First Team 29/10/2019

Match Report: Everton 2-0 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

The focus can now entirely shift to plotting a route away from the foot of the Premier League table after a rejigged team bowed out of the Carabao Cup tonight, beaten fair and square at Goodison Park but not in a manner that will alter the belief too much in the bigger picture.

Given the way Quique Sánchez Flores has recalibrated this team, placing a huge emphasis on being solid at the back, there was never going to be much in this game, probably just one or two goals either way. And so it proved, Mason Holgate getting the all-important first strike in this nip-and-tuck match 18 minutes from time and then Richarlison (it just had to be him, didn't it?) confirmed the result in injury time. The defeat prevented the Hornets from reaching the last eight of this competition for what would have been the first time in 11 years. But everybody connected with this club would sacrifice a cup run if it means a sixth year successive season of Premier League football is secured. Nobody, after all, grumbles too much about the early League Cup exit at Preston in Sánchez Flores' first season. 

There won't be too many complaints at this departure from the competition as the Hornets only mustered five attempts at goal, one of which forced Jordan Pickford into a save. Sánchez Flores knows he has some major work to do at the other end, with just one goal in five games, and he will be hoping the returning Troy Deeney can help to solve that. But games are likely to be like this for a while: very much in the balance, on a knife edge and likely to be decided in one or two key moments in both boxes.

There were positives to glean if you look hard enough, particularly in the midfield performance of Nathaniel Chalobah. The way he changed direction with a drop of the shoulder to switch the ball was reminiscent of how he first played when he first returned to the club. The defence was pretty solid for 70 minutes and Kiko Femenía looked much more like the player who patrolled the right flank with such confidence when he first joined from Alavés.

Sánchez Flores made eight changes to the side that played out a goalless draw with Bournemouth, but the game plan was still the same and executed to the letter for large parts. They suffocated the life out of the confidence-shy hosts at the break, limiting them to just three shots at goal and reducing the space between the lines to a bare minimum.

A perfectly-timed interception from Femenía, playing out of position on the left, on Seamus Coleman on the right-hand edge of the box around the half-hour mark summed up the way the team went about their defensive work, with both alertness and alacrity. The Spaniard had earlier cut out a one-two between Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, showing promising signs he was back to his busy and bright best. 

He wasn't the only one to impress with his reading of the game and decisiveness of his defensive play. There was a smart interception from Sebastian Prödl, a key toe from Dimitri Foulquier on Richarlison, a couple of good blocks from the redoubtable Craig Cathcart and then two pieces of safe handling from Heurelho Gomes. Everton were very much being kept at arms' length. 

Don't be mistaken, though. This was not a rearguard action or backs against the wall in the first 45 minutes. The Hornets mustered just as many shots on goal as the hosts, despite feeding of a third of the possession, finding time to play neatly in the more open spaces available in the Everton half. Roberto Pereyra was the outlet, the Argentine carrying the ball down the left and turning defence into attack. He engineered a nice opening for Domingos Quina and another for Chalobah but the ball just didn't roll for either. 

Marco Silva sought to find a different way through this organised Watford defence and sent for Theo Walcott at the break. The flying former England winger was in the thick of the action straight away, attempting to run onto a reverse pass from Alex Iwobi but Gomes was quickly off of his line and bravely dived at his feet. Andre Gray has a pretty lively turn of pace and ten minutes after the break, he accelerated into a bit of space and unleashed a rising dive that Jordan Pickford had to parry away for a corner. It turned out to be the visitors' best chance of the match.

The game was starting to open up and Gomes was called into action next, saving a a header from Michael Keane from point-blank range with his feet. It was a good job the header was straight at him otherwise he would have had no chance from that distance. The experienced Brazilian was grateful soon after for a goal-line clearance from Adrian Mariappa and then the right-hand upright, which took the full weight of a strike from Iwobi. Lucas Digne then hit the top of the bar with a deflected free-kick.

Sánchez Flores needed to stem this mini wave of pressure from Everton so he threw on Christian Kabasele to fortify the defence and Gerard Deulofeu to give the home side something extra to think about at the other end. It failed to prevent what felt like the inevitable goal, Holgate heading in a cross from Walcott from close range.

