It’s all very “Everton” that this team exploded into a seven-match winning start to the season, took just a single point from matches against Southampton, Newcastle, Leeds and Burnley and then won four on the bounce in December, a month in which they were expected to struggle mightily as injuries to vital players bit and the fixtures began to pile up. Then, having won another four straight and with the chance to pull within one point of the top of the table, they go and lose at home to a David Moyes team for the first time.
It’s absolutely maddening but, just like the Carabao Cup quarter-final against Manchester United — and, indeed the League game against the same team in November, this defeat exposed the shortcomings in quality and consistency with this Everton squad. It also didn’t help that it was New Year’s Day — Everton have now lost their last five matches played on the first of the year. Different managers, different players, seemingly the same mindset.
One of these sides was playing its third match in the space of six days; the other had had a fixture scheduled for Monday postponed, giving them a six-day period for recuperation and, you would have thought, the energy to go all out in search of three points that would have represented a fifth League victory in a row. It wasn’t so much that you couldn’t tell which was which — Everton didn’t necessarily exhibit any more fatigue than West Ham — but Carlo Ancelotti’s men were frustratingly cagey and unadventurous for long periods and simply inept going forward, a posture that belied the impressive run they were on coming into the game.
Credit to his progress this season, the loss of Alex Iwobi’s drive and unpredictable creativity down the right was a big miss and despite making such a positive impact off the bench at Sheffield United, Bernard wasn’t able to match it. The Brazilian had his moments, the best of which yielded one of only two shots on target Everton would manage all evening and a decent save from Darren Randolph at the end of the first half, but on the whole he was representative of a lack of cutting edge that plagued the home side for almost the entire game.
Bernard has never been a model of consistency so it was the ineffectiveness of his compatriot, Richarlison, that was more worrying. The 23-year-old returned after missing the trip to Bramall Lane under the concussion protocol, but after an iffy 50-odd minutes in that cup tie against United, he had another match to forget down the flanks.
Richarlison has always defied categorisation — neither an out-and-out striker nor a true winger with genuinely tricky dribbling skills, he’s established his career in England as a wide forward using his power and unpredictability to beat opponents but when he is effectively marked or playing without a natural full-back behind him, he cut a very frustrated and unproductive figure. He seems to have fallen into a rut where he believes just running at defenders is enough but over and over he would just end up sloppily giving the ball away.
Without either of those wide men able to influence the game against a Moyes team that sat back and deprived them of the space they enjoy hitting teams in transition, Everton found it tough going but they made things immeasurably worse for themselves with painfully slow tempo and a tendency to recycle the ball backwards time and time again. They compounded that with some very sloppy distribution at times — Mason Holgate, restored to centre-half to accommodate Seamus Coleman’s return and to give Michael Keane a rest, was a notable offender in this regard in the first half while Tom Davies’s pass accuracy went south in the second.
Picking up from his own laudable display in south Yorkshire, Davies had a tidy enough first half in the “Allan role” but was let down by a lack of movement ahead of him and, like Gylfi Sigurdsson who ran around a lot trying to close down passing avenues for Moyes’s team but ultimately offered precious little creativity, it left one pining for the day that Ancelotti is able to select something closer to his first-choice starting XI. The young midfielder didn’t play badly but it was another performance that underlined the fact that — again, like Sigurdsson — he simply isn’t good enough for a side with Champions League aspirations.
It’s understandable that a side that is still make-shift in places wasn’t able to play free-flowing football but the lack of intensity that was so prevalent during that poor run of results between the defeat at St Mary’s and the draw at Turf Moor that was so disappointing. Teams can overwhelm their opponents at times by just upping the tempo and putting them under the cosh but apart from some fleeting moments after James Rodriguez and André Gomes stepped off the bench to significantly improve things, Everton were the epitome of passive.
West Ham had a momentary scare in the sixth minute when Craig Dawson diverted a low Sigurdsson cross towards his own goal, forcing Randolph to reverse direction to pounce on it and one occasion — it might have been the only time in the game that West Ham’s back line didn’t repel anything that was delivered aerially into the box, thereby completely negating the Blues’ threat at set-pieces — where Dominic Calvert-Lewin got his head to a corner but it went well over but otherwise there was nothing of note from Ancelotti’s side until the 45th minute.
That’s when Bernard brought a headed clearance from another corner down on his chest and rattled a half-volley towards the bottom corner but Randolph parried it behind to preserve parity going into half-time.
For their part, West Ham had shown slightly more penetration, better ability to negotiate the press gone closer to breaking the deadlock in the first period. Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Souček had had headed opportunities in front of goal but failed to get enough purchase on the ball while Aaron Cresswell had flashed the ball across Jordan Pickford’s goal with half and hour gone.
Then, after the home side had started the second half with a bit more purpose and energy, the Hammers almost caught them out with a 55th-minute free-kick where Declan Rice found too much space down Everton’s right flank and whipped the ball across the six-yard box. Five minutes later, Pickford was forced to bat away a Cresswell free-kick with a strong right hand and Pablo Fornals tested the keeper with another more tame effort and then planted a free header well wide a few minutes after that.
