For the most part this season, Marco Silva has been pretty easy to predict.
If a lineup wins, it’s likely to stay intact. If it loses, changes will come. He’ll almost always find a place for Bernard, even if it comes in a head-scratching way.
Except that this week, Bernard is injured, Everton is coming off a League Cup win over Watford that was powered largely by substitutes, and lost its last Premier League match.
The sum of all those factors? We’re doing a lot of guessing this week, and there’s very little in terms of personnel selection Silva could do that would deeply surprise us against Tottenham Hotspur in Sunday.
Tactics and Formation
What we can say with relative certainty is that these are two teams that are going to look to press the living bejeezus out of each other. Both prefer that high-pressing style of play, have struggled at times to create when not allowed to use that tactic, and will probably be relieved to face a high press as a result.
Mauricio Pochettino recently switched from the controversial 4-4-2 diamond back to a 4-3-3 with reasonable success — and if we had to guess, he’ll come back out the same way against Everton on Sunday. We don’t anticipate that Silva will really alter his gameplan one way or the other though.
But the precise players he’ll choose to use to implement that high press — especially at striker, central midfield, and center-back — ...well, here’s our best guess.
Starters (likelihood of starting rated out of 10)
Jordan Pickford - 10/10
Lucas Digne - 10/10
Mason Holgate - 8/10
Last week, we projected that Holgate would play, but purely because it looked like Yerry Mina wouldn’t be fit enough to play. After a key assist against Brighton, a goal against Watford, and perhaps his longest run of first-team football without a grotesque defensive error, Holgate might start purely on his own merits.
At the very least, he’s played well enough for Silva not to feel inclined to rush Mina back into the action.
Michael Keane - 8/10
There is, of course, another possibility — that Mina does return and takes a place alongside Holgate. That option would relegate Keane to the bench, something we don’t find particularly likely, but remains in the realm of possibility after Silva started Mina and Holgate together mid-week.
Seamus Coleman - 9/10
Andre Gomes - 10/10
Tom Davies - 5/10
If there’s one position that we’re really unsure of, this is it. Gomes will almost certainly start, but his midfield partner could feasibly be any of Davies, Fabian Delph, or Morgan Schneiderlin. Davies provides the best pressing of the bunch, Schneiderlin the best ball retention (which could be key against a high-pressing opponent), and Delph sits somewhere in the middle of the two.
We guess Davies gets the nod, but it’s little more than that.
Alex Iwobi - 10/10
Iwobi could get shuttled back out to the left, or continue his stint as the No. 10. But, with Bernard now injured, there’s no doubt he’ll be an every-day starter.
Theo Walcott - 8/10
It’s sometimes easy to forget that Theo Walcott was quite a good player at Arsenal for a number of years, and even looked pretty good at Everton in those first few months after his January transfer. We’re finally seeing Good Walcott again, and the timing couldn’t be better with Bernard going out with what looks to be a long-term injury.
Richarlison - 10/10
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - 6/10
Dom scored a very nice goal against Brighton last week off the bench, and started at striker against Watford in the mid-week match. He seems to have re-gained Silva’s favor after the manager briefly returned to the Richarlison-as-a-striker experiment, but who can really say at this point.
Silva could just as easily start Moise Kean or Cenk Tosun (the man has two assists in 26 minutes of action in the League Cup, people — give him a chance), or even bring Richarlison back up top with Gylfi Sigurdsson resuming the starting No. 10 role.
But based on all the other pieces of the puzzle, DCL seems the most likely choice.
Cenk Tosun - This isn’t necessarily a match made for Cenk Tosun’s strengths, but his passing, hold-up, and general guile in and around the box remain the best of any of Everton’s striker options — and he reminded us of it again mid-week with an assist on Richarlison’s clincher. The man deserves more chances than he’s gotten.
You could probably argue that over the last three weeks, more players have made a case for legitimate playing time than during any other stretch of this season. It gives Marco Silva important decisions to make — a good problem to have — but one that could quickly expedite his trip out the door if he gets them wrong.