Everton’s last two games can represent the history of their season. Following the historic victory at Arsenal came a demoralizing defeat at home. They have the fewest home wins in the top half of the Premier League and it looks like it will cost them Champions League football.
Aston Villa may have had little to play for, but it conjured up a wonderful winner from Anwar El Ghazi, leaving Everton with a lone win in 10 league games at Goodison Park in 2021. But for Jordan Pickford, the margin may have been higher. .
Spectator Gareth Southgate had been steadfast in his loyalty to the goalkeeper and Pickford’s five first-half saves probably didn’t alter the England manager’s thinking as much as they crystallized it, but even his heroics weren’t enough to save Everton.
Everton have found many ways to cause their own problems over the years and a policy of trying to play from behind had threatened to backfire even before it led to the opening goal. Villa had been prepared to press and when Mason Holgate received a pass from Ben Godfrey and it became a problem, he was dispossessed by Ollie Watkins, who threw his shot under Pickford.
If Watkins has become a late challenger for Dominic Calvert-Lewin to replace Harry Kane on the England team, a third goal in his last five games showed that he is stepping up his case. However, he got a quick response from his rival. Calvert-Lewin’s previous 16 league games had produced only three goals, but if Watkins seemed to have the form on his side, Everton’s top scorer soon illustrated his attributes. He found Lucas Digne’s corner with an imposing header that Tyrone Mings, who was on the line, couldn’t help himself. Ross Barkley’s second return to Goodison Park included the loss of Calvert-Lewin, though he later showed his skills by breaking a drive against Pickford’s post, but he wasn’t the only one who found him elusive. Calvert-Lewin found a second attractive center from Digne, volleyed low through the area, with a diving header that elicited a good save from Emi Martinez.
Everton had been deprived of the services of James Rodriguez, who suffered a calf injury in the warm-up, but Digne assumed creative responsibilities in his absence. Digne’s difficulties were in defense; the spirited Bertrand Traoré ran into space behind him and the increasingly busy Pickford had to make an excellent double stop.
The Everton goalkeeper had made two great saves before Watkins; completed a hat-trick by repelling a nose dive. The Ghazi then thrashed the rebound off the crossbar and the chaotic scenes in Everton’s defense may have caused Carlo Ancelotti to question his decision to retain the four behind who kept a clean sheet at Arsenal when he left Michael Keane and Yerry. Mine on the bench.
It was an entertaining first half, if somewhat anarchic, with 19 shots and very little control. No wonder the second period was less bumpy at first. Perhaps the breathless drama had taken its toll. But this was at least one example that Villa can create chances without Jack Grealish, who was out for the 11th straight game.
Certainly Dean Smith found a formula, based on a quick counterattack, although it helped that Everton provided their screeching defense with very little protection, with Allan barely being helped by André Gomes alongside him. Everton became more in control after Ancelotti’s intervention at halftime, trading to 4-4-2 with Gylfi Sigurdsson looking to protect Digne. Richarlison joined Calvert-Lewin on attack and had two shots, dragging one out and taking a save from Martinez.
Ancelotti called in former Villa captain Fabian Delph to replace Gomes and give him a second defensive midfielder. Smith kept his starters and reaped a bounty. Traore provided a cross pass. The Ghazi picked it up and fired a shot into the top corner. Even Pickford in this form could not save him.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism