Three straight defeats to start the season had Everton fans fearing another fight against relegation. Three months on, though, the outlook at Goodison Park is rather brighter with the Toffees edging away from danger near the foot of the Premier League table. Five wins from eight games in all competitions highlights their improvement.
It’s not just results that have improved either. Everton are now playing like a true Sean Dyche team with the former Burnley manager’s ideas finally taking root on Merseyside. This has been evident in Everton’s recent performances. Dyche-ball has finally been embraced by the players, and fans, at Goodison Park.
Against Brighton, Everton stayed compact when out of possession and forced the Seagulls to play the ball out wide where they couldn’t dictate the tempo of the match. The defensive line remained deep with Jarrad Branthwaite and James Tarkowski relied upon to repel cross after cross into the penalty box.
In possession, Everton went long quickly and fought for the second balls off Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Dyche also instructed his team to find Jack Harrison and Dwight McNeil in the wide areas with bodies sent forward quickly to get on the end of deliveries into the opposition area. Brighton had their hands full and were fortunate to claim a point.
“The mentality side of the team is growing,” said Dyche. “They are a good group. They’ve been working hard since I got here. There’s been ups and downs at Everton but this group are seeing through that. There’s a commitment to the cause and a belief in each other and the mentality continues to grow.”
Under Frank Lampard and Rafael Benitez, Everton lacked the framework to maximise the talent within their squad. With Dyche at the helm, though, the Toffees are finally seeing the best of their players. Abdoulaye Doucoure, for example, is playing with authority in the centre of the pitch as a commanding box-to-box presence.
Behind Doucoure as the double pivot, James Garner and Idrissa Gana Gueye have given Everton security in central midfield Meanwhile, Jordan Pickford continues to be one of the best shot-stoppers in the Premier League and an excellent distributor of the ball from the back. The foundations are solid.
Calvert-Lewin has given Everton an attacking focal point since his return to fitness which in turn is allowing Harrison and McNeil to demonstrate their ability. Then there’s Tarkowski, who is playing with authority in central defence, and Branthwaite who has emerged as Everton’s best homegrown talent since Anthony Gordon.
“His adaptation has been clear to the pace and the detail of Premier League football,” Dyche said when asked about the development of Branthwaite this season. “He continues to improve, and physically he is a good specimen. He is playing in front of a very good goalkeeper [Jordan Pickford] and a very good centre half next to him in James Tarkowski, which I think helps as well.”
While Everton want to push into the top half of the Premier League table at some point in the not-so-distant future, their immediate task is merely to stay in the division. The construction of the new £800m stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock has put financial pressure on the club and Everton simply must be a Premier League club when it opens to fans.
Dyche-ball has its limitations and its difficult to envisage it giving the Premier League’s best teams problems, but Everton have an identity for the first time in a long while. Dyche is moulding the team on the pitch in his own image and that could be enough to keep the Toffees away from a sticky situation.