There isn’t a sense of anticipation or excitement quite like the first home game of the season, as you resume pre-match rituals, catch up with old friends and tread well-worn paths up the famous old ground.
I think there is even more emotion attached to home games these days now the clock is ticking on Goodison’s future. The revealing of Everton’s plans for a new stadium this summer made the prospect of leaving their home of 126 years even more real. The introduction of the siren ahead of last season’s derby also seemed to reinvigorate the old place and generate an atmosphere we had not seen in several years. You get the feeling the supporters have realised it is time to savour every match and every moment we have left at the famous old ground.
On the pitch, Everton made a solid if unspectacular start against Crystal Palace last weekend. After dominating possession for much of the game it is frustrating that they could not convert that into goals. But after losing Morgan Schneiderlin to a silly second yellow card with 15 minutes left it was encouraging to see how they saw the game out and secure a point, especially as we all feared a late Wilfried Zaha winner given the transfer speculation of the previous week.
But given the circumstances I think a point was a decent and fair result. It hasn’t been an easy pre-season for Marco Silva, with players arriving back at varying times due to summer tournaments. The sheer number of new faces also means a bedding-in process is required before we will truly see the team at its best.
Injuries haven’t helped either. With Fabian Delph already sidelined, Andre Gomes limping off in the first half was just what we didn’t need. That meant an early debut for Jean-Philippe Gbamin, who struggled to get to grips with the pace of the game early on. That will come with time though; all players need a chance to adjust to the Premier League so the new faces deserve our patience. That includes Moise Kean, who was given a rapturous reception as he made his debut from the bench last weekend. I haven’t seen as much excitement over an Everton player in a long time and I’m sure Goodison will erupt if he nets this weekend. But we also have to remember that he is still only 19 so we should not place too much of a burden on his young shoulders, particularly if things don’t go to plan straight away.
Games against Watford have been given added space over the past year following Marco Silva’s protracted move from Vicarage Road to the Toffees.
Watford remain sore over what they perceive as a lack of loyalty from Silva when he pushed for a move to Everton in November 2017, just months into his tenure with the Hornets. With his heart set on a move to Merseyside, the club’s results plummeted and he was sacked the following January. When he popped up at Everton the following June, Watford were convinced still further that the Toffees had unsettled their former boss with an illegal approach. A messy legal battle followed with Everton eventually agreeing to pay £4m in compensation.
The Watford fans haven’t forgotten though and decided to bring inflatable snakes to Goodison last December while the club DJ played songs such as “Since U Been Gone” and “The Snake” before the meeting at Vicarage Road in February.
The Watford fans took great glee in getting one over their former boss in that game and there have been suggestions that there is now some sort of rivalry between the two clubs as a result.
It is entirely one way and will eventually settle down over time. Something similar happened with West Ham United a few years ago when James McCarthy hacked down Dimitri Payet but Hammers fans eventually got over it and focused on being the mediocre side they are.
Silva’s replacement, Javi Gracia, seems a decent bloke and is unlikely to stoke the fires over Silva as much as the Hornets official Twitter account tries to. He did well to guide them to an 11th place finish last time out and reach the FA Cup final, though they were thrashed 6-0 by Manchester City at Wembley. He will be expected to maintain that upward curve and challenge for a top eight place this time round.
Things got off to an inauspicious start with a 3-0 home defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion last weekend, meaning another loss this Saturday may see the likeable Spaniard come under pressure for this first time during his Watford tenure.
Watford 1-0 Everton – February 9 2019 (Match report)
Last season’s terrible run of winter form reached its nadir in early February when Andre Gray’s goal settled a dour meeting between the sides at Vicarage Road, Everton’s 10th defeat in 16 games in all competitions. The only good thing about the afternoon was that it was the last Everton game for 17 days, allowing everyone to take a much-needed break. By the time the Toffees returned to action they appeared revived, with a win at Cardiff City sparking a run of six wins, three draws and just two defeats from their final 11 games.
Brighton (H) Lost 3-0
Crystal Palace (A) Drew 0-0
What they said
Watford head coach Javi Gracia: “We had a bad result [v Brighton]. It was harsh for us, a tough game but we try to learn in all the games. Everton have a very good squad, a good manager and all the games are very equal. We won one game [at home], we drew the other one [at Goodison] and were winning until the last minute. All the games [with Everton] are very equal. We need to take care of little details as sometimes they decide the games.”
Everton forward Richarlison: “For us playing at home, we play with extra joy because we know we’ve got the fans on our side. Playing at home last season, we beat the big clubs and I think we can continue our form this season. We’ve got this extra support at home. You hear that siren and your hairs stand on end. You can smell blood, and you go onto the pitch really excited and driven.”
Everton will be without Morgan Schneiderlin after his sending off at Palace last weekend. Andre Gomes was forced off in that game with an ankle injury and is also likely to miss out, while Fabian Delph is doubtful despite being spotted back in training after a groin injury. Alex Iwobi could make his debut following his deadline day move from Arsenal.
Watford could have Danny Welbeck available to make his debut after the forward trained all week. Welbeck hasn’t played since suffering a serious ankle injury playing for Arsenal last November. Fellow summer signing Ismaila Sarr is unlikely to feature as he has only just started training following his club record move from Rennes.
Former Toffee Gerard Deulofeu is to be assessed after he was forced off at half-time against Brighton last weekend through illness.
Getting your season off to a good start at home is so important as the momentum generated can really set the tone for the first part of the season. Like Everton, Watford have also had to deal with players arriving back for training at different stages so neither side will be at their fluid best. The game may well rest on a moment of individual brilliance.
But after taking just one point from the two matches against them last season, it is time for Everton to set the record straight.