Never expect a soft center from a Sean Dyche team, but Everton were swept aside at Villa Park and Michael Keane was the cause of that collapse.
Now in his seventh season with the club, Keane is a model professional, intelligent, and affable. He has never misbehaved in his attitude or general conduct, but given his honest approach, he will know that this was not his day.
Some Blues fans have wanted Jarrad Branthwaite to start this season, but Sean Dyche insists he and his staff have been pleased with what they have seen so far. His decision to start the season with his two most senior players was logical.
Keane and stand-in captain James Tarkowski, who was the only outfielder to play every minute for his club in the Premier League last season, have played over 230 English top-flight matches each, while Branthwaite has only 10. However, after this Villa Park horror show, especially Keane’s blunders for the third and fourth goals, the clamor to sign the prospect who spent last season on loan at PSV Eindhoven will definitely get louder.
Back to the beginning
After watching Everton’s first game of the season against Chelsea from the Main Stand at Goodison Park, Amadou Onana made his Blues debut at Aston Villa 53 weeks later in the first away game.
That was a baptism of fire for the £ 33.5 million signing as he was substituted in the 81st minute. Despite only being on the pitch for a short time, Onana helped score two goals at either end of the pitch, losing possession in the build-up to Villa’s second and setting up Everton’s strike (when former Blue Lucas Digne put the ball into his own net). The eventful cameo didn’t portend well for the young Belgium international, as he only scored once in his Premier League debut season, a header from a corner kick against bottom club Southampton on January 14.
After seven months and with the former Lille player turning 22 last week, this return to the West Midlands at the same stage of the new season as last year presented a crucial barometer of Onana’s improvement. There have been some hopeful moments in the Blues’ summer friendly, but much of what he represents remains untapped potential in this struggling team.
While he looks like a colossus, this young man is still learning his trade in football’s toughest domestic division, and Evertonians are still waiting for him to dominate matches with his attributes. Despite not submitting a formal transfer approach, Manchester United have a long-standing interest in the player. Everton would require any potential suitor to break the bank to take this valuable asset from Goodison Park.
Blues officials feel Onana can become as good, if not better than Chelsea’s £115million signing Moises Caicedo, but he’s not there yet and battered Blues need to see short-term progress.
Again, Everton’s substitutes were reactive rather than proactive in a game where the opposition’s alterations were crucial.
John Duran was ‘waved through’ by Michael Keane to score the hosts’ final goal less than a minute after joining the action at Villa Park. In their previous match against Fulham, Bobby De Cordova-Reid came off the bench and scored the winner at Goodison Park. Marco Silva also brought in last season’s top scorers Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andreas Pereira. However, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Alex Iwobi’s injuries forced two of Chelsea’s three changes by the 50th minute.
After eight managers in seven years under Farhad Moshiri, Everton appear to have found the best fit to lead them in these difficult times in Dyche, a gaffer who is well-versed in getting the best out of squads on a shoestring budget. However, the 52-year-old is Premier League proven given what he achieved in almost a decade at Burnley.
Everton, coming off its lowest points total ever, cannot afford to be left behind in Premier League games that are increasingly becoming ‘games within games’ with pivotal parts. Dyche’s strategy seems to be to hope his players are fit enough and drilled to stay competitive for the first hour and then cling on for a result in the final stages, but whether it’s a tight game like Fulham or one where the opposition is already out of sight like here, the squad’s physical and mental demands are high.