Frank Lampard has drawn widespread praise for repurposing Alex Iwobi from a floundering wide forward, into an energetic, box-to-box midfielder, as Everton secured their first win of the season on Tuesday night.
There hasn’t been much to cheer about on the blue half of Stanley Park this season — or the red half for that matter — but Tuesday’s EFL Cup win over Fleetwood will bring Everton some much-needed respite from the relentless soul-sapping machine that is the Premier League.
The Toffees flattered to deceive at times in Lancashire, but they ultimately got the job done through Demarai Gray’s breakthrough on the half-hour mark to confirm their place in the third round. The talking points were certainly few and far between, but a recurring theme has generated further weight tonight.
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The prevailing notion on the Goodison Park terraces midway through last season was that Iwobi was simply not good enough to inspire the club up the table and hoist them from the relegation murk, but now, the conventional wisdom has shifted, and Everton fans will tell you he is one of their more important players.
Much like Joelinton changed his fortunes by reinventing himself as a tenacious midfield operator, Iwobi has undergone a similar transformation. The once polarising winger has shifted the Merseyside narrative and is now Lampard’s trusty No. 8. Incredibly, only Declan Rice (32) has managed more ball recoveries than Iwobi (30) this season among central midfielders.
As the nephew of Jay-Jay Okocha, Iwobi never could quite emulate the prodigious steps once taken by his illustrious uncle, but at 26, time is still very much on his side to etch his name into Premier League folklore, but it may come as a diligent midfielder, rather than as a tricky and unpredictable attacker.
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Once again against Fleetwood, Iwobi was absolutely everywhere, covering every blade of grass, closing down with an inexorable zeal and galloping forward in sinew-stretching strides. This was another complete performance in the heart of Everton’s midfield.
There have been few things to cheer about at Everton this season, with the club still winless after three league games, but the continued emergence and renaissance of Iwobi as a repurposed No. 8 could prove the magnum opus of Lampard’s still infant career in the dugout.
The tactical recalibration is so far working a treat.