Everton are threatening to be fun again, and few players have demonstrated that better than young prospect Niels Nkounkou.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti named a notably attacking side for the League Cup game against Fleetwood Town, with Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Alex Iwobi and Bernard all in the starting XI, and yet it was a 19-year-old full-back, making just the second senior appearance of his career, who really caught the eye.
It’s the sort of line-up which can be dismissed as over-ambitious if it doesn’t go to plan, but you can make sure this kind of post-mortem never emerges by using attacking overkill to put the game to bed early and kicking the opposition back down the stairs when they attempt to crawl back up to your level.
After the struggles of the 2018-19 season and the false start under Marco Silva, Everton fans can be forgiven for not wanting to get carried away about the team’s form under Carlo Ancelotti.
However, if anything is going to convince a fanbase that their team is the ‘fun’ one – and by ‘fun’, we obviously mean ‘chaotic to the point you’re suffocated by your own laughter’ – it’s back-to-back 5-2 wins in which the concession of goals feels like deliberate self-motivation.
Nkounkou was a joy to watch for much of the game; a regular attacking threat from left-back to the point that it didn’t matter he was ‘only’ putting in this kind of performance against lower-league opposition.
His standout moment came late on with the assist for Moise Kean’s clinching goal. The goal itself was an unnecessary piece of extra padding on top of a comfortable win, but the flair and disrespect involved help elevate it far beyond that.
It feels like Nkounkou makes a deliberate effort not to set up an assist, but to set up a backheel assist specifically. As if merely laying on a goal for a team-mate is pointless if you can’t also humiliate those attempting to stop you.
‘Oh, so the defenders aren’t doing enough to make my task look like hard work?’ he says. ‘Fine, I’ll make it difficult all on my own.’
As the opponent in this situation, it’s probably classed as bad form to down tools and simply shrug in appreciation at what a rival player has done against your team, yet it must be really tough for the Fleetwood players not to do that. At least the time on the clock when he lays on the goal for Kean makes it a tiny bit easier.
📽 | Lucas Digne ➡️ Niels Nkounkou ➡️ Moise Kean.
Quelle magnifique action ! Et cette passe décisive de Nkounkou 👌 pic.twitter.com/MW2l87YuSH
— Everton FC France (@EFCFrance) September 24, 2020
Realistically, we’re unlikely to see Nkounkou feature on a regular basis in the league this season with Lucas Digne ahead of him in the queue and – in theory – Everton having two fit centre-backs for a consistent amount of time to guarantee Digne isn’t pushed inside.
However, this isn’t just about the youngster.
This is a side which is beginning to lean into the idea of just wanting to score one more goal at all times and refusing to concern themselves with how many that one goal represents in the grander scheme of things.
It’s in keeping with a manager who has spent time at Real Madrid and Barcelona, and whose Chelsea side needed one goal in their final game to win the Premier League but scored eight ‘just in case’.
There will be games where this comes back to bite Everton, with over-elaborate attacking play falling short and allowing opponents to punish them when there has been little pressure on Jordan Pickford’s goal, but there will also be instances like this when the over-elaborate attacking play is the point.
It is already looking like Nkounkou was signed with a purpose; to add a level of flair and excitement to a team already veering between the two poles of chaos and purpose. He has arrived at that point even quicker than we anticipated.
By Tom Victor