Everton and ‘must win game’ have been mentioned in the same sentence several times already this season, and yet again it applies to Saturday’s clash with Norwich City given what lies immediately ahead.
As soon as the fixture list was announced we knew that December would be a tough month, with Leicester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Leicester again in the cup and Arsenal all lying in wait before Christmas. However, what we didn’t expect was for Everton to have such a pitiful points return given the relatively kind fixture list they were presented with at the start of the season.
That has only served to ratchet up the pressure for each passing game, with Marco Silva knowing one more defeat would push him closer to the brink. He has operated on such a treacherous basis since October’s defeat at Burnley, though in that time the Toffees have lost just once in five games and even that was incredibly unfortunate.
Plus, despite all the apparent gloom, Everton are only three points off fifth place in what remains an incredibly tight Premier League table. Had VAR not conspired against the Toffees against Brighton & Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur things would look and feel a lot brighter.
There is a feeling - backed up by the stats - that Everton have perhaps not collected as many points as their performances have deserved this season, with a failure to convert the chances they create costing them dear.
It’s why goalscorers are worth their weight in gold, and why Everton have struggled since selling Romelu Lukaku.
Which brings me to Moise Kean, the apparent heir to Lukaku’s goalscoring crown. It emerged over the international break that Kean was dropped from the squad for the Southampton game after he was late for a team meeting for the second time. The 19-year-old was guilty of a similar offence while with the Italy squad at the Under-21 European Championships last summer, resulting in him being dropped from the full squad in the autumn.
It is just the latest setback for a player who has struggled to live up to expectations since his big-money move from Juventus in the summer. Kean clearly has talent but it is easy to forget that he is just 19 and moving to a vastly different league in a new country and culture. Everton do not have a good track record when it comes to developing strikers but I really hope they remain patient with Kean and rumours of a January departure are just speculation.
His two goals for Italy Under-21s in midweek should boost his confidence and Saturday’s game against the division’s bottom club is the ideal opportunity to break his Premier League duck.
Norwich have developed into something of a yo-to team over the past decade, with this their third separate spell back in the top flight since 2010.
This latest spell is perhaps the most unexpected, certainly to those outside of East Anglia. After finishing eighth in 2016-17 the board begun a restructure of the coaching staff, with Daniel Farke arriving as head coach from Borussia Dortmund’s reserve side while Stuart Webber was appointed sporting director.
Farke guided the Canaries to a disappointing 14th-place finish in 2017-18. The board, though, were unconcerned as they felt a long-term plan was in place. They were rewarded the following season as Norwich claimed the Championship title with 94 points.
Their swashbuckling style is likely to win many admirers, may claim the odd prize scalp, but also lead to plenty of defeats.
That is certainly how it has panned out so far, with Farke’s side losing 10 of their 13 games in all competitions, though one of their victories came against champions Manchester City in September.
However, they have yet to win since, losing six out of seven games in all competitions and have picked up just one point on their travels all season.
Everton will kick themselves if they don’t get something out of this one.
September 20, 2016 - Everton 0-2 Norwich - EFL Cup second round (match report)
The bubbling early optimism of the Ronald Koeman era was abruptly burst as Championship Norwich came away with a 2-0 victory in the League Cup second round courtesy of goals from Josh Murphy and former Toffee Steven Naismith, who was applauded by a section of the home fans after scoring on his return to Merseyside, much to the frustration of some.
Southampton (A) Won 2-1
Tottenham (H) Drew 1-1
Watford (H - Carabao Cup) Won 2-0
Brighton (A) Lost 3-2
West Ham (H) Won 2-0
Burnley (A) Lost 1-0
Watford (H) Lost 2-0
Brighton (A) Lost 2-0
Man Utd (H) Lost 3-1
Bournemouth (A) Drew 0-0
Aston Villa (H) Lost 5-1
Everton will continue to assess Fabian Delph and Bernard ahead of Saturday’s game. Delph has been struggling with a hamstring injury while Bernard has been sidelined since the defeat at Brighton with a knee problem.
Cenk Tosun is fit and available after missing Turkey’s Euro 2020 qualifiers during the international break with a groin strain.
Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Andre Gomes remain long term absentees.
What they said
Norwich head coach Daniel Farke: “Everton shouldn’t have to fight relegation. They have potential to fight for Europe. Marco has all the abilities as a coach to lead them to that, so fingers crossed for them, but not for tomorrow.
“Their last few results have been good, so you could say it’s not the best time to play them, but we can’t change that. It will be difficult so we are respectful, but we want to win some points.”
Everton boss Marco Silva: “We achieved an important win in our last away game; our first away win as well. It gives us the confidence we need. Even if you know what you’re doing, the players know it’s always important to get results to boost confidence.
“Now we’re looking forward to a busy period, starting tomorrow against Norwich. We have to be really confident, believe in ourselves, respecting the opponent as always, but showing big commitment and big ambition to achieve the result we want to climb the table.”
All roads lead to an Everton win in this one given the relative form of the two sides and the ability found in either squad. However, the Toffees have played so-called inferior opposition on several occasions already this season and failed to come out on top. Three points would significantly boost Everton’s league position and ease some of the pressure on Silva going into that imposing run of festive fixtures, making this yet another vital moment in the season.