Leeds United 2 (Klich 41, Raphinha 72)
Everton 2 (Calvert-Lewin 30 pen, Gray 50)
What a cracker of a game! This is how football should be played; in a full to the rafters, colourful, raucous, partisan stadium, with goals, tackles and controversy and no quarter asked or given by either side. I thoroughly enjoyed that, even the tension of going behind twice and wondering if we could get back on terms, and if that is a taste of what the rest of the season will bring then we are in for a nine month festival of football!
We all wondered how much difference it would make by including Kalvin Phillips into the side we saw wiped out in that second half at Old Trafford last week and the answer, I reckon, is “A Lot!” Kalvin was a close second in my Man of the Match choice behind Raphinha and his presence seems to make all the difference to the cohesiveness of this side. I think the inclusion of Junior Firpo at full back, to allow Stuart Dallas to again move into midfield, gave a glimpse of what Bielsa currently sees as his best side – possibly with the addition of Diego Llorente in there once he’s fully fit at the expense of either Coops or Pascal.
The difficulty I have at this early stage of the season is knowing just how good Everton are. I don’t think anyone would disagree that last week we came up against one of the best resourced sides in the Premier League but where Everton are in the pecking order, I’m not sure yet. Under the shrewd leadership of Rafael Benitez though and with the core of last year’s team strengthened by the Duracell Bunny that is Demarai Gray, I think it’s safe to assume they will be amongst the best of that group of sides battling for supremacy of the mid-section of the table, along with Leeds. Hence the draw today looks a decent one to me. Both sides amassed an exceptional 17 attempts at goal each and, while it was disappointing that we only hit the target with four of ours compared with the Toffees’ eight, it is still much more like we saw from the Whites last season on a regular basis.
As to the performance overall, well, Kalvin looks even more vital to us this season already than he did last season, he’s the sort of glue that binds that defensive midfield area together and his mere presence seems to automatically make the rest perform better. It is still early days to form an opinion on Junior Firpo, he needs to develop an understanding with Jack Harrison that clearly isn’t there yet but hopefully it will come and we can see more moves like the one we witnessed down at Loughborough the other week. Today there wasn’t enough coming from that left side.
If you had to be picky about the display today I’d say two things. Defensively we were made to look a bit ragged at times but we do have to remember that this is probably a decent Everton team and they despatched Southampton easily enough last week (although they did go behind in that one). Maybe all we need is the steadying presence of Diego in there. The other observation is that, at times, we did look starved of a bit of invention. Raphinha was much more like the Raphinha we grew to adore last season and Matty Klich again had a fine game as did Stuart Dallas, but I still long for a Pablo Hernandez type to pull the odd rabbit out of the hat, do the unexpected, spot the killer pass. Don’t ask me though who would make way if we could find such a maestro!
The goals today came from a fine bit of pressing from Patrick Bamford that sort of did to Everton what Man U did to us last week, getting the defence on the wrong foot too high up the pitch and Paddy was quick-witted enough to set up the chance for Klich who despatched it as he’s been doing throughout pre-season. The second equaliser was just a sublime strike from the magical left boot of our Brazilian superstar!
The other question raised from the selection today of course is what of Rodrigo? It has looked all through pre-season and last week as if we haven’t actually got a role in our best side for the talents he unquestionably has; he’s neither a more effective pressing and scoring centre forward than Paddy Bamford nor a more effective pressing midfielder than either Klich or Dallas. It is a conundrum that may only be resolved with injuries to those other players. Watch this space.
For now though, let’s celebrate a fabulous occasion, a terrific game of football and, I for one, can confirm that my hopes and expectations are suddenly back where they were before that disastrous trip to darkest Manchester!
Leeds United Everton
Possession 70% 30%
Shots 17 17
On Target 4 8
Corners 8 5
Fouls Committed 6 13