Everton progressed to the playoff stages of the Europa League with a 2-0 aggregate win over Ruzomberok.
The Toffees went into the second leg of their third qualifying round fixture against the Slovakian minnows with a slender one-goal lead and their hosts ensured it was another nervy night.
It took a second half strike from substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin before the travelling Blues could be certain of their side’s progression into the next round.
Still a lot of work to do
We’re still in pre-season, so we shouldn’t read too much into Everton’s performances over the two legs. But there will be much still for Koeman to ponder.
Everton had the advantage and so the message from the manager would have been for his players not to panic and for them to pick their moments. But there was a distinct lack of creativity from Everton which will concern fans.
Despite playing with wing-backs Everton’s width was non-existent, especially in the first half. Wayne Rooney lined up alongside Sandro Ramirez in a two-pronged attack but often the former was dropping deep and so occupying Davy Klaassen’s space. With Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye providing a double anchor, it became a crowded midfield and it was too much of an ask for Sandro to be the only willing runner.
Koeman has lots of options in midfield (and with one of his best performers last season in Tom Davies shunted out to full-back) but two holding midfielders might not have been necessary, especially considering the quality of opposition in Slovakia.
Davies one of few bright sparks
Even at wing-back, Davies put in the kind of performance that had fans singing his praises last season. We saw him tried at right back towards the end of the campaign and he slotted into that role almost seamlessly here.
Central midfield still seems to be the best role for Davies, where his qualities lie in keeping possession with an eye on breaking forward, but his energy meant he was one of Everton’s few genuine threats on Thursday night.
A quick change of pace saw him bound down the right side deep into the first half. Nothing came of it, but it was the first moment of adventure initiated by an Everton player, and it came in the 30th minute. With his willingness to pass and move -more so in the second half- he provided some thrust to an otherwise blunted Everton attack.
Super sub role for World Cup hero
Fresh from his World Cup winning exploits for the Under 20s, Calvert-Lewin was the man (or kid) to ensure safe passage to the Europa League playoffs.
To be fair to Sandro, the new arrival worked hard and was trying to make things happen; perhaps full match sharpness is still a week or two away. But Calvert-Lewin’s energy and willingness to work the opponent’s defence came at the right time.
While he seemed intent on either making a chance for himself or one of his teammates (he did superbly to tee up Rooney before he stuttered, ran into trouble and passed up the opportunity), Calvert-Lewin was in the right place to receive the ball when opportunity came along.
Finding the space as Everton won the ball back, he kept himself onside, kept his cool with the recovering defender bearing down and finished calmly. Koeman is clearly sweet on the kid and it looks as though he’s going to be a feature of this first team for the season ahead.
Klaassen quiet, but encouraging signs are there
Having caught a few of Ajax’s Europa League games last season, the arrival of Klaassen was one I was most excited by. Technically sound with a good range of passing, the Dutchman also has the knack of popping up in the right place at the right time in front of goal. Not at all unlike a certain Tim Cahill and from evidence of Ajax’s season, a better finisher.
14 goals and 9 assists from midfield is a very good return in any league, so the Ajax graduate comes with a certain weight of expectation. We’re yet to see such form in an Everton shirt (although he did provide the assist) but then it’s still early days for the Dutchman finding his feet in England.
The game passed him by somewhat on Thursday but there were some encouraging signs. The little flicked header over his marker to find Rooney. The quick feet and exchanges between himself, Sandro and Rooney. And most pleasing of all his movement off the ball. Good footballers never stand still, and despite not dictating play, Klaassen is someone who doesn’t just admire his passes.
He’s shown over the two legs a willingness to flood the box. Surprisingly it’s the best place to score goals and other than Romelu Lukaku, the cavalry charge last season was few and far between. With a bit of time Klaassen is sure to come up with some important goals.
So far so good for Pickford
Everton’s new number 1 may have only completed his first 90 minutes for his new side but the signs so far are positive.
Jordan Pickford was on hand to cut out a dangerous cross in the first half and claimed several crosses/free-kicks in his first competitive outing. Good with his feet as well as his hands, the most expensive goalkeeper in British football has a big price tag to live up to, but the initial signs are good.