By Dave Downie
It was a performance that persisted with the same questions as much of pre-season, but there was also plenty to take from an opening day draw at Crystal Palace that will go unappreciated under the haze of early season expectations.
Marco Silva picked a side containing none of of the summer signings. A lack of sharpness in front of goal coupled with several players looking a week or two short of full match fitness, meant there was a definite pre-season feeling about Everton’s display.
Of course, that will all be lost in the hyperbole of not picking up 3 points on the opening day against a Crystal Palace side who appeared to set-up for a draw as soon as Jon Moss blew the first whistle.
So too, will be a defensive performance that was largely comfortable, assertive and in the same vein of form as the excellent record accumulated at the end of last season, which now boasts 7 clean sheets in 9 Premier League outings.
The somewhat unfounded concerns over Yerry Mina’s aptitude to replace Kurt Zouma alongside Michael Keane were quashed by a dominant effort at the heart of the back four, the Colombian was comfortably man of the match.
Elsewhere across the back line, it was very much an “as you were” performance that Marco Silva will be buoyed by given the club’s failure to recruit a centre half in the summer transfer window.
Two crucial saves from Jordan Pickford late on will hopefully be the beginning of a more settled campaign than last for the England number one.
In midfield, Morgan Schneiderlin was chosen as Idrissa Gueye’s immediate successor to partner Andre Gomes, and the pair looked promising for much of the first half which saw Everton on the front foot in the early going.
Much to the surprise of many, Silva opted to give Jean-Philippe Gbamin his debut as opposed to introducing Tom Davies in the second half following injury to Gomes, despite the 23-year old’s lack of preparation and own admission that he wasn’t fully ready to compete.
The Ivory Coast international initially looked composed on the ball and his imposing frame suggests he clearly has the physicality for the rough and tumble of life as a Premier League midfielder. He asserted himself well and was keen to receive the ball, before he understandably made a couple of unforced errors which will likely prove to be of no concern as he settles into life at Everton.
Tom Davies’ introduction solidified the midfield after Schneiderlin’s contentious dismissal, and was an important contribution in seeing out the game.
However, the main feeling of frustration comes from a front-four that toiled for most of the contest with Bernard and in particular Gylfi Sigurdsson proving ineffective in their respective roles. Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison provided more in regards to ball retention and occupying the hosts’ defenders in the final third, without really posing a threat other than the Brazilian’s left footed effort in the second half, which flashed narrowly wide of the Palace goal.p
In conclusion, the performance was just about what you’d expect from an undercooked side that didn’t field any of its new recruits from the start. With that in mind, an opening day point with a competent defensive performance is promising, but given the opposition’s issues going into this game as well as their generally negative approach, the stalemate will feel like points were dropped at Selhurst Park.