Stoke City v Everton: Five Things We Learned

by Paul McNamara

Cenk Tosun’s second-half double secured Everton victory amid a snowstorm and highly-charged atmosphere at Stoke City’s bet365 Stadium.

The Toffees have won successive matches and will have the wind at their backs when they return from the international break in a fortnight targeting a strong finish to the campaign.

Sam Allardyce and his players have not concealed their desire to start replicating their Goodison Park form on the road.

And after sweeping aside Brighton & Hove Albion last week to make it 23 points banked from the past 30 on offer at home, Everton cracked the away-day code on their visit to Stoke on Saturday.

Here, picks out five talking points from a frantic contest in the Potteries…

Hard Graft Paying Off For Lethal Cenk

Stoke is a long way from Dubai, both in literal and figurative terms. The bet365 Stadium is more than 4,600 miles as the crow flies from the location of Everton’s February training camp in the Middle East.

But the invigorating effects on Cenk Tosun of his fearsome week’s work in the unforgiving heat of the UAE were further showcased under Staffordshire’s freezing, slate-grey skies.

After extending his hot streak to four goals in three matches, the striker rushed to mention Duncan Ferguson’s influence on his prolific form.

First-team coach Ferguson is clocking up mountains of overtime at the moment – he was the recipient of similar public gratitude from Tosun’s fellow forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin last week.

“Finishing and physicality” are the two attributes Tosun says he is aiming to sharpen up in after-hours practice sessions with Ferguson, a man who knew how to look after himself on a football pitch and retired in 2006 after scoring 69 Premier League goals.

The English top flight is watched by a rapt audience the world over. Those billions are lured in by our game’s speed and aggression, which they view with admiration and bewilderment in equal measure.

Boss Allardyce cautioned that Tosun would need an adaptation period after arriving from Turkey. He said, too, that Tosun’s five days abroad with his teammates last month would lay the foundations for his first Everton signing to thrive in his new and very alien environment. Allardyce was right on both counts. Ferguson's one on ones with Tosun are all about building on that base implemented out in Dubai.

And Tosun’s “finishing and physicality” were both integral to his compelling display at Stoke – although not necessarily in that order.

Kurt Zouma’s internal alarm would have sounded a shrill blast when Tosun harangued the defender into conceding a corner early in the game.

Muscular centre-back Zouma appeared set to usher an innocuous-looking through ball out of play. Indeed, you felt his mind was already engaged in his next routine task: trudging up the pitch waiting for Jack Butland to direct a goal-kick upfield.

As it was, the Frenchman suddenly had Tosun swarming all over his back and could take no chances. He nudged the ball behind and his team was on the back foot.

Tosun arrived from Besiktas with a headline-grabbing scoring record – 38 in one-and-a-half seasons – but had no chance in the opening 45 minutes to add to his two for Everton.

But he just got on with all the other stuff; bothering defenders, and using his intelligence to drop and link play or run behind and stretch the Stoke rearguard, as circumstances dictated.

His cross for Theo Walcott late in the match, directed in from the right-wing, was perfect in its timing and execution.

Either side of that delivery, Tosun had his chances to score. He got in front of his man to head Yannick Bolasie’s 69th-minute cross at goal. Butland saved and Kostas Stafylidis hooked Calvert-Lewin’s follow up off the line.

Stoke, perhaps, believed they were off the hook. But there was Tosun, back on his feet and conclusively applying the kill by rifling into the roof of the net.

Tosun was at it again with six minutes to play, beating his marker to the punch, once more, to meet Walcott’s centre with a header that had too much force for Butland to repel, despite the goalkeeper getting a hand to the ball.

The blizzard continued to rage. But Cenk Tosun was causing a storm all of his own.

Wide Widemen

The two players deployed either side of centre-forward Tosun shoulder a great responsibility for making Allardyce’s gameplan tick.

The manager wants his team to attack with width and enterprise.

Walcott and Bolasie, then, are asked to adopt positions tight to the flank, where they are routinely picked out by the pinpoint passing of Wayne Rooney – and, on occasion, centre-halves Michael Keane and Phil Jagielka, when that pair have the opportunity to lift their heads and play out from the back.

And the instruction to Walcott and Bolasie is clear. Deliver quality service into the box for Tosun – and the Toffees' supporting midfielders – to feast on.

Both Everton goals at Stoke were conceived from crosses into the penalty area, a left-sided inswinger from Bolasie and the subseuqent, sumptuous right-wing ball sent over by reliable boot of Walcott.

A pattern is developing. Last week against Brighton, the Blues’ breakthrough came via another Bolasie delivery, before Tosun converted a precise cut-back from Leighton Baines.

Tosun’s first Everton goal at Burnley was the product of another Walcott ball into the box, nodded on by Seamus Coleman.

Coleman and Baines are charged with offering their side width, too. It was noticeable at Stoke, however, that both full-backs often tucked into something of an auxiliary midfield position as their side raided forward, leaving the man in front of them – Bolasie or Walcott – the freedom of their wing.

