All it took were a few sketch penalty decisions and a whip of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s right foot. All it took was a somewhat effective adjustment and a decent second-half response. Just like that, Everton is into ninth place, four points clear of the Premier League’s bottom half, and miles clear of its September and October swoon.
It’s now seven points clear of 12th place after a deserved 3-1 victory over Swansea on Monday. Sigurdsson swept a special 25-yard shot past Lukas Fabianski to break a 1-1 tie 18 minutes after halftime, and Wayne Rooney sealed three points from the penalty spot less than 10 minutes later.
The Toffees extended Sam Allardyce’s unbeaten start at the Goodison Park helm to five matches in all competitions. Their troubles have been quelled. Order has been restored. Everton, wallowing away in the relegation zone just a month-and-a-half ago, is fine.
But the thing about Everton’s resurgence is that it isn’t all about Everton. Sure, the results have been impressive. A 1-1 draw at Anfield was the best of the lot. The Toffees’ defensive record under Allardyce – two goals conceded in 450 minutes – is and should be a source of pride. Allardyce has been a stabilizing force. Everton’s improvement is nothing to scoff at.
But the immediacy of its return to the top half, and of the sense that it is back on firm ground, is as much about the mediocrity below the Big Six as Allardyce or the Toffees themselves. Everton hasn’t magically become the team many thought it would be prior to the campaign. It just hasn’t had to be to charge up the table, and won’t have to be to finish seventh, just as so many predicted.
The formula for a feel-good seventh-place Premier League finish is exactly the opposite of the one Everton tried to put in place this summer. The Merseyside club tried to make a leap. It tried to stand side by side with the Premier League’s big boys and challenge them. Instead, it got several decisions terribly wrong, and was forced to hit a few reset buttons two months into the season. But it has accidentally stumbled upon the formula anyway: Just be decent. Be average. And let a few seventh-place talents, like Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney, lift the team slightly above the jumbled mid-table mess.
That’s how Everton has won games this year. Its seven Premier League victories have come courtesy of three Rooney winners, two Sigurdsson winners, a 91st-minute penalty and a wild, backward Oumar Niasse-led comeback. It has had considerable penalty luck, and once again benefitted Monday against Swansea. Both calls were questionable, just like last Sunday’s at Liverpool. Monday’s game would have been different without them.
But it also would have been different without a player like Sigurdsson. When Everton shelled out £45 million for the Icelandic international this past summer, it was ridiculed, and rightly so. Sigurdsson wasn’t and isn’t worth £45 million. He wasn’t the player who would allow Everton to compete with the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Instead, he’s become the player that separates Everton from the rest – from the teams Everton should expect to outclass, but the ones they were struggling alongside for three months. Swansea, Sigurdsson’s former club, is one of those clubs, and knows Sigurdsson’s value intimately. His set-piece brilliance kept them in the Premier League a year ago.
Now Sigurdsson has switched clubs, and his abilities are keeping his new one away from the fringes of a relegation battle while his old one longs for his long-range magic in last place. He’s the difference between a straggler and a mid-table cruiser. And he was the difference on Monday.
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