Moments of incisiveness were all too rare from Everton but Bernard and Coleman combined well in the 63rd minute, although the Irishman’s shot didn’t unduly test the keeper and it would be the Brazilian’s last involvement before he was withdrawn in a double substitution that saw Rodriguez and Gomes come on and Sigurdsson also leave the fray.
The positive change was almost ruined by Coleman’s ill-advised back-header that gifted the ball to West Ham and their own sub, Michail Antonio, was played in only to be foiled by Pickford but Everton improved markedly after that going forward, albeit without being able to carve their opponents open. The removal of a visibly frustrated Calvert-Lewin who once again fed off scraps in favour of Cenk Tosun was a bizarre move that didn’t help and it smacked of “shop window” rather than any belief the Turk could win the game.
The Blues’ forward momentum forced a couple of decent dead-ball situations wide on the left but they came to nothing while West Ham finally made the breakthrough in what had become a disappointingly even contest. Pickford did well to parry away Souček’s 86th-minute shot but Cresswell fired the rebound back into the box, Yerry Mina dangled a leg back to divert it straight into Souček’s path and the Czech slammed it past Pickford.
As Ancelotti remarked after the match, this represented a point dropped from Everton rather than two because, simply put, his team didn’t do nearly enough to win. It was a pretty dreadful performance at a time when they had allowed fans to dare to dream a little again at what kind of surprise the Toffees might be able to pull off this season.
In the wider context, sitting four points off the summit on New Year’s Day is a lot better than many would have predicted but the congestion at the top of the Premier League table means that Everton are only three points above 11th place and are, therefore, as much in the hunt for Europe as West Ham who moved to 26 points with this victory.
While Ancelotti has significantly played down the possibility of Everton adding to their squad this month, there is hope of better performances on the horizon now that James is regaining fitness, Digne is getting close to a return and Allan should be back by the end of the month. The lesson appears to be, however, that as hard as it it may be, it’s pointless getting too high when things are good with this Everton squad the way it is and too low when results aren’t going according to plan. Inconsistency remains the watchword until further quality can be added.
With both sides set on defending to the end, it took something of a freak goal for David Moyes to sneak his first win as a visiting manager.
Michael Keane was a surprise non-starter, rotated to the bench today, where James Rodriguez returns after being out for all of the December games. No place in the squad for Alex Iwobi, whose recent performances have appeared to be better, but his final ball has been as random as ever. Gordon drops back to the bench.
West Ham kicked off with Randolph in goal after Fabianski was injured in the warm-up, and looked to play long balls forwards, Everton forced to do likewise when unable to play out from the back. The Blues tried t methodically build an attack but found it hard going. with Richarlison working the right channel unsuccessfully. Bernard and Sigurdsson combined on the left but the final ball was to easily intercepted by a Hammers defender.
Doucoure put in a decent cross from the right but Ogbonna headed away. Davies then lamely fired wide from distance. The Blues were seeing a decent amount of the ball, especially down the right flank, but that elusive final ball was, er, elusive as the game slowed to a midfield crawl.
Dawson went down in a heap after fielding a dropping ball on his instep, stopping the game while he recovered enough to walk off... and then back on. Everton won the first corner after 20 minutes, Sigurdsson delivering it well enough for it to fly surprisingly high and behind off Calvert-Lewin's somewhat pointy head.
West Ham then got their first corner off Bernard, Bowen delivering a dangerous ball that skimmed off Haller's head. The game then returned to a slow midfield stalemate that seemed to be the primary modus operandi until the Hammers advanced and put in a good cross. In the second phase, they looked set to take the lead but the cross-shot flew harmlessly wide.
Holgate tried a rare forward ball that was overhit for Sigurdsson. At the other end, Godfrey challenged Coufal well but the Hammers won another corner that Bowen overhit somewhat. Cresswell then overhit a further corner from the other side.
Bernard was caught by Fornals right of the area, setting up a chance for Sigurdsson to swing one in, but it also was overhit beyond all the prospective Everton goalscorers. A corner ensued, cleared to Bernard whose snap shot was a good one, forcing Randolph to save. That rare shot n target would be the best moment f a really boring s=defensive first half from both sides.
With no changes at half-time, would the incredibly boring tempo of the game be maintained? The early 'action' (using the term loosely) suggested little else, Calvert-Lewin falling over the ball instead of driving goalward. Bernard was next to fall over the ball. Was this really Premier League football?
Yes; Coleman crossed to Richarlison, whose meaty shot was blocked. A well-worked Hammers move off a set-piece should have seen them score off Rice's fearsome lw cross driven through everyone. Changes were planned as the hour-mark approached.
ANtni replaced Haller, as Godfrey dragged Coufal a little and saw yellow, giving up a dangerous free-kick. Cresswell powered it at Pckfrd who parried it away well, West Ham unable to follow through as Gomes and Rodriguez were set to replace Sigurdsson and Bernard, who set up Coleman for a soft shot at Randolph. At the there send, Fornals had a free-header go wide.
Antonio's first shot was saved low by Pickford, then Everton won a corner, taken well by James. Gomes tried a shot from a long way out, blocked twice. Another brilliant James corner was strongly defended by Ogbonna.