As hard as they tried, and you couldn't fault the effort, the Hornets never really looked like getting back into it and, as they pushed harder for the equaliser, the space opened up in the Hornets defence and Everton took advantage to seal it through Richarlison with virtually the last kick of the game. That was rough. The result was about right but the scoreline was a touch harsh. 

HORNETS: Gomes (C); Foulquier, Prödl (Kabasele 64), Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Chalobah, Quina (Doucouré 37), Hughes; Pereyra (Deulofeu 67), Gray.

Subs not used: Bachmann, Janmaat, Masina, Dalby

First Team 29/10/2019

Sánchez Flores: “I Feel Responsibility, Not Pressure”

By Kevin Affleck

Quique Sánchez Flores said he feels a great responsibility to fulfil this team’s potential but is not going to tie himself in mental knots wondering when this elusive first league win is going to arrive, preferring instead to trust a process that has served him so well during his stellar career.

The Head Coach takes his side to Everton today with a Quarter-Final in the Carabao Cup at stake and victory at Goodison Park is likely to do wonders for confidence ahead of the visit of Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday.

But the Head Coach is cutting an extremely calm figure, believing there is nothing to be gained from panicking and agonising over a winless start to the league season. He remains convinced putting the building blocks in place now will yield positive results, enough to “be better when we finish the season”. He’s not about to start chasing results and being fast and loose.

“We are always preparing the matches thinking to win,” he said. “It's our concern, our goal before the matches. We prepare with the idea to win. But if we think too much about this, the only thing we are going to create is an obsession. This is not good for football. We need to be ambitious and have goals but not obsession as when you have an obsession, this is dangerous.

“You need to be clear. We need to be clear and know exactly what the goal is. It is not easy to win as it’s a long time since we have this feeling. We need to use our experience and a good mood to try to get it – but not an obsession about win, win, win.

“Even if we win [at Everton], it will be different as it's a win in the cup. What we need is a good win in the league. Everton is important but we realised, when we won against Swansea, it didn't affect what happened in the league. It is a different competition, a different line up and different goals. It’s important to win but the league is a completely different scenario.”

Not done there, Sánchez Flores then proceeded to produce one of the responses of his two spells in charge of this club. He was actually asked if his opposite number at Everton was feeling the pressure and slightly mis-heard the question, but his response was profound nonetheless and one that gave everyone in the room faith that he knows exactly what he is doing and that he's about to use all his experience with Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Benfica, Espanyol, Getafe, in the UAE, in China and in the Premier League to fix this situation.

“You can feel pressure the way you want,” he said. “It depends on the human being. We are talking about human beings – not only coaches. I can feel responsible, I can feel the responsibility but not the pressure. I can't feel the pressure because I am experienced, because I know where I am, and I control what I can control.

“I am focussed on what I can control. I know the scenario. I know what match I find [at Everton], I know the match I am going to find on Saturday because we try to analyse for days before, so I can't be nervous. It's impossible to be nervous for that. I feel safe wherever I am as my life is completely done, I am completely happy. I feel success with my family, with my kids, with my career and with my friends.

“I don't feel the pressure. I feel the responsibility every day. I wake up, I go to the training ground with clear ideas. I try to transmit my experience and feelings with the players, and I transmit that it [the process] should be slow. No-one should expect it to be quick. It's a long race and we need to take this way and live with these kinds of obstacles. We will be better when we finish the season.”

Sánchez Flores, 54, has been keen to stress since he walked in the door that there is no quick fix, no magic formula. It’s going to be about creating sustainability and putting a series of results together – not pulling off a fluke win that creates a false sense of optimism. He still feels there is plenty of time.

“We need to get the right reaction and the right reactions should be slow,” he said. “That is the only thing I know. We must try not to rush too much. We know the way will be slow, it will be difficult, it will be tough, all these kinds of things. But my experience says we need to be harder and work really, really hard for a long time if we want to change the situation. All of us we know.

“We use our experience to be calm, to try to give confidence to the players and try to recuperate the way we can be stable in the future. It is not just about a win today or tomorrow. No. It’s not done. We need to confirm, little by little, that we are improving, that we are in the right way. This is the right way for us.”