Everton maintained their impressive start to 2017 with a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace.
Seamus Coleman’s 87th minute winner was no less than the Toffees deserved having controlled the game for the most part. With eight shots on target, the visitors forced numerous saves from Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey, while the home side mustered just two in reply.
Christian Benteke did hit the bar in the first half but it was as close as they would come to breaching Everton’s resilient rearguard. Kevin Mirallas and Ramiro Funes Mori forced Hennessey into action, before Ross Barkley had the ball in the net, only to be flagged offside. Everton’s number 8 went close in the second half from tight angles before Coleman finished expertly from Tom Davies’ through ball.
Barkley proving pivotal in Blues midfield
Barkley appeared to be in the right place at the right time in the first half when Romelu Lukaku’s shot rebounded to his feet. With the goal open, the Wavertree born midfielder could not -and did not- miss. But he was rightly flagged offside, and with Mirallas and Funes Mori both denied by the impressive Hennessey, it felt like it was going to be one of those days.
Coleman would grab the headlines with his late winner, but Barkley’s contribution should not be ignored. He was at the centre of most of Everton’s good play and never shirked his ever-increasing responsibilities as the creative force in Ronald Koeman’s side.
He was head and shoulders above his peers, taking more touches than anyone else on the pitch (91) while leading the way in terms of most passes (63 overall, 47 in the opponent’s half) and shots (5). Only two of these made it on target and this is one part of his game that needs improvement.
That’s not to demean his performance. Barkley is looking more and more predatory and has shown more of a willingness to get in behind defences, rather than simply be the man to unlock them every time. If he could have looked up in the second half instead of going for goal, he’d have seen Lukaku better placed on two occasions.
And yet his influence in matches over the last couple of months continues to grow. He now has as many assists as Lukaku and Yannick Bolasie (4) and has created the most chances of any Everton player (47).
Koeman looks to have found best formation
Having recorded their third league win on the trot, Everton’s current form has seen them go on a run akin to that of their first five Premier League games. Drawing their first of the season, Koeman’s side then won four on the bounce, sending them as high as second in the league and drawing plaudits from almost every media outlet in the country.
Yet Everton’s current run is much more reassuring that they’re headed in the right direction. It looks to have the hallmarks of a Ronald Koeman team, or at the very least identifiable as markedly different in set-up and style compared to that of his predecessor.
The 3-5-2 formation was one Koeman often employed at Southampton and it is a set-up that seems to most compliment the players at his disposal. Ashley Williams has been rock solid with two younger partners alongside him, as opposed to a single ageing 34 year-old.
Lukaku looks happiest with a more recognised strike partner in Mirallas (although he might not be the long-term answer to this position), while Barkley looks to have shaken off the pressures that go with being a ‘number 10’, playing a slightly deeper role which allows him to collect the ball from deeper positions, with more space to run and pass into.
But more importantly, the players who have survived the culling of Roberto Martinez’s squad look to have bought into Koeman’s style. They’re working harder higher up the pitch (inspired in no small part by young Tom Davies’ endless endeavour and enthusiasm) and playing football more often in the opponent’s half is reaping rewards.
Model pro Robles taking chance with both hands
It’s clear that Koeman brought in Maarten Stekelenburg as his number one in the summer. Evertonians thought as much when the Dutchman arrived and even Robles revealed last week that Koeman made it clear to him that he was going to play second fiddle.
But his form since deputising for Stekelenburg in December’s Merseyside derby has shown that the Spaniard is desperate to make a success of his time on at Everton. Indeed the literal ‘number 1’ is an example to his peers and younger players alike; his professionalism in keeping fit and grasping his chance once it came along has been first class.
He’s been a big part of Everton’s last three league clean sheets, while his excellence in the air under Big Sam’s Palace bombardment is sure to impress both fans and his manager.
Why Allardyce was wrong
“I feel the referee should have blown the whistle. Our player was injured and that’s a decision the referee should have made. I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the players.”
That was Allardyce’s take on a decision (or absence of a decision) that ultimately led to Everton’s winning goal. There’s no doubt that Jeffrey Schlupp not being in his left-back position gave Coleman the space to receive the ball in the Palace area before slamming it past Hennessey. Yet, that play was allowed to continue while Schlupp rolled either side of the goal-line was perfectly legitimate within the rules of the game.
Law 5 under the FA’s Laws of the Game states that the referee “stops play if a player is seriously injured and ensures that the player is removed from the field of play.”
In addition, the referee “allows play to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is only slightly injured.”
That Allardyce felt his player needed urgent treatment is irrelevant. The referee deemed there to be no serious injury to Schlupp (who found a reprieve amid the agonising pain of his injury to shuffle himself onto the other side of the goal-line, even though he was still within the field of play to start with, though ‘off the pitch’), and rightly the game continued.
But then again, we shouldn’t be surprised that Allardyce has ignored the rules and regulations coming out of the FA. It’s certainly not the first time.