It almost wasn’t fair at times. Struggling at the wrong end of the Championship but perhaps taking heart from Rotherham’s performance at Goodison Park in the last round, the last thing Sheffield Wednesday needed was James Rodriguez taking control of this FA Cup tie and directing it like the laid-back conductor of an orchestra re-finding its tune.
The Colombian has had a predictably injury-affected season since joining Everton from Real Madrid last summer but this evening he was looking in as fine a fettle as at any point so far in the Royal Blue jersey, something that bodes well for what will be a run of very important games in the coming weeks.
Granted, this was lower-division opposition who, apart from a couple of early sighters that demanded Robin Olsen be on his toes in the Everton goal, never really looked like pulling off a cup shock, but James has played like this before at times already this season and against far better opposition.
For the Owls, he was largely untouchable, dropping deep to pull the strings in midfield alongside a pleasingly effective André Gomes, wriggling out of tight situations, pinging cross-field balls to Richarlison, splitting the defence with sublime passes, pulling off a Rabona pass in the box to set up Gylfi Sigurdsson, and, decisively, putting pin-point corners onto the heads of Richarlison and Yerry Mina to put the result beyond doubt with a little more than an hour gone.
As if anyone needed one more reason to put this awful pandemic behind us, it’s that Evertonians might finally get to witness James’s genius in the flesh. It can’t come soon enough.
Carlo Ancelotti named a strong line-up for this Fourth Round tie, one that featured the returning Dominic Calvert-Lewin who would end his brief goal drought with his first goal in six games.
The striker had missed the previous two matches with a hamstring injury but returned to the lead the line playing off Richarlison to his left and after Adam Reach had forced a parrying save from Robin Olsen at one end with a strong drive, it was the Brazilian who had Everton’s first effort on target.
Seamus Coleman swung in a cross from the right flank that Richarlison met with a looping header that Joe Wildsmith tipped over the crossbar in the eighth minute.
Four minutes later, the Toffees thought they had opened the scoring. Rodriguez slid a perfect pass straight through the visitors’ defence that Richarlison collected and tucked inside the post but the goal was chalked off for offside. That decision robbed the match of what would have been a brilliant James assist but he would serve up two goals in the second half by more conventional means.
Andre Green then tested Olsen with a shot from just inside the penalty area and James had a promising shot blocked before Everton did break the deadlock just before the half-hour mark thanks to a really well-worked move.
It ended with André Gomes out-witting his marker, driving to the byline and fizzing the ball across goal where Calvert-Lewin slid in at the back post to knock it in. It marked the second occasion on which the Portuguese has found himself wide on left with an opportunity to whip a cross in with his left peg and it, too, is hopefully a sign of more attacking intent from a player who has been curiously unadventurous for much of his Goodison career.
Perhaps understandably, Calvert-Lewin wasn’t quite at his sharpest. He had either overlooked or not seen a couple of chances to back-heel the ball into Gylfi Sigurdsson’s path in front of goal earlier and might have doubled his tally a few minutes after his goal but failed to make contact with Sigurdsson’s tempting cross and the Icelandic midfielder had a chance of his own off James’s cheeky lay-up but lashed his shot wide.
With such a slender advantage heading into the second half, it was important that Everton didn’t take their foot off the pedal in the manner in which they did against Rotherham in the previous round.
Pleasingly for Ancelotti, they remained on the front foot and went close when Ben Godfrey headed wide at the back post, Calvert-Lewin forced a good near-post save from Wildsmith and Abdoulaye Doucouré sliced past the post following a corner.
Two goals in quick succession around the hour mark made the game safe for the Toffees, both served up by the set-piece talents of Rodriguez. First, the Colombian curled a corner onto the head of Richarlison who steered the ball past the keeper in the 59th minute; then, with an almost carbon-copy delivery, James connected with his compatriot Mina who headed home from just outside the six-yard box.
Having endured long spells of Everton set-piece takers failing to beat the first man or pose much threat from corners over recent years, no Evertonian is taking this brilliant service by James from corners and, by the same token, their consistency shouldn’t be under-estimated. They were deliveries just begging to be converted and both Richarlison and Mina were happy to oblige.
Calvert-Lewin had one more chance off James’s dinked ball over the top but his attempt to hook the ball past the keeper was cleared away from the goal line by a defender before the striker made way for Bernard.
Josh Windass, a half-time sub for the visitors, saw one shot from a direct free-kick saved and another blocked by Holgate before Ancelotti made four more changes that included senior debuts for Tyler Onyango and Thierry Small who became Everton’s youngest ever player at 16 years and 176 days old.
