Everton left the field at bitterly-cold Selhurst Park with their early-season cloak of invincibility firmly intact.
This trip to Crystal Palace was commonly viewed as a game when we would discover if Carlo Ancelotti’s team boasted the capacity to dig out wins week after week.
Everton had gone to Tottenham Hotspur feeling very good about themselves after adding three first-rate players to their squad and rode the wave of optimism to gain a terrific three points.
West Bromwich Albion were comprehensively seen off at Goodison Park seven days ago.
This was a different challenge. Palace had six points of their own and very recent memories of going to Manchester United and sweeping to victory.
Everton began like a team intent on proving their substance and led when Dominic Calvert-Lewin netted his fifth goal of the season on 10 minutes.
Momentum could have swung when Cheikhou Kouyate levelled 16 minutes later.
But manager Ancelotti's side recharged, reasserted themselves and were back in front before half-time courtesy of Richarlison's penalty.
Palace attempted to mount a seoncd-half recovery but with Everton resilient and organised - and a menace on the counter - couldn't force Jordan Pickford into a single save.
Everton’s opening goal was the product of a fluid and inventive passage of play, five players combining to carve open Palace with a surgeon’s precision.
Seamus Coleman sprinted infield, escaping left-back Tyrick Mitchell, after touching off Andre Gomes’ raking pass to Abdoulaye Doucoure.
James Rodriguez took over infield and sent a ball cutting through Palace for Coleman.
He squared and Calvert-Lewin applied the finishing touch, powering his finish past Vicente Guaita despite the goalkeeper’s heavy contact.
Everton had created one notable opening by this stage, Doucoure fending off Mamadou Sakho to spin and force Guatia into a low save following James’ side-footed cross on the volley.
This was a game which bore all the traits which make the Premier League such an easy global sell: competitive, rapid and with plenty of quality football.
📝 | Maximum effort. Maximum points.— Everton (@Everton) September 26, 2020
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Oddly enough, chances were at a relative premium.
Crystal Palace and Mitchell had tried to instantly hit back following Calvert-Lewin’s opener but the shot from 18 yards flew over.
Indeed, the hosts’ equaliser came from their only effort on target in the opening 45 minutes.
Palace had been fairly intricate in attack, Eberechi Eze on the left and Wilfired Zaha – who had a shot on the turn repelled by Coleman – through the middle especially inventive.
But their goal was as rudimentary as they come. Andros Townsend hung over a deep corner from the right and Kouyate climbed to power into the roof of the net.
The narrative in the following 15 minutes was dictated by the newly-introduced handball laws, which appear a work in progress.
Everton tore forwards on 31 minutes after James McCarthy’s hopeful blast crashed into a defensive body. Gomes pounced on the scraps to feed James, who eased a lovely ball to Richarlison, breaking his neck to make up ground on the left.
Richarlison continued into the box, weaving and using his body to shield the ball. Reaching the byline, he pivoted and tried to chip a cross which flew into Joel Ward’s arm.
Referee Kevin Friend decided no penalty and failsafe Anthony Taylor, on VAR duty at Stockley Park, backed up the official on the pitch.
Fast forward six minutes and here we were again, Taylor reviewing action replays after Ward handled, once more, possibility inadvertently but we have no way of knowing.
James lifted a ball from right to left, locating Lucas Digne’s run into the box.
Digne’s header forward thudded into Ward’s arm, with Richarlison roaming in behind the Palace defender.
Four minutes separated the ball hitting Ward and Richarlison carefully striding up to his penalty and caressing the ball into the top-left corner.
Meantime, Taylor asked Friend to check a pitchside monitor after play had continued for the best part of 60 seconds and, after a few looks, Everton got their chance from 12 yards.
Guaita comfortably pouched a James free-kick in first-half stoppage time after the South American was clipped by James McArthur 18 yards out.
The home team sacrificed a little of their guile after the break, subjecting Everton to a series of menacing set-piece deliveries.
Equally, Everton were dangerous from dead balls, not least when Calvert-Lewin dodged Ward to toe fractionally wide after James sent in a dipping left-wing corner.
Either side of that episode, Pickford powerfully punched clear amid a scrum of bodies and Yerry Mina did fabulously well to head out another Townsend corner.
Townsend again soon after, stood over a free-kick this time and floating to the far post where Kouyate arrived to ripple the net on the outside of Pickford’s right post.
Palace were still having to work hard to keep Everton at bay.
Sakho put his body in the way of a James volley after terrific link-up play between Digne and Richarlison on the left.
And Kouyate got enough on a Calvert-Lewin effort – after Gylfi Sigurdsson, on for Gomes, forced through a pass – to make Guaita’s save straight forward.
Pickford was a virtual spectator as Everton proficiently closed out the game for a third win from three at the start of a league campaign for the first time in 27 years.
Crystal Palace can’t say they weren’t warned ahead of Everton’s opening goal.
Minutes earlier, Michael Keane strode from defence and lifted a ball to the right for James Rodriguez, who skilfully delivered a volleyed cross into the middle.
When Andre Gomes took the same route, it was natural to conclude Everton wanted to test young Crystal Palace left-back Tyrick Mitchell, excellent when the London side won at Manchester United last week.
