Five key players behind Everton’s revival over the second half of 2018-19
Marco Silva’s Everton have been in brilliant form recently, shocking Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in performances that hint at a bright future.
It’s not been straightforward this season, however, and a particularly poor spell around the turn of the year had the pressure mounting on Silva. not ideal after Everton had gone to such trouble to get him in the dugout.
Everton had made a lengthy attempt to hire Silva, and their decision has been justified by the upturn in form over the second half of the season, with these five players in particular catching the eye.
Digne has featured throughout Everton’s much-improved defensive performances in recent weeks, having firmly established himself as the Toffee’s first-choice left-back ahead of Leighton Baines this term, helping them keep five clean sheets in the last six matches.
Unlike the injury-prone Yerry Mina, Digne has shown the quality expected of a former Barcelona player. He’s suffered a couple of notable off-days this year, being caught out as Millwall knocked the Toffees out of the FA Cup before getting himself sent off against Huddersfield a few days later, but has otherwise been one of Everton’s more consistent performers.
He’s been as good as ever recently, with an acute positional awareness that rarely sees him caught out of position but still offering plenty going forward. The most recent highlight came as he smashed in a 25-yard effort to put his team 3-0 up against Manchester United.
After Keane was injured in the warm-up against Arsenal, veteran Phil Jagielka stepped up with a goalscoring, match-winning performance as Everton saw out a 1-0 win. But the former Burnley centre-half was badly missed the following week as they suffered a shock 2-0 defeat to already-relegated Fulham.
Keane has otherwise been at the heart of Everton’s impressive defensive displays of late, and he returned to the backline to beat his former club Manchester United in a stunning 4-0 win.
In his last eight appearances for Everton, the Toffees have kept seven clean sheets, including against Chelsea, Liverpool and United.
Everton supporters are desperate for Zouma’s loan move from Chelsea to be made permanent, with the Frenchman having established himself as the best option alongside Keane in the centre of defence, taking his opportunities in the absence of the often-sidelined Mina.
It’s been a difficult few years for the Zouma. He suffered a serious knee injury in 2016 just as he was beginning to impress while playing regular first-team football for Chelsea. A questionable loan move to Stoke followed his recovery, but he struggled in a disorganised team that was ultimately relegated.
Now settled and comfortable working under Silva, it would make sense for him to stay on Merseyside. He’s featured prominently throughout this upturn in form and even chipped in with goals in wins over Bournemouth and West Ham.
The second half of Everton’s campaign could have been very different had PSG pulled off a late move to sign Gueye in the January transfer window.
According to France Football, Everton refused to sanction the sale of Gueye unless they could sign a suitable replacement only for Lyon midfielder Lucas Tousart to snub a move to Goodison Park.
That ensured Gueye remained with the Toffees, and the 29-year-old has continued to cement his reputation as one of the best holding midfielders in the Premier League, making 135 tackles this term, second only to Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi.
The challenge now for Everton is to keep hold of him beyond this season, with the player himself addressing his failed move to Everton in an interview with L’Equipe: “It is a dream that sadly did not come true. Every player works to join the best teams, to play in matches in the Champions League
“But I was honoured that PSG were interested in me. Now, I know that I am of interest to these types of clubs, I am ready to go to the final level to join a top European club.
“I am going to work even more so that they come back to me. Maybe it is not finished with PSG.”
The Iceland international appeared an odd fit at Goodison Park as part of a disjointed Everton squad in his first campaign. He’d long proven his quality in the Premier League, but Ronald Koeman and then Sam Allardyce struggled to get the best out of the former Spurs and Swansea man amid the myriad of No.10s collected by the Toffees.
But he’s been back to his best this season. With 13 goals, this is already his most prolific goalscoring season in England’s top flight, and he’s made some especially important contributions in his team’s big wins of late.
He struck the second goal in the 2-0 win over Chelsea, sent in a deep corner for Zouma to head in the opener against West Ham and scored and assisted in the thrashing of Manchester United.
Calvert-Lewin has scored just six goals in 34 appearances this season and not actually hit the back of the net in his last six appearances, but he’s nailed down a starting spot by providing valuable contributions as a target man, proving a handful for opposition defenders and allowing the exciting forwards around him to flourish.
Still turning out for England’s Under-21s, there’s plenty of potential, and he’s already offering a lot more to Everton than Cenk Tosun, five years his senior. Deceptively strong, he’s excellent at winning aerial battles, taking the ball down and bringing others into play, with Sigurdsson, Richarlison and Bernard all benefiting from his good work.
He won six aerial duels against Liverpool, seven against Chelsea, eight against Arsenal and six against Manchester United. If he can add more goals to his game, a senior call-up may not be too far away.