Richarlison ran at Bowen and gave up a foul left of the area, James firing in a lovely flat cross that West Ham cleared. Everton tried to break at a faster pace than earlier but the Hammers tracked back well to block progress. Tosun came on to replace Calvert-Lewin for the last 15 mins.
Rich tapped by Soucek, giving James another chance to create something but again a Hammer head was on the end of his flighted ball in. James tried one of his classic cross-field passes but it was watched all the way by the defender. Richarlison tries to overpower Ogbnna for a shooting chance but ends up fouling him.
A shot by Yarmalenko was parried out by Pickford to ____ whose power shot screwed off Mina and would have gone wide but for Soucek connecting well to drive it past Pickford.
The goal stunned Everton but it had been on the cards with the defensive plan far too reliant on a miraculous set-piece that never happened. A bizarre moment saw Antonio and Mina collide after a tracked run int the Everton area. But the Blues could come up with nothing and Myes had finally won at Goodison Park as a visiting manager.
Kick-off: 5:30pm, Friday, 1 January 2021 on BT Sport 1
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Holgate, Mina, Godfrey [Y:60'], Davies, Doucouré, Sigurdsson (65' Gomes), Bernard (65' James), Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin (79'Tosun).
Subs not Used: Olsen, Lössl, Keane, Nkounkou, Branthwaite, Gordon.
Subs not Used: Johnson, Balbuena, Diop, Noble, Snodgrass, Martin
Referee: Kevin Friend
VAR: Simon Hooper
Everton begin 2021 with a home fixture that will now be played behind closed doors as they go in search of what would be a fifth successive win in the Premier League.
The Toffees emerged from a daunting-looking December with 13 points from a possible 15, although their clash with Manchester City on Monday was called off at late notice following further positive tests for coronavirus in the City squad.
That was set against the backdrop of the wider spread of Covid-19 across the country, one that means Everton will once again be playing in front of an empty ground with the news that the Merseyside region has been moved back to Tier 3 designation by the Government. Everton and Liverpool were the last remaining Premier League clubs able to host up to 2,000 fans but that is longer the case.
For now, while clubs have informally discussed the possibility of a two-week break in the season, the football continues without supporters in the ground and Carlo Ancelotti's Blues resume their push for a European place when former manager David Moyes and his side come to town.
The Hammers began the season bereft of any optimism and with precious little faith in Moyes. However, the Scot has brought a measure of stability to the club and they begin the new year sitting in 10th place, a good 12 points above a relegation zone that haunted them in the closing weeks of last season.
Three successive wins in November had them briefly flirting with the European places but just one win in December, a 2-1 triumph at Leeds, has seen them drop back off again and they will travel to the northwest six points behind their hosts on New Year's Day.
Moyes could be boosted significantly by the return to fitness of Michail Antonio, a player capable of adding physical strength, unpredictability and a significant goal threat alongside that posed by Sebastian Haller who is their top scorer and someone showing belated signs of adapting to the English game.
Everton, meanwhile, will have Richarlison back in the squad but James Rodriguez will be absent once more for a match that will now be played behind closed doors.
The Brazilian missed the Boxing Day win at Sheffield United because of the Premier League's concussion protocol and would have sat out the game against City had it gone ahead.
Rodriguez will miss a seventh successive game in all competitions as he continues his slow recovery from what has been described as a calf complaint that he picked up in the draw at Burnley almost a month ago.
Ancelotti has been hopeful the Colombian might be ready for a number of matches since but the club's medical staff continue to take to assess his progress and his next target is the FA Cup tie against Rotherham.
"Richarlison will be okay; James, no," Ancelotti said in his pre-match press conference earlier today. "For James, we have to look day by day. He's not ready yet and it will take a little bit longer. I hope that for the next game on the 9th of January he will be ready."
Meanwhile, the manager also provided updates on Allan and Lucas Digne, explaining that the former probably won't be ready until the end of January but that the Frenchman is on a faster timeline for recovery from ankle surgery than was originally anticipated.
"[Allan] is doing individual sessions. I think that at least the end of January he will be ready.
"We have good news that Lucas Digne will be starting individual sessions and in one week he will be able to train with the team."
The postponement of Monday's match has given the team an unexpected few more days' recuperation following a spell of six games in three weeks and it has probably eased the manager's selection dilemma, particularly in view of the fact that it's another eight days before his side faces Rotherham in the FA Cup.
It means that most of the players involved at Bramall Lane should be rested enough to start and that, perhaps Richarlison and Seamus Coleman aside, Ancelotti can name an unchanged line-up.
Everton won this match-up in the Carabao Cup in convincing fashion in September and Ancelotti will be hopeful of more of the same, albeit against what will likely be stronger Hammers line-up. Nevertheless, a win for the Blues would take them to within a point of top spot, a situation few foresaw when the season kicked off 15 games ago.
Kick-off: 5:30pm, Friday, 1 January 2021 on BT Sport 1
Referee: Kevin Friend
VAR: Simon Hooper
Last Time: Everton 2 - 0 West Ham United
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Godfrey, Davies, Doucouré, Sigurdsson, Iwobi, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin