Never in doubt.
Stat of the day: Kelleher and Neco’s shirt numbers added together total more than the number of points Everton have won since the start of the 2018-19 season.
The continued absence of Alisson, despite what Sky Sports had said pre-match, meant that young Kelleher retained his place between the sticks, following his outstanding performance in the Champions League midweek. Fabinho and Matip were this week’s lucky raffle winners to form the central defence; Henderson anchored the midfield again, allowing Curtis and Gini to roam. Up front, Jota made way for Bobby, so the fabled front three were reunited from the start for the first time since the draw at Manchester City, whilst it was good to see young Trent back on the bench.
The returning crowd, even if only a couple of thousand, gave a heartfelt rendition of our famous old anthem and there was a real sense of anticipation before the game kicked off. The visitors had the first attempt on goal, with Neves firing a free kick (for which Williams was booked in the second minute) narrowly over. Soon afterwards, a promising Reds counter-attack petered out with a poor pass from Jones. Mané headed over from Robertson’s cross, which was hit with some venom and arrived slightly behind the Senegalese international.
Young Caoimhin made a fine, back-pedalling, fingertip save save to deny Podence, before Traore skipped past Fabinho but swept his cross just beyond Neto at the far post. Mané then just failed to capitalise on a magnificent pass from Robbo; moments later, Coady failed to head away Henderson’s hopeful pass and Salah pounced gratefully. 1-0 to the Tricky Reds.
Fabinho made a brilliant intervention before Bobby almost flicked Sadio’s driven cross past Patricio; Semedo then thwarted Mané after the captain’s sumptuous pass. Mo then hit along-range free kick well but it was too far out to really test the visiting keeper, who saved comfortably.
VAR then- miraculously- came to our rescue when a penalty decision against Mané was overturned. The forward clearly tried to pull out of his overhead clearance as he saw Coady nearby and there was no contact. As the teams trudged off for their halftime oranges, the Reds fully deserved their lead and could easily have been more than one goal to the good.
Mané almost started the second half with a bang but his sweetly struck shot was straight at Patricio. Salah and Robbo then set up Mané with a delightful move that deserved a better finish; Kelleher made a couple of decent saves and then Gini curled a beauty into the top corner on a counter attack after a Wolves corner. 2-0 just before the hour and the returning Kop had a goal in front of them to celebrate.
Matip then nodded home Salah’s cross- a short corner routine actually paid off, for the first time ever- to make it 3-0 and Trent came on to replace Neco for the last quarter of the match. Bobby, who had been full of wonderful tricks and flicks all evening, then made way for Jota, who faced his former club for the first time.
Jones shot straight at the keeper from the edge of the box; Semedo then turned the ball into his own net, under pressure from Mané, after Trent’s wonderful low cross. 4-0 with 12 minutes left to play. Kelleher then parried AIt Nouri’s drive before Baby replaced Henderson for the last ten minutes. Robertson’s late free kick was a fraction too high for Mané; Mo then cut inside but his shot swerved wide from the edge of the box.
It really was a complete team performance today: Kelleher was unflappable; the back four imperious (Williams’ early lunge excepted); the midfield controlled the game and the front three looked menacing throughout. We really do look to be hitting our stride now and all I can see stopping us in the league is the dubious officiating.
Next up is our closing Champions League group fixture, at Midtjylland, and the chance to rest the regulars and play the kids. A trip dahn sahf to Fulham follows next Sunday; on paper, an easy three points but I’m sure that the boys will have learnt from that Atalanta defeat- never underestimate the opposition.
MOTM: Gérald Gabillet, Technical Director at Cheval des Andes. Another trip away from France for today’s recommended red, although the team based in Argentina do rely a lot on imported knowledge from Bordeaux. In my opinion, the best wine produced outside Europe; strongly recommended to those who are partial to a bit of vino tinto.