Digne Makes Blues Bow In Valencia Clash

by Paul McNamara
@Everton

Richarlison and Lucas Digne made their Goodison Park debuts in Everton’s friendly meeting with Valencia on Saturday afternoon.

There was a return to action for Theo Walcott, too, the winger playing for 60 minutes after sitting out the Blues’ pre-season action until now. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who last featured against Newcastle United way back in April, had a second-half run out.

Daniel Wass’s 75th-minute goal won the match for the Spaniards after the sides had shared four goals in the first half – Cenk Tosun and Michael Keane both pouncing to level the scores after Rodrigo Moreno twice put Valencia in front.

Tosun’s unerring strike drew Everton level following Rodrigo’s early effort.

The hosts won possession high up the pitch – for the umpteenth time, even as early as the 17th minute – enabling Walcott to drive at his opponents.

Walcott employed his dazzling close control to evade a cluster of defenders, then used his vision to spot Tosun, the forward intelligently pulling to the right.

When the ball alighted with the Turk, he was in a presentable shooting position but no more. The sight of goal, though, was all Tosun needed. He swatted a laser-like first-time strike across goalkeeper Neto and into the corner.

The latterly prolific Rodrigo struck either side of Tosun’s effort. The Spain international forward rifled in on six minutes to put Valencia in front with their first attack of any significance. Midfielder Carlos Soler timed his back-post run to steer Ferran Torres’ searching cross from the left into the six-yard box. Rodrigo, whose 16 La Liga goals last season provided the impetus for Valencia’s top-four finish, arrived on cue and comprehensively smashed home.

And five minutes after Everton had squared matters, Rodrigo was at it again, bursting into the box to meet right-back Cristiano Piccini’s lofted cross with a terrific header directed inside Maarten Stekelneburg’s right post.

Valencia’s lead was even more short lived this time. Gylfi Sigurdsson was visibly frustrated when his initial free-kick from the left was diverted behind. The Icelander channelled his annoyance into sending in a fizzing corner which found Keane darting to the near post and heading beyond Neto.

Morgan Schneiderlin’s penalty-box strike was bravely blocked by the flying Geoffrey Kondogbia early in the second half. Valencia went close just shy of the hour when midfielder Wass swept just wide of the far post following left-back Jose Luis Gaya’s lightning run and cross.

But it was Wass who would have the final say. The Denmark international capitalised on a lapse in communication between Seamus Coleman and substitute Sandro to claim possession on the left. Wass retained his composure to sprint forward and unleash a ferocious rising drive which left Stekelenburg with no chance.


Bold Blues

In Richarlison Everton signed a fearless attacker, prepared to stick his neck in the block and shoot on sight. Only three players rained more shots on goal than the Brazilian in the Premier League last season.

That Marco Silva rates Richarlison so highly, is instructive, then. An insight, perhaps, into what the manager wants from his players when they find themselves with the ball at their feet and the whites of goal in their eyes.

Richarlison brought a fabulous sprawling save out of Neto with a curling right-foot strike shortly after Valencia’s opener, while midfielder Idrissa Gana Gueye was prepared to take aim whenever the opportunity arose.

The excellent Walcott switched between hugging the touchline to stretch Valencia and bursting infield to cause pandemonium in the box.

Walcott’s clever roaming was further evidence of Everton’s purpose in forward areas. There was a lot to like, too, in the way the Blues hunted the ball like men possessed.

Neither Valencia’s defenders nor their midfielders could grab a breather at any point. Gana and Schneiderlin were particularly effective at putting the squeeze on the Spaniards, both midfielders displaying the courage to press and harry in advanced positions.

Everton's tireless hounding brought about their first equaliser, with Walcott embarking on his jinking run after a concerted Blues' press had won the ball approximately 30 yards from goal to set the wheels in motion on an ultimately fruitful move.


The Long And Short Of It

Initial signs point towards an Everton side which will seek to change up its game under Silva this season.

When simple retention of possession was the order of the day, the Blues sought to speedily circulate the ball in the middle third.

This was passing with a purpose, intended to shift opponents out of position and open up the type of gaps which the express duo of Walcott and Richarlison and dead-eyed finisher Tosun can readily exploit.

