Bernard’s early goal is difference as Everton keep Watford at bay | Football
Defence was the only department Everton did not invest heavily this summer and Marco Silva entered the new campaign expressing concern over a lack of centre-halves as a consequence. He has had no cause for complaint since. Everton’s back-line provided the foundation for their first win of the season and Watford’s immense effort for no reward.
Goodison Park was bedecked in blue and white flags as Everton launched their home campaign in sunshine and with a polished early goal from Bernard. But thoughts of a comfortable, convivial time ultimately proved misleading.
By the end, with Gylfi Sigurdsson playing for time near the corner and Everton’s central defenders repelling aerial raid after aerial raid, fingernails were more use than flags to the Goodison faithful. Their team emerged shattered but victorious from a gruelling contest in which Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Yerry Mina flourished.
Silva’s team have started the season with two consecutive clean sheets, and they have kept 10 in their past 13 games, a return bettered only by Manchester City. It is a cornerstone on which Everton’s attacking play must improve.
“I’m really proud of those numbers, they are fantastic,” said the Everton manager. “It means our players are working really hard – and not just the keeper and the back-line, but everyone. Now the next step is to do the same in the other box. We need to be more assertive and improve in our offensive part. Our second-half performance was not so good but it was a very important win.”
Lucas Digne’s set-pieces were a prominent part of Everton’s vibrant start, but it was his precision from open play that created his team’s first goal of this Premier League season. Watford were exposed when their counterattack floundered at the feet of the French left-back and he switched play with a delightful long ball down the left to Bernard. The Brazil international scampered inside Kiko Femenía and beat Ben Foster with a low finish inside the near post. Beat him too easily, in truth, although there was a slight touch off Craig Dawson en route to goal.
Watford were slow and cumbersome in the early stages as André Gomes and new signing Jean-Philippe Gbamin dictated proceedings. Gradually, however, they wrestled control from Everton and their authority increased along with their tempo as they ended the first half on top. Craig Dawson headed against the crossbar from a José Holebas corner, Pickford saved well from Abdoulaye Doucouré and VAR rejected a penalty appeal from Gerard Deulofeu when he tumbled under a challenge from Mina. “Right now I don’t know when it is a penalty or not,” bemoaned Gracia. “I don’t know if VAR is helping referees or not. Mina did not touch the ball.”
Pickford produced another fine save to prevent Troy Deeney levelling in the second half. The opportunity arose from one of several errors by Richarlison, who broke clear against his former club, only to play a careless pass inside to Doucouré. Deulofeu split the Everton defence with a perfectly weighted ball but Pickford closed down Deeney in an instant and bravely blocked at point-blank range with his face.
Moise Kean, a late substitute, missed two chances to secure victory for Everton, but Watford were the stronger unit throughout the second half. Keane and Mina proved immovable obstacles and the visitors, despite showing a vast improvement on last week’s performance against Brighton, departed empty handed once again.