensive performance. With more defensive actions than any other side in the Premier League on Saturday (85), the whole team played their part in repelling the City onslaught of 18 attempts and that defensive work starts at the front.
Okay, Lukaku will never fully adopt the Carlos Tevez approach to football: relentlessly hounding defenders into a mistake. But he no longer has the licence to be a bystander when Everton don’t have the ball. He can probably do more, but the improvement that Koeman seems to demand from each and every one of his players is clear and the five goals conceded in just eight games is testament to the manager’s increased demands.
It’s a good start, but that’s all it is
After eight games as boss, Koeman finds himself joint top of the list for most points by a new Everton manager. Who does he share the number one spot with? Howard Kendall? Harry Catterick? Nope, it’s everyone’s favourite brown-brogued Catalan.
Koeman has amassed 15 points from the league so far this season, the same as Roberto Martinez managed in his debut campaign in 2013/14. While there’s no reason to suggest things will turn as sour as it did in Martinez’s last months as Everton manager, it’s a simple reminder that a good start is still only that: a start. Initial signs are positive under Koeman, but the league table after 38 games will always be the barometer for any manager.
Some strike it hot
With Gael Clichy left treading through treacle, there was only one outcome when Lukaku looked up at Claudio Bravo’s goal in the 65th minute. It was a goal which demonstrated much of what makes the Belgian such a devastating goalscorer: pace, power and precision.
The way he took it in his stride and effortlessly slotted past the ex-Barcelona man showed a striker in a rich vein of form; on a ruthless hot streak with enough confidence to make John Stones’ knees knock.
It was his sixth goal in his last five Premier League games, while in terms of goals he has contributed towards (goals-assists) only Diego Costa (7-2) has more. And with a superior goals to game ratio than the Spaniard (95mins compared to 101mins per goal), Lukaku is proving what a priceless piece of business it was keeping hold of him this summer.