It was a nice moment for two players with very bright futures if the buzz at Finch Farm is any indication and while neither player really had enough time on the field to really make a big impression, the experience is something they will surely remember, even if it was at an empty Goodison.
Apart from a chance for Jonjoe Kenny, himself a second-half introduction for Ben Godfrey, that the defender spooned over after Bernard’s shot had been charged down, the last quarter of an hour passed without incident and the Blues saw out the win that ensures a meeting with either Wycombe Wanderers or Tottenham Hotspur back at Goodison on the weekend of 10th February.
Everton have four Premier League matches of potentially hugely importance before that Fifth Round tie, though, starting with Leicester back in L4 on Wednesday evening before flailing Newcastle come to town next Saturday. If all goes well in those two matches, Ancelotti’s men could find themselves almost unbelievably well-placed in two competitions heading into February.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin opened the scoriing with a fine goal against Sheffield Wednesday, two excellent corners from James Rodriguez making the winning goals.
The Toffees had Dominic Calvert-Lewin available again but Lucas Digne and Alex Iwobi miss out with minor injury complaints. Abdoulaye Doucouré and James Rodriguez both started in midfield. Sigurðsson and Richarlison would hopefully be providing supply to Calvert Lewin. At the back, Mina was preferred, with Michael Keene on the bench.
Youngsters Thierry Small and Tyler Onyango are also on the bench along with two more goalkeepers in Pickford and Lössl.
The early stages of the game saw Everton moving the ball around well. Richarlison had a shot blocked Reach got off a good shot at the other end that forced in early corner for Sheffield Wednesday.
A nice deep across from Coleman on the right was met by Richarlison at the far post but he could only had it at the goalkeeper who tipped it onto the bar. Richarlison then became the supplier, swinging in a fantastic cross from the left that Calvert-Lewin was too slow to react to.
A fantastic throughball from James Rodriguez was brilliantly fired home by Richarlyson but he had strayed just a yard outside at the critical moment on his excellent run. More good passing ended with Gome over hitting a pass poorly.
At the other end, Green tested Olsen with a fine shot.. some very crisp one touch passing from Everton set up Calvert-Lewin for the shot but it was just too weak. Everton were denied an obvious corner earnt well by Richarlison.
Green was causing quite a few problems for the Owls, giving the Everton defense some good exercise. Bannon swung in a really good corner for them that needed Doucouré to head it away.
James Rodriguez broke well from a Sheffield Wednesday attack and clip the lovely ball over the top for Calvert-Lewin to run onto but it was too far ahead of him. Calvert-Lewin tried to do an awkward backheel that didn't come off when he should've turned and shot from another angle.
Finally some persistence from Gomes on the left and a fantastic cross beat the keeper and was converted brilliantly by Calvert-Lewin stretching at the far post — a well-deserved and well-constructed goal that broke his duck so far in 2021.
Another lively move saw Sigurdsson cross back ahead of Calvert-Lewin, as Everton were attacking at will. Clever work by James Rodriguez set up Sigurdsson for a nice shot but he fired over.
More great play down the right and a good cross from Coleman created what looked like an open goal that ran behind Richarlison, put off by the defender.
Everton went in at the break with a slender one-goal lead after completely dominating the play and creating numerous chances from good running and passing.
Sigurdsson got things going again but the plays were mostly in midfield and scrappy. After Calvert-Lewin came wide and got Coleman moving forward, he crossed well over Richarlison. A dangerous free kick threatened The Owls goal but Godfrey could only head over at the far post. p>
Calvert-Lewin got some great power behind a shot and forced a good save from Wildsmith. Doucouré's shot flew wide, Sigurðsson‘s was deflected behind for a corner and, from that corner, a fantastic delivery by the Rodriguez was nodded nonchalantly into the net by Richarlison to consolidate Everton.
Another great piece of play saw Rodriguez feed Richarlison brilliantly and his shot was touched fractionally beyond the post. From another fine Rodriguez corner, Yerry Mina powered home for the third of the night.
Everton played it around, taking Calver-Lewin off for Bernard just after the hour mark, and relaxing a little as a consequence. Windass tried the profit from a free kick that Glanced off the back of Rodriguez.
Gordon and Kenny were playing on the wrong sides and had their work cut out trying to impress in the minutes remaining. Ancelotti then made Everton history bringing on the youngsters Small and Onyango for Gomes and Rodriguez. Small becomes the youngest ever player for the club.
