And so it begins.
The Sam Allardyce reign at Goodison Park got off to a good start, and ever since the one-time England boss was announced as manager, the team are yet to concede a goal and have scored six. There’s been quite a boost to a side who seemed to be able to do nothing right before he came along.
It’s too early to start handing out credit. The Toffees beat West Ham United in a midweek game where Allardyce had little to no say in the team selection or the tactics. It’s not a stretch to suggest that his arrival lifted the players, but probably only to the same extent that any permanent manager’s arrival would have given them a boost. They ended up winning 4-0, but then they played a hapless West Ham side who may well have lost to anyone on the night.
The next game, though, was more of an Allardyce performance. And again, you have to caveat that with the team they were playing: Huddersfield have won just two of their last 12 Premier League games and are sliding down the table fast. It looks as though they’ve been found out at this level, and will probably have to rethink their strategy if they’re to stay up.
And yet, despite the caveats, there is one player who stands out in that period.
The stats seem to show that striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin has already been co-opted by the new manager as a player he can mould and shape. The English U20 World Cup winner already looks like an Allardyce striker.
Of the two goals Everton scored against Huddersfield in a functional victory at Goodison, Calvert-Lewin was involved in both of them. One of which he scored, the other he assisted. But beyond his effectiveness in the game lies his contribution not just to the team, but to the Sam Allardyce way.
The first thing you might think of an Allardyce team is that it probably won’t be pretty, but that it will be effective. And that’s what the stats show. Calvert-Lewin may have bagged a goal and an assist, but he spent the game battling in the air. The youngster battled for a whopping 27 aerial duels all over the pitch, which is head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch. The next on the list is Huddersfield’s Christopher Schindler, who battled it out for just 17. The youngster only managed to win 13 of those duels, but sometimes it’s not about actually getting your head on the ball as it is about making sure your opponent doesn’t get to head it cleanly. The second balls are just as important, and especially when you have players like Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson in the team, players who can make things happen.
It might well be alarming to Everton fans to see the sheer rise in the number of aerial balls being played. Against West Ham, when David Unsworth was on the touchline and Allardyce hadn’t yet taken a training session, there were 48 aerial battles in the entire game, with the Toffees winning 26 of them. Fast forward to the Huddersfield game just days later, and that number rose to 69 in total, as Everton’s players won 40.
Even more alarming might well be Calvert-Lewin’s drop-off in pass accuracy. He played pretty much the whole game against West Ham, keeping his passing accuracy to 73%. At the weekend, that dropped sharply to just 55%.
That will only be alarming if the style of play matters to you. In the end, success and failure will come down to results, and if Calvert-Lewin keeps being effective in games, scoring goals, making assists and being a general nuisance, then Everton will stay out of trouble at the back and it may not even be too late to make a late charge for Europe if things go right.
After only one game, too, it might be too early to predict that this is the shape of things to come rather than a temporary measure to get points on the board before attempting a switch to rather more sophisticated tactics after Christmas. But even so, it may well be evidence of the Big Sam the Premier League has known for years, just in a different colour kit.
No one said it would be pretty.