Pickford is the real deal: Three things learned from Everton's draw with Hajduk Split
Whisper it quietly, but there is a revolution taking place at Goodison Park.
Under the guidance of Dutchman Ronald Koeman, the Toffees are building an outstanding squad while the club also booked their place in the Europa League group stages with a hard-earned 1-1 draw against Hajduk Split in Croatia.
This secured a 3-1 aggregate win in the tie, as record signing Gylfi Sigurdsson scored with a stunning 50-yard strike to cancel out a first-half opener from Josip Radosevic.
The Toffees managed to control possession and dictate the game during the second-half, although they were grateful to goalkeeper Jordan Pickford who dived low to his right to keep out Ahmed Said's penalty with 20 minutes left to play.
Now that the dust has settled on a professional performance, we take a look at some of the key talking points:
Jordan Pickford is the real deal
Some eyebrows were raised when Everton signed Sunderland stopper Pickford in a deal that . While his shot-stopping abilities were obvious, there were doubts surrounding his command of the penalty area and he also appeared to lack experience after playing just a single season in the Premier League.
Despite this, the youngster has showcased maturity and authority beyond his years so far this season, with his recent performances against Manchester City and Hajduk Split serving as prime examples.
He has also continued to enhance his reputation as a superb shot-stopper, with the crucial penalty save from Said and an outstanding dive to keep out Danilo's low drive at the Etihad on Monday representing truly outstanding pieces of goalkeeping.
They say that a top quality keeper is central to any side's success, and Everton have certainly found one in Pickford. If he can continue his impressive early season form, the Toffees can build a solid foundation that will make the particularly difficult to beat. This may be enough to encourage those with a love of matched bets to back Everton for glory this season, and Pickford could prove central to this.
Gylfi Sigurdsson will add end product to Everton's game
If there is one criticism of Everton's game so far this season, it is that they have struggled to create clear-cut chances in front of goal. Additionally, only experienced striker Wayne Rooney has showcased any kind of sharpness or intuition in the opposition's penalty area during the club's two league games against Stoke City and Manchester City, with the former England captain having scored both of their two goals in the EPL.
This should change with the arrival of Icelandic star Gylfi Sigurdsson, who graced his first start for the Toffees with a truly incredible 45-yard strike just 16 seconds into the second half.
Picking up a loose ball just inside the Split half on the right-hand side of the pitch, Sigurdsson launched a superb lob that dipped beyond the frantic dive of a back-pedalling Dante Stipica.
This highlighted Sigurdsson's eye for goal and the quality of his final ball, which is something that shone through even during a difficult season for Swansea last time out. The Icelandic midfielder scored nine Premier League goals and created a total of 72 chances in a struggling team last season, and Everton will be hopeful that he can improve on this to provide their play with a little more cutting edge.
Everton's tactical flexibility will serve them well this season
Interestingly, Ronald Koeman reverted to a flat back four in Croatia, having deployed the 3-5-2 system for more than an hour at the Etihad on Monday.
Aside from the obvious awareness and tactical ability of the Dutchman, what shone through against Hajduk Split was the way in which he has empowered his players to be comfortable when adopting alternative formations. Clearly they have no issue when alternating between a back three and a back four, while players such as Rooney, Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvin-Lewin are also equally adept at undertaking different roles in fluid attacking systems.
The benefits of this are significant, as it enables Everton to match and cancel out their opponents when travelling to places like the Etihad while seamlessly adopting a more attacking philosophy at home or against weaker opposition.
Of course, numerous teams deploy different shapes during the course of a season, but not all of them look comfortable when transitioning between formations on a regular basis. The Toffees are bucking this trend, and credit for this has to go to their forward-thinking and tactically adept manager.