Saturday, September 28, 2019

It was nearly two hours after the final whistle when Fabian Delph emerged to talk things through.

The Everton midfielder was last to leave the dressing room following a wretched day for his new team, a 2-0 defeat to Sheffield United that had the locals howling with fury. On the same afternoon, 40 miles down the road, his old club Manchester City had played football from another planet to put eight unanswered goals past Watford.

Delph, consummate professional that he is, insisted there were no feelings of regret that he had left Manchester behind nor did he complain about his current lot. Privately, though, he must have felt some concern about the reunion that loomed with his former employers. Given the respective performances, it had the potential to be a mismatch.'

During the course of that conversation with Delph, though, he made the revelation that he “cannot stand losing” and won’t let his three daughters win at anything. He is not someone who would readily accept second best and he wasn’t going to put up with that against the team that helped him fill his trophy cabinet.

Clearly, he was happy to see some old friends. When Theo Walcott received treatment for five minutes after being laid out by a Raheem Sterling cross, Delph and Gabriel Jesus spent most of the time laughing and joking; he had exchanges with Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan too.

When the serious business began, however, Delph was superb. Old relationships didn’t matter for a second as he kept Everton in the game in a manner that reminded you of Gareth Barry, another former City player who found sanctuary at Goodison Park after being deemed surplus to requirements in Manchester.

Marco Silva was desperate to sign Delph, to give leadership and experience to his midfield, and this display typified what the Portuguese wanted to see. Cool under pressure and controlled in possession, the 29-year-old was at the hub of the best things Everton did.

One moment typified that early in the first half when he bought himself some space with a back heel in his own area that enabled Everton to wriggle out of trouble. There were other telling interventions, not least the thundering challenge that flipped Raheem Sterling up in the air midway through the second period.

Delph was desperate to win this, as were his team. Everton have been wretched at varying points of this campaign but they at least showed the desire to fight and do the basics that had been so horribly lacking seven days earlier.

You could imagine his frustration, then, in the 72nd minute when City - who had seen Dominic Calvert-Lewin peg back Jesus’s header - took the lead for a second time thanks to a free kick from the excellent Riyad Mahrez.

Delph was stood on the end of the wall where Mahrez aimed his shot; he tried to stick out a leg but it was a fraction out of his range. You could see from his reaction, as he jumped in the air and clapped his hands in frustration, how much it had hurt him. This was not a day that deserved to end with Delph on the end of a comfortable defeat. This has to be a day that Everton use as a building block to move forward.


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