Everton launched the Marco Silva era with a pulsating 2-2 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers – the fourth time in six seasons the Blues have opened their campaign by sharing four goals with their opponents.
Richarlison ended the day talking about a “memory for life” after scoring twice and contributing a virtuoso display on his debut for the Club.
The Brazilian would conceivably have had three points to celebrate with his teammates, too, were it not for the unfortunate Phil Jagielka’s sending off four minutes before half-time.
Wolves quickly equalised following Jagielka’s red card and the home team levelled again 11 minutes from time after Richarlison had restored the 10-man Blues’ advantage midway through the second half.
Here, we pick out five things we learned as Everton stayed true to their new manager’s progressive principles throughout 90 frenetic minutes at a rocking Molineux.
Managing in the Premier League is an unrelenting business. By turns, exasperating and infuriating, rewarding and joyful, the job requires a peculiar mix of intensity and equanimity from its occupants.
Marco Silva spent six weeks plotting and preparing his players for the Premier League campaign and, by extension, this match against charged-up, newly-promoted and admirably ambitious Wolves.
Double doses of training were the daily norm as Silva oversaw an exhaustive pre-season, which featured seven matches in four countries. More pertinently, the concentrated work on training pitches in Austria, Portugal, France and back at USM Finch Farm, was designed to give the manager’s players a crash course in his methods.
Silva is famously hands-on. Meticulous and demanding, the former Sporting Lisbon and Olympiakos boss has worked furiously to convey his ideas to his new charges.
In the opening 40 minutes at Wolves, everything went like clockwork. Everton’s players have talked effusively of Silva’s influence and here was the evidence to support those glowing words.
The racket created by the locals ahead of kick-off would have disturbed anything other than the most clear-headed team.
But Everton refused to yield to a home side which predictably flew from the traps following six years outside the big time. Indeed, the Toffees immediately grabbed the initiative, earning a succession of set pieces in dangerous areas and progressively forcing Wolves closer to their own goal.
Richarlison’s 17th-minute goal ensured the scoreline was a fair representation of the action heading towards the break.
Then referee Craig Pawson dismissed Phil Jagielka and the contest was shifted on its axis.
Silva had talked 24 hours before kick-off, of the necessity for players to be “fast thinking” in today’s football.
Well, the manager had to employ serious speed of thought of his own, here. He filtered out his personal emotions surrounding the referee’s decision and the wall of noise encompassing him to act decisively and effectively.
On went the authoritative Mason Holgate, attacker Gylfi Sigurdsson the man sacrificed. On the face of it, it was a move designed to shore up Everton defensively in anticipation of a Wolves onslaught. When Ruben Neves promptly slammed home the resulting free-kick, plenty of observers would have been prepared to watch the visitors batten down the hatches.
Instead, Everton’s performance with 10 men served as proof that a manager’s principles can be wrapped around any game-plan.
The Toffees were organised and resilient without the ball but retained a purpose in attack which visibly unsettled their opponents.
Everton were good for their 2-1 advantage and might reflect ruefully on the final outcome. This was a mature, controlled performance and one which told us plenty about Silva’s ability to adapt and thrive.
Silva talks of wanting his teams to play with “big ambition”. He isn’t trying to mould a kamikaze outfit a la the Harlem Globetrotters. The manager is aiming to form a fearless and progressive Everton, a side with direct and exciting forward players.
Silva constructs his teams on a steely core, though. Nobody is spared defensive responsibilities, nor the base requirement of running and running for the cause.
Skilful winger Shaun Maloney was part of Silva’s squad when the Portuguese was in charge of Hull City. Former Scotland international Maloney gave evertonfc.com some insight into Silva’s football model following his former boss’s arrival at Goodison Park.
“Marco’s defensive organisation and principles were probably the most I learned in the six months with him,” said Maloney. “That side of the game was massive, a big part of how we tried to play. But he focused on both the defensive and attacking sides of our play.
“I would say the level of detail he went into defensively was something I had not seen. It is a huge part of his game.”
Creating a concrete foundation has been the starting point for the Premier League’s most successful managers. Mention of Arsene Wenger's 2003/04 Arsenal Invincibles, arguably the most exciting and expressive English side of the modern era, conjures images of fleet-footed, rampaging attackers Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires cutting dumfounded opponents to ribbons.
That trio would be the first to concede, however, that the midfield ballast provided by the dependable and imposing duo of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva enabled them to flourish at the business end of the pitch.
“There are areas – particularly the final third – where Marco gives you more licence to express yourself and have that creative freedom,” added Maloney. “There is a plan in both attack and defence.”
Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gana Gueye were the duo charged with providing the platform from which their side’s front four could spring forward with impunity against Wolves.
The bravery Silva demands from his players, allied to Schneiderlin and Gana having their marauding teammate’s backs, combined to ensure Richarlison did not think twice about galloping onto Cenk Tosun’s lay off to put his side in front after half-time.
Schneiderlin and Gueye each had 64 touches of the ball. Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves had 111 all to himself.
Statistics are open to interpretation but this one tells of the urgency with which the Everton twosome moved play on. The international pair constantly sought out colleagues in advanced positions, or looked to feed the rampant Richarlison, consequently depriving Wolves of any kind of engine room foothold and the opportunity to make their extra man count.
Schneiderlin won two aerial duels and found his man with a team-high 86.3 per cent of his 51 passes. The Frenchman struck 28 of his 44 accurate passes – 63 per cent – into Wolves territory. Gana was similarly ambitious, landing 25 of his 45 on-point deliveries in the hosts’ half of the pitch.
