Everton back to their old ways as a lack of clinical finishing sees Sean Dyche and company lose at Goodison Park to begin the 23/24 Premier League season.
The blues were back in action for the first time in league play since Doucoure’s stunning strike against Bournemouth saw Everton escape relegation for the second year in a row by the skin of their teeth. Dyche fielded a side that included Neal Maupay up top with Calvert-Lewin still not ready to be reintroduced in the starting eleven. New signing Arnaut Danjuma started the match from the bench, while Dwight McNeil missed out due to an injury suffered in preseason that sees him set to be out until the international break. Ashley Young made the start at left back as the 38 year-old from Aston Villa made his league debut for the toffees.
The match started heavily in the home side’s favor, as a lack of attacking options did not seem to limit the threat going forward early. Doucoure found himself one on one with Leno in goal inside the first 5 minutes, and with options either side he struck at goal but his effort was saved by the Fulham keeper. The next chance for Everton would come in the 21st minute, Iwobi cut well inside before firing a fizzing strike that would see itself go just right of Leno’s post. Neal Maupay found himself with arguably the best opportunity of the match in the 34th minute, as Iwobi crossed in and Doucoure headed it on. Maupay found himself all alone one on one with the keeper, but his shot was straight down the middle and saved by an assuredly grateful Leno in goal.
Two minutes later, VAR would leave its mark on the match in an all too unfamiliar fashion that would see Everton seemingly get the short end of the stick. Leno would jump to claim a ball, and would subsequently drop it after colliding with a stationary James Tarkowski. Despite there being very little in the way of contact from Tarkowski, (what more they want him to do I’m not sure), the subsequent goal scored by Michael Keane would be ruled out in a massive let off for the visitors. Just on the stroke of halftime Leno would once again save a golden opportunity for Neal Maupay, and despite racking up a whopping 2.2XG in the first half, the score would remain 0-0 for the hosts heading into halftime.
Fulham would come out better to start the second half and would nearly be awarded for their endeavor in the 57th minute, as former Wolves striker rattled the post with the follow-up going just wide of the post. Despite the Fulham pressure Everton would once again have a great chance to take the lead in the 68th minute. Iwobi would show his quality once again cutting inside and forcing a save from Leno, the ball trickled out to Nathan Patterson with the goal gaping and the right back’s stinging effort somehow found a way to smack the crossbar and keep the scoreline level.
The 73rd minute would be agony for supporters and the Everton squad alike, after squandering numerous chances, Bobby Reid would get on the end of a low cross and fire home easily from close range to put the visitors ahead. Everton would find a couple more chances, with Tarkowski heading just wide of the post in the 90th minute, and a Danjuma effort in the 93rd minute that he missed one on one (he was most likely offside). The final whistle would go to a 0-1 defeat for Everton, with a slight smattering of boos at full-time welcoming us all back to the experience that is Everton Football Club.
Of course, the main takeaway from the match will be that Everton can simply not finish chances with the personnel on the pitch on Saturday afternoon. A common theme last season, and with a whopping 2.97XG in the match, Everton managed to created a higher XG stat that any other team managed in the Premier League last season. There are positives of course, the blues looked solid enough defensivly and had an attacking game plan that made them look lethal for large parts of the match. Young slotted in well and Iwobi and Onana showed their class in a big way. As of this writing, Everton have completed the loan signing of Jack Harrison, who will need 3-4 more weeks of recovery from his injury before he features. Calvert-Lewin played a full 90 minutes in a closed doors friendly against Manchester United on Tuesday evening as well, alongside Danjuma and Mykolenko.
The tactical plan is there, Everton played well enough to score 3 or 4 goals on another day. Or, perhaps, with different players on the pitch. The hope is that with a few more signings and returns from injury, and more of the impetus shown on Saturday, the blues will be well clear of the relegation zone this campaign.