May 21, 2024

Dyche returns to his Turf Moor proving ground with Everton flying and his stock higher than ever

Everton travel to Burnley this Saturday with an air of confidence and positivity around the club for the first time in what must feel like an eternity for those on the blue side of Merseyside.

So much of that is down to the incredible job done by Sean Dyche, who is finally getting his flowers just as he returns to Turf Moor for a first clash with his former side.

With many tipping the Toffees to finally go down this season after again narrowly escaping the drop at the death last time around, it appeared their number was up after the first five Premier League games yielded a single point and just two goals – all of which came at Sheffield United.

This came amidst the deadline day sale of Alex Iwobi to Fulham, which was not offset by a replacement signing. It followed the sales of Anthony Gordon and Richarlison in the previous two windows, which again saw no serious re-investment due to the club’s then-ongoing Profit and Sustainability issues.

Those issues, of course, exploded in mid-November, resulting in a 10-point deduction and widespread anger across the club and fanbase with the Premier League being declared “corrupt” for making an example of the Blues but not yet dealing with Manchester City and their 115 alleged breaches.

In truth, they are very different cases for myriad reasons, but it was easy to sympathise with the frustration apparent amongst an incredibly fed-up support, who have been poorly let down in the Farhad Moshiri years.

His reign of (unintended) terror looks set to come to an end with the somewhat mysterious and definitely risky 777 Partners, but that has been in limbo for months adding to the uncertainty around the club.

For most mere mortals, this would be a poisoned chalice, but for Dyche, it’s his drink of choice. There is no better man to rally the troops, create a siege mentality and deliver when backs are firmly against the wall – both before and after the sanction.

After those first five games, 13 points came from the following seven, with impressive wins at Brentford, West Ham and Crystal Palace offset by a home loss to Luton amongst others. A derby loss at Anfield hurt but it came late and with 10 men, so there were reasons to be positive.

Their first game post-deduction, when 14 points became four and 14th position became 19th, saw the Goodison Park cauldron silenced by Alejandro Garnacho’s once-in-a-lifetime strike and Manchester United subsequently record a bizarrely comprehensive 3-0 win.

It proved a deeply misleading outcome for both sides. It was just another false dawn and corner turned towards another blind alley for Ten Hag and United. Everton, meanwhile, did not allow the heavy loss both in the game and in the courtrooms knock the wind out of their sails.

December so far has seen three consecutive wins, six goals scored, none conceded and a four-point gap from the relegation zone opened up rather amazingly – the Toffees have been lucky with how poor the promoted sides have been, but still.

These wins didn’t just come against anyone either. Nottingham Forest might be in dire form, but the City Ground is still a tough place to go to, while turning over Newcastle and Chelsea at home is nothing to be sniffed at, even if injuries and incompetence plague them respectively.

This upturn in form has been accompanied by some excellent performances – both team and individual. Everton look like an actual side, with a style of play that suits them as a club and a city. As ex-Blue Jamie Carragher often says, the fans want teams and players who care and put it all in.

They certainly have that in abundance right now, from James Tarkowski and the ever-improving Vitaliy Mykolenko at the back to the old-school wing pair of on-loan James Harrison and Dwight McNeil. Like Tarkowski and Dyche, McNeil will also be returning to Turf Moor this weekend.

The midfield three of Amadou Onana, Idrissa Gueye and Abdoulaye Doucoure offer both steel and skill, with the latter in particular being rejuvenated under Dyche, scoring against both Newcastle and Chelsea as well as grabbing the only goal in the vital final day win against Bournemouth last season.

The improvement of these players has made light work of the -£50m net spend last summer, but the real boon has been the return to fitness of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the introduction of Jarrad Branthwaite into the first team after a loan spell at PSV last term. To paraphrase a cliché, they’re like two new signings.

Branthwaite will surely be on Gareth Southgate’s radar ahead of the next international break in March and the Euros next summer if he keeps up his recent form.

Everything about Dyche just seems right at Everton, with his low maintenance and grounded personality again in line with the city and its people, as well as the best periods of success for the club.

Might his recent brilliant work have his former employers regretting the decision to sack him, particularly with the Clarets in serious peril of going straight back down to the Championship this season?

Dyche was sacked on Good Friday in 2022 with Burnley four points off safety, but the main feeling was that the change in ownership was the main driver behind the decision. It seemed an odd call particularly given Dyche’s Sam Allardyce-like reputation for firefighting.

It was also a rather cruel way to part ways with a manager who had kept Burnley up on a shoestring budget over the prior five seasons, even achieving a rather ludicrous seventh placed finish in 2017-18.

Sure, the style was not-quite tiki-taka but what other way was there to play with a squad that lacked the outright quality and depth of nearly everyone else in the league?

He did an incredible job and was wrongly derided, again a bit like Allardyce; although it is hard to imagine Dyche cares as much as the one-game England manager seems to.

Burnley adopted a style change last season under Vincent Kompany to serious success as they romped to promotion as Championship winners and backed the former Manchester City captain significantly in the summer, and far more they ever did with Dyche.

It has not yielded results so far this season, with the Clarets in 19th and five points adrift of the Toffees and the holy grail of 17th. They are not the team they were on their previous top flight run, in personnel, style or the toughness required to survive as things stand.

As Dyche returns to the ground where he made himself famous, will he continue his reputational rise and Everton’s from the abyss? All while putting another nail in his former side’s Premier League coffin? A Saturday night at Turf Moor never sounded so enticing.

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