Vitalii Mykolenko was one of a number of impressive Everton performers against Manchester United on Saturday afternoon
Let’s not beat around the bush, this will surely still be a difficult time for Vitalii Mykolenko. The defender will no doubt have his mind rather consistently back on his home country, as numerous reports continue to surface around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He is continuing to receive all the support he might need from Everton. Frank Lampard has often made the point over recent weeks that he would be in discussions with the left-back as to how he was feeling, but reiterated that he was continuing to train admirably.
But, as you would expect, it’s taken a little bit of time for the 22-year-old to fit into his new surroundings. Even without the situation in Ukraine, it was always going to be this way.
He’s still young, he’s moving to a new league in a new country. Settling in to the Premier League especially is said to be one of the hardest steps in European football thanks to the unique speed and physicality of the game on these shores.
And so, Evertonians have had to bide their time to see their £17m January signing edging closer towards the peak of his powers. On Saturday afternoon, they were treated to exactly why the club made their move in the winter.
It’s been a steady start for Mykolenko since his move to the club. A few mistakes were in his game at the beginning, with his appearances in the side only being sporadic as he continued to adapt to the club.
But patience is paying off. Glimpses of his ability were on show against Burnley as he attempted to support the attack alongside Richarlison as much as possible, with that of course having the most effect as he won Everton’s second penalty of the match after being tripped by Aaron Lennon.
However, the overall result on that night overshadowed what was an intriguing performance from the left-back. One where he looked to at least be nearing the turning point.
Against Manchester United, it looked to many as if he had fully gone past that mark now. At a packed Goodison Park in one of the biggest matches of the season, this was Mykolenko stamping his authority on what has been a real problem position for Everton recently and showing a raucous crowd what he is made of.
It seems that the 22-year-old has quite quickly picked up on the sheer heart and determination that Blues supporters not only want, but expect, from their players. Throughout the 90 minutes on Saturday he was full-blooded into every tackle he went into, every run he made, every cross he attempted.
His attacking work in getting up alongside Richarlison has sparked some to already talk about a burgeoning partnership down that left flank, with the pair clearly having something of a connection already. It was the Ukrainian’s clever decoy run which drew a defender away from his teammate for just a split second in the build-up to the only goal of the match, allowing him to cut inside and play the pass to Alex Iwobi.
Granted this might not have been the same brand of attacking play which made Lucas Digne so popular before he left the club in January, but it doesn’t have to be. Where the Frenchman found himself dangerous in terms of crosses into the box in particular, Everton are perhaps now relying on other players in the squad to provide that.
But it was defensively that Mykolenko really shone in front of the Goodison Park crowd. Some before the match might have winced at the attacking talent on display for United, but they were suitably reduced to very limited opportunities - especially whenever they attempted to attack the Everton left flank.
Nobody made more tackles for the Blues than the five made by the 22-year-old. He made two blocks, three interceptions and six clearances as the visitors struggled to break through.
Most interestingly, however, was the fact that the left-back had more touches across the game than any other player in Lampard’s side, with his 57 sitting clear of both Richarlison and Michael Keane on 52 each. This is someone who was desperate to be involved in the action, and put in copious amounts of effort to make sure he was.
For all those reasons, it’s little surprise that many Evertonians wanted to see the Ukraine international handed the man-of-the-match award at the end of the game. If he had have picked it up, then you’d have a hard time arguing he didn’t deserve it.