How The Numbers Added Up For Everton At Palace

by Paul McNamara

The blast of referee Anthony Taylor’s whistle was still echoing around a rain-sodden Selhurst Park when David Unsworth ushered his players in the direction of the travelling Evertonians.

Unsworth, of course, would have wanted his men to acknowledge the terrific support they received from start to finish of an undulating contest on Saturday.

He would have known, though, that those fans, crammed into their pocket of this traditional, pulsing old ground, would afford their team a rousing ovation.

“The battle, desire and commitment were there, everything you would want and know you would get from an Everton player,” Unsworth told evertontv, with a hush now descended over the formerly throbbing stadium, bar the sound of Crystal Palace’s unused substitutes being subjected to a succession of running drills on the pitch behind him.

A pitch on which his players had combined for 90 minutes to press, harry, chase and tackle their expressive hosts to distraction.

After one of his early games in charge of the Blues – a 3-0 victory over Leeds United in December 1994 – Joe Royle commented that he had half expected Joe Parkinson to tackle a crisp packet blowing across the turf, so eager was the forceful midfielder to thrust himself into combat.

Unsworth has overseen three Premier League matches this season. His team has put in an average of 24.3 tackles per game, a significant rise from the average 16.3 tackles they contested in their preceding nine outings.

Against Palace alone, Everton’s players made 34 tackles. Idrissa Gana Gueye accounted for 10 of those – seven of them successful. The Senegalese’s individual tackle count of 45 in the Premier League this term is second only to Leicester midfielder Wilfried Ndidi’s 49.

Not far behind Gueye against Palace in this respect, was the unlikely figure of Gylfi Sigurdsson.

The Icelander joined Everton in the summer boasting a personal reel of stellar statistics regarding his creative output. His individual numbers were further burnished by the league-high 433 km he covered during the 2016/17 season.

(Heat map: Gylfi Sigurdson v Crystal Palace)

And Sigurdsson’s appetite for hard graft is not limited to his refusal to stand still. The 28-year-old committed to six tackles on Palace players, winning five of them.

He engaged in 14 duels in all, achieving a 64-per-cent success rate, and, for good measure, executed three vital interceptions.

When his team had possession, Sigurdsson seamlessly slipped on his attacking hat. He fashioned two chances for team-mates – the first of which was sublimely converted by Oumar Niasse – and completed 17 passes.

His 49 touches of the ball matched the tally accumulated by Palace’s sizzling forward, Wilfried Zaha.

And, to apply some context to Everton’s efforts in possession, it is to the comparative contributions of Zaha and Niasse we turn next.

First things first, Zaha is a wonderfully exciting footballer. Rapid across the ground, athletic, skilful, direct and courageous, the Ivory Coast international is the archetypal, modern-day Premier League performer.

He scored his side’s second goal against the Blues – and was instrumental in its construction, too – but he by no means had things all his own way.

Unsworth heaped praise on Jonjoe Kenny’s shoulders for the mature manner in which he contained the electric Zaha – and the naked eye was all that was needed to appreciate the quality of the 20-year-old’s defending.

It is only fair to trot out his numbers, though. Kenny made eight interceptions, cleared the ball six times and won four tackles.

There is, you suspect, some correlation with the Everton’s right-back’s personal data and the statistic which showed Zaha completed only half of his 10 attempted dribbles.

Furthermore, just 10 of Zaha’s 18 passes located their intended target, and he had to make do with coming out on top in eight of 22 individual duels.

Everton’s chief attacking outlet Niasse, meanwhile, is not renowned for his running with the ball. Perceptions change, though, and the striker embarked on no fewer than eight dribbles during the match, with five of them reaching a successful conclusion.

Nonetheless, as a centre-forward, you ultimately stand or fall on your record in the opposition's penalty area.

Niasse had two shots, both on target, with one ending up in the net and the other, after his close control had rendered a posse of Palace defenders spellbound, drew a sharp save from Julian Speroni.

The 27-year-old arguably delivered his finest exhibition of hold-up play since moving to Goodison from Lokomotiv Moscow early last year.

He drew two fouls from Eagles players. The first culprit was Scott Dann, who clipped Niasse in the penalty area, so paving the way for Leighton Baines to equalise James McArthur’s early goal from the spot.

Luka Milivojevic was the second Palace man to err, the Serb midfielder rapping Niasse’s ankles and picking up the booking which left him treading a disciplinary tightrope for the second 45 minutes.

For all that numbers help inform our opinion and understanding, however, it is impossible to quantify every element of a football team or player's performance across any given 90 minutes.

Those intangibles are nevertheless among the first things placed under the microscope each week: the character, desire and commitment, for example, that Unsworth identified in his team’s display against Palace.

And Everton’s defiant reaction to twice falling behind is compelling enough evidence of this Toffees side possessing those attributes in spades.

“We got that as a team, not just from certain individuals, so I was happy with that,” said Unsworth.

Then he inserted the telling rider, the one which will inject further optimism into those Evertonians who roared the Blues from the field at the weekend, and with whom he felt his team had reconnected after their gutsy Carabao Cup display at Chelsea last month – on a night when, if we return to statistics for a moment, the Toffees tackled their opponents 28 times, a substantial increase from the eight tackles they put in against Arsenal three days previously.

“But there is loads to work on, absolutely loads to work on.” continued Unsworth.

“Evertonians at the match or watching at home will have seen a committed performance.

“At the moment, we will take that, (now) we will move on and try to get better every day and every week.”

You can’t say fairer than that.

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