A week that began with a knock to the floor in a city centre bar for Ross Barkley ended with him standing tall on the edge of the Gwladys Street embraced by adoring fans. Deflections will stop him claiming the decisive goal in Everton’s 3-1 win over Burnley, but with his contract situation briefly forgotten, Barkley’s influential display and acknowledgement of supporters was just what the doctor ordered after a testing week for him.
Barkley had been at the wrong place at the wrong time twice this week. Once in the cross hairs of a senseless attacker hellbent on causing trouble, and once days earlier when he was punched in a bar. Against Burnley however, the opposite was true. Barkley twice cleared off the line before forging Everton ahead to seal a Premier League record for the Blues.
Eight consecutive league wins at home for the first time in the Football Wasn’t Invented In 1992, You Know era. The Blues have won all eight games by at least two goals, scoring three or more seven times, racking up 29 overall. They have conceded just six with five clean sheets. Romelu Lukaku’s ninth in consecutive home games ties an 83-year record held by Dixie Dean. Just 17 games on from Goodison’s annus horribilis, this is a remarkable turnaround.
Victory over Burnley was not without worry however. Burnley immediately took control. Sticking to their effective 4-4-2, the Clarets put Everton under pressure in possession. The Blues responded by holding on to the ball too long and back-heeling to their opponents. Burnley’s Direct surges through the centre, whipped crosses and consistent closing down made them a real threat. How they arrived with just four away points, and no away wins was a mystery. Sam Vokes forced a block from Joel Robles, Michael Keane nearly nodded in a corner, Phil Jagielka even set up Ashley Barnes. When half-time arrived and Burnley had failed to capitalise on a whole half of superiority, the mystery was solved.
Sean Dyche rarely varies his approach so in the event of his side ensnaring you in a stalemate, a tactical reshuffle is never a bad idea. The visitors had pressed so successfully in the first half that they drew out Morgan Schneiderlin’s worst 45 minutes for Everton, and rendered Idrissa Gueye wholly ineffective. Koeman recognised his side were being overrun in the centre and changed it. He decided to keep the same formation, but the tweaks made all the difference.
The master tactician
Enner Valencia immediately improved Everton’s attack, combining with Lukaku and stinging Tom Heaton’s fingers with a snap drive. He maintained a threat throughout. Tom Davies dropped deeper and settled into the role well, propelling the side forward after regaining possession, and calmly picking passes from the centre. Everton were playing badly, Koeman intervened, they won comfortably. To quote the Dutchman: this is what we like.
In fact, Everton’s response would have been perfect had Joel Robles not… I presume… placed a considerable sum of money on there being a penalty. And if that is not the correct explanation, the genuine reason is arguably worse, and similarly ill-judged. Robles’ unceremonious booting of Sam Vokes who was sauntering away from goal out of the box was only the answer if the question was what is the stupidest thing you could do right now? Robles then completed the debacle up right of centre and diving early.
Robles has followed up nine clean sheets in 14 league games with some really worrying displays. He could have done better with the last seven goals Everton have conceded. Having once looked good enough to have been given chance, Robles’ recent displays have confirmed that should only be in a deputising capacity. All second-half concern arrived courtesy of Robles, both through the costly error and his subsequent alarm.
Other than some wasteful finishing particularly from Kevin Mirallas, that was probably it after the break in terms of criticism for Everton. Phil Jagielka scored for the third straight game, Ashley Williams assisted for the third straight game as the Blues’ notched their fifth goal from a corner in the last 305 minutes. And then it was over to Everton’s reluctant but beloved duo to ruin Keane’s otherwise impressive showing in front of the highly interested Koeman.
First, Barkley shot past Tom Heaton via deflections off Keane and Ben Mee, Burnley’s three best performers. Then like a super-powered Victor Anichebe, Lukaku turned Keane before thundering in his 24th league goal this year. It was harsh on Burnley after a competitive outing, but the Toffees seized the initiative and never looked back as they have done for months. Even off days are prolific days at Goodison just now.
By Chris Smith
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