Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton reign gets underway on Boxing Day when the Blues welcome Burnley to Goodison Park.
Ancelotti inherits a side who have not lost their last three Premier League matches - their best unbeaten run of the season - but who still need more victories to pull clear of the relegation zone.
Burnley sit tenth, five points and places ahead of Everton, having won their last two games 1-0 against Newcastle and Bournemouth.
Sean Dyche’s men beat Everton by the same scoreline in the reverse fixture at Turf Moor in October, with Jeff Hendrick’s second-half strike the only goal in a turgid match.
Ahead of the game, we spoke to sports journalist and Clarets supporter Jonny Bentley:
RBM: Firstly, Burnley seem to have gone on a lot of streaks of results this season - they have won their last two, having lost their previous three, having won their previous two, having lost their previous three. Is there a lack of consistency about them which concerns you at all?
Jonny: A lack of consistency is common for any team outside the traditional top six. This season, it has even become common ground for the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.
Burnley’s aim will once again be to avoid relegation. So long as they make the most of when they are in a good run of form then they will be fine.
RBM: It took Burnley until February and 25 games last season to equal their current points tally of 24 from 18 matches. Where have they improved the most this season?
Jonny: They know what is expected of them. Last season, Sean Dyche experimented with a more progressive 4-5-1 formation but it didn’t yield the results that he wanted. He also had the distraction of trying to qualify for the Europa League and those matches seemed to hamper early season form in the Premier League.
Now it’s back to basics. Two strikers. One main competition of focus. The style of football has its drawbacks but it keeps the club ticking over.
RBM: Nick Pope has the joint-highest number of clean sheets this season of any Premier League goalkeeper with seven. Particularly given Jordan Pickford’s struggles lately, how strong a case is he making to be England’s number one at Euro 2020?
Jonny: Not a huge one. Pope is a very good goalkeeper and Burnley affirmed that by allowing captain Tom Heaton to join Aston Villa in the summer. However, England manager Gareth Southgate wants a goalkeeper who is good with his feet and Pickford is a specialist in this area.
Pope is a pretty average kicker and, while that doesn’t matter too much for Burnley, it would be noticeable for England when Southgate wants balls accurately sprayed all over the pitch.
RBM: Burnley are perceived as playing an effective if not always attractive style of play under Sean Dyche. Is this a fair criticism, and could Burnley be playing any better football with the squad at Dyche’s disposal?
Jonny: It is fair and it isn’t. Teams such as Bournemouth, Norwich City and Aston Villa all play a more attractive style of play which focuses on building up from the back. Burnley certainly could play a more attractive brand of football but why would they? Their main goal is survival and this style almost guarantees that.
If Dyche moved away from what he knows then it may put the club’s Premier League status in jeopardy. It’s what he knows and it’s effective; the fans know this and respect it. Opponents often get very angry about losing to ‘anti-football’ tactics but that anger only evidences the fact that these tactics are effective.
RBM: Burnley are currently tenth, though you would expect some improvement in the second half of the season from teams below them like Arsenal and Everton. Especially given their struggles last year, how big an achievement would a top-half finish be?
Jonny: It would be an excellent achievement. Many Burnley fans are humble and know how far that this club has come in the past decade.
For loyal supporters, playing Premier League football really is a far cry from the days that saw the club on the brink of losing their Football League status.
RBM: How do you expect Burnley to set up on Boxing Day?
Jonny: Dyche likes to remain loyal to a team that wins so I’d expect the same eleven that faced Bournemouth. Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson could return to the squad but he’s unlikely to make the starting eleven.
RBM: Which areas of the pitch should Everton most look to exploit against Burnley?
Jonny: Everton would be wise to let Burnley attack them because the Clarets often struggle when they’re being asked the questions. That Everton team could counter-attack with pace and the Burnley defence are not as solid when they’re out of their organised shape.
The trick is to win the ball from Burnley while they’re in transition. That can be quite difficult because Burnley’s style of play is quite risk averse but, when they do lose the ball in the middle of the park, they can be caught out.
Naturally, though, Everton will probably want to be in the ascendancy for their new manager’s first game and that would probably play into Burnley’s hands.
RBM: Which of Burnley’s players do you think can cause Everton the most problems?
Jonny: The front two should cause the two centre-backs some problems. It’s a very different kind of dilemma to what they’re used to.
At the same time, Duncan Ferguson has managed to make the Toffees a lot more resolute and the Scotsman will be hoping that his club can carry that attitude into the first match of Carlo Ancelotti’s reign.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Thursday’s game?
Jonny: 1-1. Ancelotti would love to get off to a winning start but Burnley have two wins on the spin now and are rarely an easy match. A very different kind of match from Everton’s previous three under Ferguson.
Our thanks to Jonny for his time.