After an excellent week, Everton reverted to type with a woeful performance and result against strugglers Fulham at Goodison Park.
Carlo Ancelotti made some surprising tweaks to the side that enjoyed midweek FA Cup success against Tottenham Hotspur, with André Gomes, James Rodríguez, Seamus Coleman and Mason Holgate all recalled. The most noticeable absentee was Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who after sustaining an injury on Wednesday night was nowhere to be seen.
His presence was sorely missed throughout the first half, with the hosts unable to build anything constructive in the final third. Conversely, Fulham were excellent, exhibiting an assurance and control that one would not attribute to a side ten points adrift from safety at the start of play. Their strong start was substantiated by good chances for Reuben Loftus-Cheek, Ademola Lookman and Harrison Reed. The latter two enjoyed outstanding games, with Reed the conductor of an extremely precise Fulham midfield and Lookman their major source of creativity.
Everton only started to look like their usual selves five to ten minutes before the break, with long range efforts by Gomes and Coleman The Toffees’ best efforts at goal. One couldn’t help but feel Coleman’s strike was a decisive moment in the contest. If that had drifted inside Alphonse Areola’s goal, Everton would have had something to defend in the second half and their reliance on a worryingly timid attack to fire would have been lessened.
Instead, it clipped the post and fizzed wide, ensuring the scores were level at the break and the need for Ancelotti’s side to raise their game high.
Half Time: Everton 0-0 Fulham
The appointment of Carlo Ancelotti as the manager of Everton in December 2019 is one of, if not the best thing to happen to the football club in the Premier League era. That is not to say the Italian is immune from criticism. With the game very much in Fulham’s grasp and Everton unable to piece anything productive together, he should have made changes at half time, both in terms of personnel and tactics. Instead, he persisted with those that started to the match and was made to pay for such stubbornness just three minutes after play resumed.
Following a clever interchange down Everton’s right, a glorious cross from Ola Aina found Josh Maja, who tapped the ball home to give Scott Parker’s men a deserved lead. Whilst it was well-worked and clinically executed, Everton’s inability to stop the build-up, the cross or the finish was extremely concerning and an example of why the constant tinkering of the club’s defenders does not work.
Magical moment! 🪄@joshmaja opens his Fulham account.
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) February 14, 2021
What followed from Everton was the painfully inevitable. Immobile, clumsy and lethargic, the home side never looked like changing the outcome of the game, even with substitutes Josh King and Bernard on the field. Against a team with a desperate need for points and a lead to defend, you have to be brave with the ball and move it with urgency and intelligence. However, much like the defeat to Newcastle United a fortnight ago, Everton did neither of those things and kept it slow and passive right in front of Fulham’s eyes.
It came as no surprise, therefore, that Fulham were able to clinch a decisive second. After Bobby Decordova-Reid smashed a shot against the post, Maja was on hand once again to turn the rebound past Olsen and put proceedings to bed. The fact that the game was secured after just 65 minutes reflects well on Fulham, yes, but illustrates just how poor The Blues were. To have no confidence that a team chasing Champions League football can overturn the lead of a side destined for the drop and with one of the weakest defences in the division’s history is not right but is the painful, pathetic reality of being an Evertonian in the twenty first century.
65' Goal. Fulham hit the post but Maja nets the rebound.
🔵 0-2 ⚪️ #EVEFUL
— Everton (@Everton) February 14, 2021
A Josh King offside goal aside, Everton mustered up nothing worthy of comment in the latter stages of the match and stumbled their way to Andy Madley’s full-time whistle. To make moments like the victory in the cup and the late draw at Old Trafford count, you simply have to win games against those below you. They define your season and decide whether you compete or you consolidate.
With a week consisting of fixtures against the champions elect and the current Premier League holders, you cannot help but think that Everton are disappointingly edging towards the latter.
FT. The visitors take the points on a disappointing night at Goodison.
— Everton (@Everton) February 14, 2021
Full Time: Everton 0-2 Fulham
James’ Everton Man of the Match: Ancelotti’s midweek brew