Surprise Factor Behind Mykolenko's Fine Form Revealed

There is one obvious yet little-known factor behind Vitalii Mykolenko’s impressive form this season.

After 18 months of managing a niggling hip issue, he is finally feeling 100 per cent again.

The problem began way back in January 2022, when, ahead of the first game of Duncan Ferguson’s second spell as caretaker manager against Aston Villa at Goodison Park, the Ukrainian defender felt pain during a training session that was severe enough to reduce him to his knees.

After battling on, while being aided by the Club’s medical staff, to keep up with the relentless flow of domestic and international fixtures, the injury was solved once and for all this summer with the help of a London-based specialist.

Mykolenko continued his outstanding personal form with a Player-of-the-Match display in Sunday's 2-0 win over Chelsea, the Blues' third consecutive league win in the space of eight days.

The 24-year-old left-back won more duels than anyone else on the pitch (nine) and, underlining his growing influence, had more touches than any other Everton player (50) against Mauricio Pochettino's side.

Vitalii Mykolenko
“I’d felt discomfort for around 18 months… Now I feel more comfortable and fitter than ever before. I feel 100 per cent now, but then I think I can improve further.”


“From that training session [ahead of the Aston Villa game in January 2022], I had soreness in my hip,” said Mykolenko in an exclusive sit-down chat with the Official Matchday Programme. “I had only just joined the Club when it happened and, obviously, I wanted to play. Thankfully, I could still play and I could manage it, but I couldn’t do some rotations and didn’t quite have full range of movement.

“I actually missed the end of last season with a different injury, I had a problem with my quadriceps, but then when I reported for the national team, the hip problem flared up.

“I’d felt discomfort for around 18 months in total, then I saw a specialist who really helped me. I missed the pre-season training camp over the summer as a result but the problem is now fully fixed.

“It’s always difficult to miss pre-season because you have to catch up with the other players’ levels. After pre-season, I gradually came back into training but I missed the first four games because of the end of the rehabilitation and because I wasn’t fit.

“Now I feel more comfortable and fitter than ever before. I feel 100 per cent now, but then I think I can improve further.”

No Everton player has made more tackles than Mykolenko in the Premier League this season (43). He ranks sixth in the overall standings and second in terms of full-backs across the division for that particular metric.

Among the players who have played 300+ minutes for the Blues this season, he is third for interceptions per 90 (1.47), just behind centre-back pairing James Tarkowski (1.81) and Jarrad Branthwaite (1.69).

As well as fully trusting his body again, Mykolenko believes there are other underlying reasons for his eye-catching displays, not least how the close bonds he has forged in camp, a process he believes has been accelerated by the experiences of a testing season-and-a-half in royal blue, have helped him feel at home in Merseyside.

“It was a difficult wait for me at the start of the season, I had to be patient,” he explains. “We didn’t start well this season and it was frustrating not being available to help the team but now I feel like myself again and, also, this now feels like my family, my football family, really.”

He continues: “I’m buzzing,” before pausing to double check his ever-improving English skills. “I feel really happy here and I find myself speaking a little bit more in the changing rooms, maybe because I have been here for nearly two years and the experiences I’ve had with my teammates. It feels very close, like a family.”

Perhaps more surprisingly - and contrary to a frequently-spun narrative that Mykolenko is a defending-only type of full-back - has been his impressive attacking productivity so far this term.

He has attempted significantly more shots per 90 minutes (1.17) than the previous two campaigns (0.68 in 2021/22 and 0.34 in 2022/23), as well as more dribbles (0.67 per 90 minutes, up from 0.37 last term).

Then there are the two Premier League goals. His first strike earned a point at home to Brighton & Hove Albion, while his early header set the Toffees on the way to an impressive 3-2 win at Crystal Palace last month.

“I have seen so many stories about me that say I am not an attacking player, I am just a defender and can only defend. For me, it’s not the case,” he insists. “I can play in attack, I can join in when the opportunity present themselves. When you are playing against the top teams and top players, like Bukayo Saka or Mo Salah, okay, you can’t go to attack so many times.

“Every team has good wingers but I know I can contribute when it is for the good of the team.

“Ultimately my position is a defender, so, of course, defending must come first for me but I feel positive about the attacking side of my game, maybe because I am fully fit now and possibly I can join in even more than before.”

Sean Dyche’s influence on Mykolenko cannot be underestimated, either.

The Blues’ number 19 says he has been fuelled by the faith and guidance of the manager since his arrival in late January.

“The gaffer gives me confidence and I took this confidence on,” he says. “I spoke with him about my injury, I spoke with him about other things as well. He is always open and always has time to talk if we need to, if there is a question or a problem, I know I can go to him.

“I want to play every game and to be able to do that, most importantly, you need to be ready physically and then just behind that is being mentally ready as well.

“In terms of fitness, I agree with the gaffer… I am [only] 24 years old but I understand that fitness is so important at this level. I try to be better every session in that respect, doing extra runs and things like that.

“Then, on the pitch, I understand his targets from us and what he wants from me personally in my position. That strong understanding is beneficial for me and for him.

“I know what he wants and I am trying to show this on the pitch every time. So far this season, I think I have been doing that not too bad.”

Vitalii Mykolenko
“The gaffer gives me confidence and I took this confidence on. He is always open and I know I can go to him [if needed].”

 Given the harrowing set of circumstances many of his compatriots face as an every-day reality back in Ukraine, discussing hardship in a football context with Mykolenko can feel, at best, insensitive.

His father, Sergei, who left his job as a builder to join the military immediately after Russia’s invasion in February 2022, is still serving his country and based in the capital, Kyiv, but his son’s preference not to discuss his involvement further in order to protect his safety underlines the gravity of the situation.

His mother, Olesia, will be in attendance at Goodison Park tonight, a welcome relief from what Mykolenko describes as “the toughest time of the year”, as temperatures plummet to well below freezing and many citizens face battling the harsh winter with limited access to food, electricity and heat.

But Mykolenko, who is deeply supportive of causes helping the people of his homeland, is also a consummate professional - and someone who has fallen in love with Everton.

The scenes and sounds of defiance following the Blues’ latest roadblock, a 10-point deduction that the Club officially appealed last week, has left him hungrier than ever to make a difference.

He exhales deeply before explaining: “Of course, it’s tough to take, especially if you realise how difficult it is to get points in the Premier League. It would be hard for any team to take on but when I arrived back at Finch Farm after international duty, honestly, the first thing I saw and sensed was pure desire - desire to get more points as quickly as possible.

“We can do it. I don’t care how many points we’ve got now or how many have been taken away from us.

“I can see now, and you can see for yourself, how hard we are working here, every day to keep moving forward from here.

“Everyone is working hard, knowing we can get more points and knowing we can climb the table.

“I think it may have even pulled everyone even closer together. To be honest, before the deduction, we were a team, tight, anyway, but maybe it has given us even more focus and determination.”