Everton’s cultured performance away to Tottenham last Sunday in the Premier League has to come with a caveat.
Jose Mourinho’s side were risible. Uninspiring when in possession and distinctly lacking in pressing capabilities off it, they meandered through much of the game and Jose can make fitness excuses all he likes - his team were well off it.
But when it comes to playing away to the established Top Six, the Toffees are usually off it, too. They hadn’t won away to any of those sides since December 2013, and it will come as a huge relief to Carlo Ancelotti that the millstone has been removed. He will also be delighted by the way his midfield came together despite having any time to prepare; James Rodriguez, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan had barely met each other but were simply too good for Spurs in all aspects.
And maybe the most praise should be reserved for the enigmatic Richarlison. His capabilities are still broadly challenged in some quarters and the £45m fee spent on him is regularly questioned, and there’s still roughness at the edges. Here his finishing was magnitudes away from what you would expect at this level.
Of his seven shots, only one found the target, a tame effort into Hugo Lloris’ arms, and perhaps the most glaring miss of the game came when he rounded the Frenchman only to blast high and wide with team-mate Dominic Calvert-Lewin standing all alone waiting to tap home.
- Sky Bet: Richarlison to score first in Everton v West Brom at 7/2
- Sky Bet: Richarlison to have 2+ shots on target in Everton v West Brom at 5/4
But his awareness, touch and brutal acceleration left Toby Alderweireld in his wake and helped create the chance in the first place, as was his inspired movement coming in from the left to curl more than one effort wide of the far post.
His finishing wasn’t good. But virtually everything else was, in the type of statistical performance that makes you sit up and take notice. He touched the ball inside the opposition area a total of nine times, just one less than the rest of his team-mates combined, and by miles the most on the field (Harry Kane by comparison managed just two).
Not only that, he completed an astonishing 10 dribbles, crazily high numbers that even out-and-out wide men such as Adama Traore or Allan Saint-Maximum would struggle to put up. And these gave real meaning to Everton’s attacks too, covering 283 yards of progressive distance - meaning he was pushing his team closer to the opposition - more than double any other player on the pitch for either side.
He utterly tormented Tottenham throughout the 90 minutes and was a continuous presence. What also impressed was his willingness to get physical; he won a scarcely-believable 22 of his 25 duels - nearly double the next highest of the weekend, Andy Carroll. He won his only aerial duel and three of his five tackles. This truly was an all-action performance from a player that was more up for the task than anyone in opposition white, while also making a game-leading 12 recoveries.
The only thing missing, of course, was a goal or an assist. He did rack up 0.9 xG on his own - the same as Tottenham as a team - while producing five shot creating actions, but this is the part of the game he needs to refine to become a properly elite forward. Thirteen league goals and three assists in just over 34 full 90s isn’t a bad return but he is now 23, and it’s time for all these individually excellent areas of his game to coalesce into the full package.
He seems to have built a level of understanding already with Calvert-Lewin and if - and it’s a big if - James can stay fit and firing, he can load the bullets and transform this middling Everton team into a project worth watching. West Brom are up next, the quintessential follow-up fixture where the Toffees usually fail to act upon their good intentions - it’s a big game for shaping the destiny of their season.
Odds correct at 0930 BST (15/09/20)
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