An average position map of the action at the bet365 Stadium acts as testament to the application of Everton’s two wide forwards.

When the Blues do not have the ball, Bolasie and Walcott move infield, making the pitch small and their team a compact unit which takes some breaking down.

This is an Everton side developing a recognisable style of play and the process of evolution is fascinating to observe.

Jags At The Back

Back-to-back games for Phil Jagielka and back-to-back wins for Everton. We could ascribe that particular outcome to happenstance – but to do so would be rather simplistic.

Jagielka remains a gargantuan figure in this Toffees team.

A modest man, the skipper would never try to tell you there is anything aesthetically pleasing about his work. There is nevertheless a certain majesty in the way he goes about his business.

To see him doing the ugly things, winning tackles, blocking and intercepting would have warmed the chilled bones of more than 3,000 Evertonians congregated in a noisy corner of Stoke’s otherwise partisan home ground.

We did not see Jagielka breaking his neck to eat up ground in pursuit of forwards, nor sliding into dramatic recovery tackles.

He didn’t need to do any of that. The 35-year-old reads the game impeccably, he senses danger. A couple of steps right or left and he is cutting out a through ball, or getting in the way of a goalbound shot.

Jagielka knows his own game inside out. Left one on one with the rapid Ramadan Sobhi in the first-half, the winger’s eyes wide with excitement as he considered a vast expanse of grass ahead of him, the Everton defender gave his opponent the slightest of nudges. Sobhi fleetingly checked his stride but the Stoke man’s misstep was all Jagielka needed to move in and complete the clear-up job.

Everton have won the past three games Jagielka has started. On his first full outing under Allardyce he was key to shutting out a then-in-form Chelsea at Goodison.

A word, too, for Michael Keane, who rose emphatically to the challenge presented by the towering Peter Crouch. It was rousing to see Keane make light of a 5in aerial disadvantage to clamber above the striker and win a mighty second-half header.

And his surge and venomous shot after half-time, which nearly caught Butland on the hop, indicated a player whose confidence levels are moving in the right direction.

Jumping Hurdles

Allardyce talked of a need to push through a “psychological barrier”. For Jagielka, it was about applying “mental toughness”.

It all added up to the same thing. Everton needed to find a way to relocate their winning touch away from home.

Goodison has represented a Blues' stronghold for a prolonged period of time. Everton have won 23 points from the past 30 on their own ground – and 20 from 27 since Allardyce saw the Toffees overcome West Ham United 4-0 ahead of his official appointment.

Indeed, Allardyce corrected his side's travel sickness immediately after taking charge. He engineered the victory at Newcastle United – Everton’s second away win in 2017. That win on Tyneside was sandwiched by creditable draws at Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion.

The Blues conceded only one goal across those three matches, to boot. Since the turn of the year, however, Everton have not been able to match their profitable Goodison returns outside L4.

The longer such difficulties continue, so the pressure intensifies. And that is before you step out to take on a Stoke team red in tooth and claw in its bid to pick up points towards the club’s survival bid.

Everton stood up to the test, withstanding whatever Paul Lambert’s men chucked at them – be it their combativity or pace on the counter – and refusing to shrink when hauled back by Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s late equaliser.

You only had to see the joy spread across the faces of the Toffees players at the final whistle – and the obvious regard in which Tosun is held by his teammates – to see what this meant to Allardyce’s men.

It was truly cheering to witness Davy Klaassen so thrilled for Tosun, as the drenched collection of figures in all blue strode to acknowledge their supporters.

These are the sorts of days that will provide a valuable reference point when Everton are next asked to dig deep – and on which strong bonds are forged.

Pivotal Gueye

Idrissa Gana Gueye ostensibly came back into Everton’s team as a replacement for the injured Gylfi Sigurdsson.

The Senegalese midfielder, though, sidelined against Brighton last week due to illness, is far more than a stand in. This was Gueye's 27th Premier League outing this term 

His energetic, competitive presence as the pivot in Everton’s engine room serves a dual purpose, Gueye’s covering, shielding and plugging of gaps providing a reassuring buffer for his back four, and releasing Rooney and Tom Davies to influence matters higher up the pitch.

Only Rooney attempted as many passes as Gueye’s 60. And nobody on the pitch recorded a higher passing-success rate than the 28-year-old’s 91.7 per cent.

This was an ambitious display from Gueye, too. He delivered 29 of his passes in the attacking half – Rooney with 32 was the only player with a higher total in that category.

He also completed two interceptions and snapped into five tackles – a number matched by only the relentless Walcott – but Gueye's statistics tell only part of the story.

There was an unmistakable intent about Everton’s approach to this game and it was embodied by the way the irrepressible Gueye repeatedly drove through the heart of the pitch with the ball at his feet during the opening exchanges.

Former Everton attacker Steven Pienaar recently talked of Gueye in the same breath as Chelsea’s indefatigable N’Golo Kante and Fernandinho, Manchester City’s Brazilian powerhouse.

Here was a performance from the Blues' own midfield dynamo that Pienaar could hold up as definitive proof of his point.

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