The presence of Walcott and Richarlison on the flanks pushed Valencia back, the visitors forced to defend on their 18-yard box for fear of either winger – or one of Everton’s willing runners from deep – breaking their line.

The Blues, for their part, are defending noticeably further up the field. This starting position dictated that Silva’s side consistently won the ball in dangerous areas.

It happened inside 60 seconds in fact, when Sigurdsson hared back to help his midfield out of a spot. Gana took responsibility for wresting back possession and rapped a pass to Sigurdsson. He didn’t think twice, driving a crisp first-time pass into Walcott’s run.

The winger, who is back following a minor ankle problem, was still getting the rust out of his legs at this juncture. But it wouldn’t be long before he was into his elegant stride. Indeed, by the time Walcott made way for Sandro on the hour he had put in a terrific shift.

Walcott’s dribble and pass for Tosun’s goal served as a reminder that this is a pedigree footballer, armed with a slew of England caps, and able to conjure something productive from the most unlikely situations.

A good football team must have a variety of scoring options up its sleeve. The recent World Cup told us of the value of set-pieces. In the region of 43 per cent of the goals scored in Russia came from dead-ball situations. Everton have a wonderful striker of the ball in Sigurdsson. His delivery from a left-wing corner on 30 minutes was matched in quality by Keane’s run to the near post and powerful headed finish.


French Connection

Digne had to wait until the second 45 minutes for his Everton debut. But the France international left-back, who sealed a move from Barcelona during the week, needed no time to look perfectly at home in an Everton shirt.

His compatriot Schneiderlin was on the pitch from the off and making his presence felt in no time. Fewer than two minutes were on the clock when the midfielder thundered into a tackle on Santiago Mina.

The slightly put-out forward climbed to his feet in stages and spent the next few minutes hobbling about looking rather miffed.

The energised and mobile Schneiderlin leapt up and continued in similar fashion all afternoon. He got through a mountain of work, eagerly shutting down spaces and effectively doing the dirty work which makes up a huge slice of his job. Schneiderlin’s use of the ball was good, too, the 28-year-old crisply threading a succession of passes to teammates stationed ahead of him.

Digne had already seen Sigurdsson decline to use his run from one free-kick shortly after the restart when he got on his bike midway through the second half, as his teammate stood over another dead ball.

Digne’s persistence was rewarded with a ball drilled perfectly into his feet. He nudged it forward and sent a low cross racing through a congested six-yard box. If Richarlison, rushing in at the far post, could have stretched a centimetre further he would have had his first Goodison goal.

The compact Digne has a good spring which enables him to compete aerially with taller opponents. He is quick into the tackle, progressive with his passing and eager to spring forward and add an extra body to his side’s attack.


The Phoney War

Everton’s players have, without exception, talked glowingly of the intensity of their five-weeks’ work under new manager Silva.

Productively negotiating a heavy training load – both in terms of its physical demands and the requirement to absorb a raft of fresh concepts and instructions – has been the priority in this period.

The seven matches squeezed into the past three weeks have proved a useful exercise, too.

None more so than this game against a Valencia side preparing for its return to the Champions League this term following a two-year absence.

Tosun’s scoring contribution was exquisitely timed. Centre-forwards are a different beast altogether with goals behind them, so for the former Besiktas player to drive home so instinctively tees him up rather nicely for next week’s Premier League opener at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Equally, Walcott’s hour on the pitch came at an opportune moment, seven days before the real stuff gets under way.

Great for Richarlison and Digne to get a first taste of Goodison, too, with Southampton due in a fortnight when points will be at stake.

Ian Snodin’s man of the match: Idrissa Gana Gueye

“I thought Gana was fantastic and set the tempo for an energetic Everton performance. He is full of running, gets in people’s faces and was one of the key men when we put the squeeze on Valencia and made it difficult for them to play from the back.

"He broke up play excellently and showed his understanding of when to press and when to be patient.

“Gana’s passing is underrated at times. He did not give the ball away at all and it was a very strong all-round display from him. He was a really bright spark.

“I think Marco Silva will be a fan because managers like players who they know will give everything for the cause – and most importantly who understand their jobs.

“You always need an Idrissa Gana Gueye in your team.”

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