Scorers : Calvert-Lewin (29'), Richarlison (59'), Mina (62')
Everton (4-2-3-1): Olsen; Coleman, Holgate, Mina, Godfrey [Y:72] (76' Kenny) ; Doucouré, Gomes; James, Sigurdsson, Richarlison (76' Gordon) ; Calvert-Lewin (67' Bernard).
Substitutes: Pickford, Lössl, Keane, Davies, Small, Onyango.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-2-3-1) Wildsmith; Urhoghide, Brennan, Borner, Galvin (61' Brown); Bannan, Pelupessy; Harris, Reach (68' Dele-Bashiru), Green (46' Windass), Paterson (61' Penny).
Substitutes: Jackson, Palmer, Marriott, Hunt, Kachunga.
Everton's season resumes this weekend against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup Fourth Round with a home tie against either Wycombe Wanderers or Tottenham Hotspur the reward for the victors.
The Toffees will have Dominic Calvert-Lewin available again but Lucas Digne and Alex Iwobi miss out with minor injury complaints. Calvert-Lewin missed the Third Round tie against Rotherham United and the win at Wolves that followed due to a hamstring injury but he has used the time in between to shake off the complaint.
Digne returned from his own injury lay-off against Rotherham, a match that Iwobi missed, and featured at Molineux but both players have picked up an unspecified knock in the interim. However, Carlo Ancelotti expects both the Frenchman and the Nigerian to be fit to face Leicester City in midweek as the Toffees prepare for three matches in less than six days.
“We used this time to put in a better condition those players who had problems before," the manager said in his pre-match press conference in reference to the 12-day break in the fixture calendar. "We have Calvert-Lewin back but, unfortunately, we have some players out like Gbamin, Allan, Delph. Digne, Iwobi and Nkounkou.
“The others are in good condition and are ready to play this game; ready to compete in this competition because the FA Cup is very important to us."
Niels Nkounkou made his first senior appearance when he came on against Rotherham on the 9th of January and has since played for the Under-23s in the "mini derby" against Liverpool.
Ancelotti didn't indicate when the young French full-back might return and he is not yet willing to put a timetable on Gbamin's recovery either. The Ivorian midfielder was preparing to make his come-back from a serious thigh injury a year ago but ruptured an Achilles tendon at Finch Farm and had to undergo surgery.
“I think we have to take it day by day," the manager said of Gbamin. "He is following his individual programme like Allan and like Delph and so I think soon he can be able to train with us. But I don't want to put pressure on him because he was out for a long time and when he comes back, he has to be ready."
Richarlison's availability means that Ancelotti would have a simple enough task of replacing Iwobi by deploying the Brazilian in his usual role on the left flank and moving James Rodriguez out to the right. However, Everton's hectic schedule over the next week may give the manager pause to consider whether the Colombian can start so many games in such a short space of time and with Anthony Gordon emblazoned on the front cover of the matchday programme, it's possible the young winger might get a rare start if Ancelotti keeps James on the bench. Bernard, meanwhile, will be angling for a place in the starting line-up himself.
With Allan still a week to 10 days away from full fitness, the same midfield options are at Ancelotti's disposal, although the one-game ban that comes into effect for Abdoulaye Doucoure against Leicester means that the Frenchman is a good bet to start this game, perhaps alongside Tom Davies and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
At the back, Ben Godfrey should get the nod at left-back, with Seamus Coleman and Mason Holgate vying for the right-back slot and Robin Olsen will probably rotate back in between the posts.
Like Rotherham, the Blues' opponents in the Fourth Round come into the game sitting in the relegation zone in the Championship but are in much better form than the Millers were. The Owls, who were beaten by the have won three of their last four games in all competitions and they will be hoping to find Everton as disjointed and unadventurous as they were in the previous round.
As was the case a fortnight ago — and, indeed, in the League Cup last season when Calvert-Lewin bagged a brace at Hillsborough, this should be routine for Everton given the talent in their ranks and it just remains to be seen whether they can make that quality tell once more and book passage to the Fifth Round.
Kick-off: 8pm, Sunday 24 January 2021 on BT Sport 1
Last Time: Everton 1 - 1 Sheffield Wednesday (FA Cup 3rd Rnd, 2nd Replay, 25 Jan 1988)
Predicted Line-up: Olsen, Coleman, Keane, Holgate, Godfrey, Davies, Doucoure, Sigurdsson, Gordon, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin