Happy New Year Blues!
Everton can move up to second and within a point of leaders Liverpool with victory over West Ham on New Year’s Day.
If that is not a symbol of the progress made over the last 12 months, I don’t know what is.
It has been a horrible year in so many ways. But at least football has been a beacon of light amongst the gloom, even if the shadow of Covid-19 is never far away.
The Toffees have been given an unexpected five-day rest for this game after the match against Manchester City was postponed just four hours before kick-off on Monday after a coronavirus outbreak amongst the City squad.
Everton were apparently only informed after the decision had been made, prompting a terse statement from the club asking for full transparency over the decision-making process.
Some City fans took offence to that statement, though I think that is just tribalism given Everton are perfectly within their rights to demand an explanation given they were kept in the dark so long.
Fortunately City recorded no new cases from a fresh round of testing and were able to return to training a few days later.
Looking at the bright side, it meant Everton did not have to play two games in 48 hours, while the Hammers arrive at Goodison to play their third game in the space of six days.
However, the worrying rise in cases nationwide has prompted a tightening of restrictions, meaning fans will once again be looked out of Goodison for the foreseeable future.
Has David Moyes got his mojo back?
There was a mixed reaction to say the least when the Scot returned for a second spell at the Hammers a little over 12 months ago, with some seeing it as a retrograde step and Moyes himself as a busted flush.
He managed to steer the London club to safety, helped by some astute January signings, but there were still plenty of skeptics when the new campaign kicked off.
However, the Hammers have made their best start to a season since 2015 and can go level on points with fifth-placed Aston Villa with victory at Goodison on Friday.
They have a poor recent record at Goodison, though, losing six of their past eight league meetings, and were beaten 4-1 in the Carabao Cup earlier this season.
Everton 4-1 West Ham, September 30 2020
Everton eased through to the Carabao Cup quarter-finals with a comfortable victory over the Hammers in September, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin scoring his second hat-trick of the season.
Sheffield United (A) Won 1-0
Man Utd (H - Carabao Cup) Lost 2-0
Arsenal (H) Won 2-1
Leicester (A) Won 2-0
Chelsea (H) Won 1-0
Southampton (A) Drew 0-0
Brighton (H) Drew 2-2
Chelsea (A) Lost 3-0
Crystal Palace (H) Drew 1-1
Leeds (A) Won 2-1
Richarlison is fit to return to the side after completing concussion protocols following his head injury against Manchester United jin the Carabao Cup. Jame Rodriguez is still absent though as his recovery from a calf injury drags on.
Lucas Digne was pictured back in training but is still a few week’s away from a return, as is midfielder Allan.
What they said
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “The fact we didn’t play against City means we can have fresh legs against West Ham.
“The preparation has been good and I hope we are ready.
“In the last games, we have increased our consistency, above all, defensively.
“We know we can compete. We have improved our confidence and our belief.
“We are ready to be tested again against West Ham and it will be, as usual, a difficult game. Every game is a battle in the Premier League.”
The chance to go back up to second, even if only for a few hours, would be real statement of intent and start to open up a bit of a gap between themselves and some of the chasing pack.
Their fine recent record against West Ham and the extra few days’ rest could be significant. I expect Moyes will make a number of changes and test his squad to the limit.
However, the Hammers have shown already this season that they can be a match for anyone in this league, beating Wolves and Leicester and drawing with Manchester City and Tottenham. So a win is far from given.