Despite losing 3-1, Alex Iwobi proved to be Carlo Ancelotti’s real silver lining on his return to the Everton starting line-up against Manchester City on Wednesday night.
The Nigerian forward had not opened a Premier League fixture in two games, after falling to the bench against Manchester United and being left an unused substitute of last weekend’s defeat to relegation-threatened Fulham.
Iwobi has now opened 12 of Everton’s 23 top-flight matches this term and turned in a performance to warrant his recall against Pep Guardiola’s title-chasing side when star summer signing James Rodriguez was only named on the bench.
Ancelotti set Everton up to defend against a Manchester City side that had scored 15 goals in their previous five league games but could not avoid adding to that record with a further three fired past Jordan Pickford.
Iwobi had conjured a quiet opening half an hour before Phil Foden put the Citizens ahead with his shot ricocheting off Seamus Coleman, though played an instrumental role in Richarlison fortuitously equalising moments later.
The £23m-rated playmaker threaded a precise short pass between Joao Cancelo and Foden to find Coleman in the City box, whose cross ultimately led Richarlison to thigh home his goal after Lucas Digne’s strike came back off the post.
Richarlison received much praise from the Liverpool Echo for his performance, with the publication awarding the Brazilian their highest match rating for an Everton player at seven out of 10.
No other Toffees player earned a rating above six, with Richarlison lauded for his resilience in chasing back possession and for closing down the Manchester City defenders, as the visitors dominated for 70.4% of the possession.
Like nine of his 14 teammates to feature, Iwobi was awarded a six out of 10, yet he was the true silver lining of the defeat.
Unlike any other Everton player who started against the Citizens, Iwobi registered a successful dribble and completed four of said runs, per WhoScored, as the £50k-per-week forward sought to push the Blues up the field while often pegged back in their own territory.
Only Raheem Sterling (5) made a higher number of successful dribbles than Iwobi, who accounted for 80% of Everton’s team total, with Rodriguez able to beat one player with the ball at his feet after replacing Tom Davies in the second half.
Iwobi’s efforts far outperformed his usual standards, with the 24-year-old averaging just 1.9 successful dribbles and with a 69% success rate, while also winning significantly more ground duels (8/11) than his average 3.3 (56%), per SofaScore.
He further made a joint game-high four tackles with Coleman, as Iwobi added grit and determination to his performance, while Richarlison won back possession twice while playing an additional 21 minutes to the former Arsenal winger.
Ancelotti can generally rely on Iwobi to win one tackle a game, so should have been thrilled to see the 44-cap international perform above his average score and at the ideal time with a Merseyside Derby trip to Liverpool to come this Saturday.
AND in other news, Carlo Ancelotti is willing Everton to pay £26.5m for a £176k-p/w gem…