Former Manchester United player Schneiderlin completed two interceptions, too, with the typically busy Gana matching Schneiderlin’s interception tally and making one clearance.
The understated midfield partners were instrumental to Everton’s efficient display at both end of the field.
Michael Keane insisted Everton’s players were not surprised by Richarlison’s fabulous debut. The Brazilian’s teammates have witnessed his myriad talents first-hand on the training ground, reasoned centre-back Keane.
They knew about the explosive running, incisive passing, ceaseless industry and precise finishing.
There were plenty of pointers to the 21-year-old’s capacity to thrill in a trio of pre-season outings, with his goal against Rennes worthy of special mention.
And the attacker’s double, here, is understandably accounting for vast column editions in Sunday’s sports pages.
But there really is a lot more to Richarlison than his goals. The point was driven home when Everton’s greatest post-war goalscorer Graeme Sharp was moved to highlight the new-boy’s all-round contribution against Nuno Espirito Santo’s competitive team.
Sharp, an authentic Goodison Park legend, two-times title winner and scorer of 160 goals for the Blues, is a shrewd judge of a player, too.
“There was much more to admire than his two goals,” said Sharp. “He worked extremely hard and was still at it when we went down to 10 men.
“I like the fact there is an edge to him, too. He was booked early on and that concerned me at the time but he showed great maturity and controlled himself after that. He knew he could not afford to do anything rash.
“You have to have that edge and something about you if you are going to be one of the top players and I think this boy has it.”
Richarlison’s tremendous work ethic carried him up and down the left flank. He defended assiduously and had only one thought in mind with the ball at his feet, ‘How can I hurt my opponents?’
Wolves had to resort to unfair means to stop him on three occasions, one of which presented Leighton Baines with the opportunity to send in the free-kick Richarlison ultimately converted on 17 minutes.
The forward’s second goal was the product of his positive movement, not only in the moment but throughout the previous 67 minutes. Wolves’ defenders were rightly wary of Richarlison racing behind them, so backed off and inadvertently enabled him to open up his body and send a classy finish – Sharp’s words – into the far corner.
Richarlison, for good measure, won four aerial battles, contributed one block in his defensive third and hit two exquisite long passes. A third, covering fully 50 yards and delivered from deep on the left, was inches from freeing Theo Walcott high up the right.
The final word on Richarlison’s display goes to Everton defender Baines.
“He has been magnificent since he came in. He’s a really, really good player,” said Baines. “He has great work rate, a great attitude – everything you want from a footballer.
“He does it all – there’s nothing he doesn’t do. He has strength, pace and skill. He can find a pass and score a goal. I honestly couldn’t compliment him enough – he’s brilliant.”
Coming from Baines, who unfailingly chooses his words carefully, that is high praise indeed.
If Baines does not go in for empty platitudes, then Everton’s stylish left-back is not one for self-promotion, either.
In which case, we’ll flag up the finer details of the 33-year-old’s dynamic performance in the Midlands for him.
Baines is embarking on his 12th season at Goodison and with every appearance extending his record for Everton appearances by a full-back.
Manager Silva’s desire to have two first-rate players for every position saw France international Lucas Digne signed from Barcelona to contest the left-back berth with its long-time incumbent.
Unquestionably, competition for places is a boon for any team, Digne said as much following his arrival.
But if his new colleague’s presence on the bench acted as extra incentive to excel, then Baines will have profited from his summer break, too. He has had scant respite in recent years – his three-month ‘downtime’ last term was devoted to recovering from a calf problem. And on Everton outing number 404, Baines performed with real zest.
He linked intelligently with Richarlison, leaving the winger to it when he raided into space but choosing opportune moments to join the attack.
Baines sent over seven crosses – and it is a nod to his enduring dead-ball quality that he struck the free-kick which led to the opening goal – and had 84 touches, more than any of his teammates.
Baines completed 84.6 per cent of his 52 passes and provided the ball for Cenk Tosun to feed Richarlison for Everton’s second goal.
He contested five tackles, a figure surpassed by only four players in Friday and Saturday’s Premier League matches – Seamus Coleman one of four men to enter six challenges.
Baines made four interceptions, too.
The defender’s instant connection with Richarlison led Everton to direct 53.8 per cent of their attacks down the left in the opening 45 minutes – the corresponding figure on the right was 17.9 per cent.
Things evened out slightly after the restart, with the Blues launching 46.8 per cent of their raids down Baines and Richarlison’s flank and moves down the right accounting for 35.1 per cent of the visitors’ attacking play.
Up And Running
Asked to reflect on Everton’s friendly fixtures days before this match, Seamus Coleman confessed he had to dig deep into his memory banks to summon results of past pre-seasons.
It happens every year, teams start to play for points and everything that went before dissolves into a hazy irrelevance.
Dynamic right-back Coleman will not forget this game at Wolves in a hurry – but he will already be anticipating another tough week’s work back at base.
Silva revealed his rush of deadline-day signings would necessitate a ‘second pre-season’. Moreover, the analytical manager has 90 minutes of competitive action to help instruct his planning for the coming days.
The Blues welcome Southampton to Goodison next Saturday and football waits for no man. For evidence, six of the players who started for Everton on their visit to Wolves when the teams last met six years ago have since hung up their boots.
This is a sport – and a Premier League – which is always looking forward. Silva, as demonstrated by his savvy manoeuvring at Molineux, is similarly disposed.