Seamus Coleman – who said this week he expects his goals and assists tally to climb in this enterprising Carlo Ancelotti side – collected Gomes’ pass, directing play back to Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Mitchell stood off Coleman and watched as Doucoure passed to James.
At this juncture, Coleman’s screech for the ball pierced the chill Selhurst Park air.
Everton’s right-back was motoring, he had the jump on Mitchell and wanted the ball.
James’ pass released Coleman to square for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, peeling off the back of Mamadou Sakho.
Calvert-Lewin shot first-time – following his manager’s orders to take one touch in front of goal – and with enough force to defeat Vicente Guaita despite the goalkeeper getting a meaty touch on the ball.
Everton had spotted a potential weakness and exploited it in the exquisite fashion of a team high on both technical quality and confidence.
In the sense that Crystal Palace had been served notice of a specific threat – right-back Joel Ward, in particular – Everton’s second goal bore some similarities to their first.
Ward had perhaps got away with one when Richarlison’s scooped delivery from the left struck the defender on the hand.
But when Lucas Digne met James Rodriguez’s swept delivery Ward instinctively flashed out an arm.
Kevin Friend didn’t spot the infringement but when play finally halted and the referee was invited to review the incident on a pitchside monitor he ruled against Ward.
It was notable, too, how Everton created their opportunity.
Five times against West Bromwich Albion last week James connected with passes from right to left for the effervescent Digne – a continuation from day one at Tottenham Hotspur where the classy duo struck up an instant understanding.
Opponents know what James wants to do and Palace would have studied the videos, no doubt.
Trying to stop an operator of the Colombian’s ability is much easier said than done, however.
Richarlison’s penalty was one of those where the taker stops and stutters.
“It always worries me when people hop and skip and jump and take their time,” reflected former Palace winger Paul Mortimer, summarising for BBC Radio London.
And, he’s right, it is a nervous business watching a player pitter-pattering in his approach to the kick.
They can do what they want when they finish like Richarlison did, though, the Brazilian’s rifled strike into the top corner in stark contrast to his hesitant run up.
That’s three goals in two games for Richarlison after his midweek double against Fleetwood Town – and a first in the Premier League this season.
A healthy rivalry is developing between Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
They were neck-and-neck on 13 Premier League goals and 15 in all competitions last season.
Calvert-Lewin’s strike here was his 29th in the English top-flight. Richarlison moved back within two on 27 when he converted from the spot.
Same Again Carlo
Consistency has been the watchword around Goodison Park this season.
Carlo Ancelotti this week, for example, said Dominic Calvert-Lewin would be bracketed among the game’s elite strikers only when he hits the net game after game – and the player is responding accordingly.
Captain Seamus Coleman maintained nobody at Everton is looking beyond their next match.
“I know it’s boring,” accepted Coleman, “but we can’t get carried away”.
Only, when consistency looks like this it is the opposite of boring.
Attacking with vigour and energy and ambition, defending as if your lives depend on it. No Evertonian will tire of watching that.
Above all, there can’t be a football player or fan alive who wearies of winning every week.
In his team selections, manager Ancelotti is leading by example.
This was a third league game on the spin when Everton were unchanged.
If that doesn’t sound particularly remarkable, then context is supplied by the fact only twice since the advent of the Premier League 28 years ago have Everton fielded the same starting XI for more than three straight games.
Pre-match the talk was of this being a good temperature test for Ancelotti’s Everton team.
Could they add to wins away and at home to begin the season with a second victory in London and convert a promising start into something steadily more substantial?
“In the past we’ve won a few games then gone on a bad run for two, three, four games so that’s what we need to stop,” asserted Michael Keane.
Certainly, Crystal Palace, off the back of a terrific 3-1 win at Manchester United and with two wins from two themselves, provide a credible test of any team.
Palace posed problems with their collection of rapid, imaginative attackers and height and muscle at set-pieces.
They didn’t buckle after falling behind.
Everton were asked a lot of questions here and they answered them all very well indeed.
Worth revisiting Keane’s pre-math interview.
“It’s a big test for us today,” concluded the defender, “and if we can make it three wins in a row that will be a brilliant start for us and give us something to kick on from.”
Richi and DCL On Course
He said it with a smile but there was no disputing Carlo Ancelotti meant it when the manager publicly told Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison to score 20 goals apiece this season.
Calvert-Lewin will reach his bss’s target in Everton’s 12th game at this rate. Very little chance of that but the 23-year-old is showing no signs of letting up.
He is the Premier League’s top goalscorer with five – four of those five the one-touch finishes Ancelotti urges – and will have his phone switched on when Gareth Southgate announces his next England squad on Thursday.
A case could be made for Richarlison as Everton’s best player in the opening victories over Tottenham and West Brom.
All he was missing was a goal. He netted twice at Fleetwood to get off the mark for the season and now he’s up and running in the league, too.
Ancelotti made his 20-goal demand on Friday.
Both players scored on Saturday, perhaps illustrating precisely why Ancelotti was so comfortable gently adding expectation to the shoulders of his two hot shots.