The Irishman’s 89th minute looping header cancelled out Gylfi Sigurdsson’s first half penalty after he was brought down by Phil Jagielka.
Frustrating and lacklustre performances are fast becoming a feature of this Everton side under Ronald Koeman and the draw against the Swans was no different. The result leaves the Toffees in seventh place, level with Manchester United in sixth.
It’s good to have Gana back
While it’s not quite enough to say that had Idrissa Gueye played against Chelsea two weeks ago, Everton would not have lost, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that the 5-0 drubbing would not have been forthcoming.
We’d likely still have lost the game, but the scoreline would have looked a lot less embarrassing. His 11 Premier League starts are all the evidence you need, combining an all action, combative style with precision and poise in possession.
It was a joy to see him back in the starting XI (how Evertonians are dreading his omission in the New Year when Gana heads off to the African Cup of Nations) and the Senegalese was once again demonstrating his worth. His ability to break up play time-after-time is invaluable, and his performance has sent him top of the Premier League tackles charts (52), with only Jordan Henderson (50) and Danny Drinkwater (49) anywhere near him.
While all around him seemed to lose their heads, Gana kept his cool, stopping Swansea break-always in their tracks and coming away cleanly, ball at his feet. A vital cog in this stuttering, patched up Everton machine.
Where’s the effort lads?
Compared to Gana, I suppose it’s easy for anyone to look inferior. But time and time again, the midfielder shows up his teammates, not only in quality but in effort.
The very least Ronald Koeman expects from his players is 100% in their work rate. They should be committed in the tackle, purposeful in attack and brave in possession. It’s no more than Evertonians expect week-in week-out. Yet most players are falling short of this, with too many ducking their responsibility.
The Toffees never really looked like coming unstuck at the wrong end of the pitch, but that may have had something to do with the opposition: a Swansea side, second bottom of the table, employing what was effectively a 4-6-0 formation with no recognised striker and a No 10 in Sigurdsson playing as a ‘false-9.’
The issue was largely at the other end, with the Blues having little quality to boast about in the final third. Aaron Lennon and his replacement Gerard Deulofeu were ineffective at best (and anonymous the rest of the time) while Yannick Bolasie’s delivery from promising positions was deeply disappointing. Romelu Lukaku meanwhile, may as well have spent his afternoon following his other half on a shopping trip down Church Street; his demeanour, effort and enthusiasm would have been exactly the same.
Cramping our style
It’s not easy to find space against a side who aren’t that interested in trying to score. I’ll admit as much. Swansea -like so many sides in recent years- have come to Goodison showing the utmost respect. Teams very often set up to keep a solid defensive structure which extends to midfield and attack. Everyone has a role to fulfil off the ball, and that role is primarily to keep a narrow formation and restrict Everton space in their own half.
But our own choice of style didn’t help in trying to find what little space their was to work in. Play was too slow, with the easy option of going back to square one, and playing across the back too often the preferred pass. The brief times we looked to play forward, and through the lines we had relative joy, with Ross Barkley’s silky feet allowing him to get a shot away in the first half.
But in wide areas, where space should come naturally, Everton were poor. Bolasie and Lennon to their credit stayed wide, but with our full-backs playing high, they were too often getting in each others way. The second half in particular, Baines, Bolasie, Bakley and Lukaku wanted to operate in the same space, trying to play short, intricate passes in areas already tightly cramped with bodies.
This crowding only played into Swansea’s hands, where they were able to get a toe or shin to the ball and disrupt any kind of flow. On too few occasions did Everton look to redirect those bodies into the penalty area. It only takes one player to cross, but the more players gambling in the area, the more chance of a goal.
Set piece problems
Do Everton practice set-pieces? It’s a question every Evertonian must have asked by now. While we seem to have cracked the code when defending them under Koeman, offensively set-pieces seem hopelessly beyond us.
If a corner managed to make it beyond the first man, it was easily gobbled up by ‘keeper Lukas Fabianski. Similarly with direct free kicks, despite having a plethora of talented individuals, getting the shot either on target or being able to really test the ‘keeper looks like something we’re just not capable of.
Ron, time to show them how it’s done.
What’s to be done with Phil Jagielka?
It wasn’t Jagielka’s day today. Conceding a penalty wasn’t the best start, and ending it early having to watch from the subs bench probably means he’ll be off to bed before Match of the Day tonight.
Unfortunately, the Everton skipper isn’t getting any younger. Despite his years of excellent service it would appear the best of Jagielka has come and gone. That’s not to say he should be dropped, never to play for the Blues ever again, but I’m sure Koeman will be thinking seriously of alternatives.
Whether that’s in the form of the sometimes erratic Ramiro Funes Mori, or the so-far-so-good impression made by the young Mason Holgate is for Koeman to decide. I’m sure there’s a few names on Steve Walsh’s list of potential in-comings that cover the centre-half position, but we’ll have to wait till at least January for another option. Till then, we’ll just have to hope Jags can rediscover some form; and concede less penalties.