Festive greetings to you all.
Everton begin their busy Christmas period again looking to improve their dismal record against the ‘big six’ following their defeat at the Etihad Stadium last weekend (22 league games without a win now).
It wasn’t the worst Toffees performance I have seen but familiar failings let the side down, namely a lack of killer instinct in front of goal and sloppy mistakes at the back.
All three City goals were easily preventable, though given the firepower at their disposal that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have won the game anyway. But we certainly could have made things tougher for Pep Guardiola’s side, not least if Richarlison hadn’t blasted a glorious early opportunity over the bar.
But defeat it was and it means the club have gone four games without a victory for the first time this season.
The one positive is that Everton have now played six of the current top seven away from home, with the trip to Tottenham not until the final game of the season.
We look a much more formidable team at Goodison Park (not against Newcastle and Watford, admittedly) so I’d fancy us to give those top sides a much tougher time in the second half of the season.
That starts with the arrival of Spurs on Sunday, a game pushed back 24 hours by the TV broadcasters. I’ve no issue with games being moved for TV, the companies pay a hefty price after all. But there’s no doubt that they could and should be able to balance the festive fixtures out more fairly than they have done.
Everton have been particularly hard done by having been asked to play the final game of this weekend’s fixtures and have their game against Leicester switched to an early kick-off on New Year’s Day. It means Everton have the fewest amount of hours between their four festive fixtures than any other side. Liverpool meanwhile have the most recovery time - over a hundreds hours longer than Everton.
It seems more than a little unfair but there is little we can do but grin and bear it. It will certainly represent a true test of Marco Silva’s squad, with those who have spent time on the sidelines likely to be brought into the fray.
Playing so many games in such a short space of time also relies heavily on momentum, which makes Sunday’s game so important.
A positive result would help expunge the frustration that has gathered over the past few weeks and set things up nicely for the next fortnight.
In 2014 Everton finished fifth in the Premier League, one place and three points above Tottenham. That summer Spurs appointed Mauricio Pochettino as manager and they haven’t looked back.
The club have finished third, second and third again in the last three seasons, finishing a hefty 28 points ahead of the Toffees last time out. They also head to Goodison unbeaten in their last meetings against the Toffees, stretching back to that dramatic 2-1 Jelavic inspired win in 2012.
What makes it more remarkable is that Pochettino has not spent that much money, especially compared to those sides around Tottenham in the table.
Instead, those old school values of coaching, team building and development of youth has contributed to Spurs’ rise.
They have been helped of course by a world-class goalscorer falling in their lap in the shape of Harry Kane. But the team has also been supplement by astute buys such as Dele Alli, Jan Vertonghen, Son Hueng-Min and Christian Eriksen.
The Goodison meeting last season was so one-sided it was embarrassing, and the first early sign that all was not well with Ronald Koeman side. It was also a reminder of just how far Tottenham have surged ahead in recent years.
They have shown no signs of faltering this season despite not making a single signing over the summer, sitting third in the league, through to the EFL Cup semi-finals and the last 16 of the Champions League. All this while still playing at Wembley while their new stadium is finalised.
The one criticism labelled against Pochettino is his failure to yet land a major trophy and you get the impression his legacy will only be truly secured if he does so sooner rather than later.
Then there is the Man Utd question. Reports suggest Pochettino would be interested in discussing the possibility of taking the top job at Old Trafford in the summer, with suggestions his spending power at Tottenham will be significantly limited over the next few years due to the new stadium costs.
That makes the next few months even more important as he looks to get the most out of this current crop of players while he still can.
Idrissa Gueye is to be assessed as he continues his recovery from a groin injury that saw him miss last week’s defeat at Man City.
James McCarthy is fit again after a broken leg but is likely to be eased back in over the festive period.
Richarlison and Andre Gomes both missed training with minor aliments this week but will be fit for Sunday.
A pre-festive match against a top side under the lights at Goodison sounds the ideal way to kick-off the holiday season. It may just be the type of contest the players need after struggling to break down stubborn opposition at home in their last two games.
It will be tough, Tottenham have proven consistently to be one of the best sides in the league. But they have been on a hectic run themselves so I’m hopeful we can at least take something from the game and send us into Christmas content.