Everton host West Ham as the Premier League resumes after the second international break of the season with Rafa Benitez taking on David Moyes once again, only with the managers swapping dugouts from the last time they faced each other at Goodison Park.
It seems like months ago, but the Blues went into the last intermission with a creditable draw away at Manchester United, with the injury-stricken side having come from behind to level at Old Trafford and indeed could count themselves as unfortunate to have not nabbed a late winner too.
Unfortunately, two of the leading lights in the Toffees squad still remain out with Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin closer to full fitness but ruled out of this weekend’s action.
Everton continuing to pick up points despite their absence only highlights the incredible job Rafa Benitez has done so far this season, especially with new signings Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend continuing to chip in with key goals and Abdoulaye Doucoure completing his rebirth from a ‘frustrating’ spell under Carlo Ancelotti where he indicated his attacking instincts had been somewhat sacrificed for defensive solidity.
With most clubs around or above the Blues still involved in both the Carabao Cup and European action, this next month is a good chance for Benitez’s squad to regain full fitness without too much of a fixture logjam that other teams would facing.
David Moyes’ achievements at West Ham are quickly eclipsing what he had managed at Everton, where against all odds he’s taken a plucky side put together at not unreasonable expense and made them into top six contenders. The Hammers in the last two seasons have achieved everything the Toffees have looked to do and then some, qualifying outright last season for the Europa League.
They have continued to do well this season too, juggling the domestic and European fronts with aplomb. West Ham eliminated Manchester United from the Carabao Cup in the Third Round, earning a fixture against Manchester City in the next round and also have two wins out of two in the group stages of the Europa League while still sitting in the top half of the league table and in striking distance of the top seven again.
Michail Antonio has continued to score at will, but he’s being ably supported by Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals while Declan Rice has continued to attract attention with his steadying presence in the middle of the park.
While the Hammers have scored freely, they have also been shipping goals at an alarming rate for a Moyes side, giving up ten in seven games. A good number of those have come from crosses, with fullbacks Vladimir Coufal and Aaron Cresswell getting victimized often by overlapping forwards. Former Everton on-loan defender Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna form a stout centerhalf partnership but neither is particularly quick.
Rafa Benitez said that both Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman should be available, which will be a relief as that means Ben Godfrey can return to the middle where he’ll likely start in place of Yerry Mina who will barely have had any rest after flying back from South America on Friday.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are still sidelined, as are Andre Gomes and Fabian Delph.
Both games last season were played behind closed doors, and both were settled in 1-0 wins, for the away side with Calvert-Lewin nabbing the winner at London Stadium.
What they said
West Ham manager David Moyes on battling for the ‘Best of the rest’ tag: “I can’t speak because I’m the manager of West Ham and my plan is to challenge the top four. I’m hoping I can challenge the top four and maybe catch one, maybe topple one. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I’ve let the players know in terms of where I’m aiming.
“I can only speak for Everton as an ex-manager. I can’t speak for Rafa. But Everton is a big club, with big traditions and they’ve challenged the top four, certainly in my time there. There was a constant challenge. It was really difficult to break in, but we did it on one occasion. So I think Rafa might be thinking the exact same as I did at the time, he may be thinking even more.”
Everton boss Rafa Benitez: ““I am not thinking about just an average season, where you say, we did well and not so well [at different stages], and that’s it. I want to compete for something.
“That was my idea when I came here. The owners and fans have ambition and we have a new stadium coming. I don’t want us to be comfortable in the middle of the table. We have to make sure we fight to be as high as possible.
“If we can play in Europe, or even go higher than just the Europa League, for example, it will be better. It is not that I have a target – it is just to be sure we can compete and stay really high.”
While Everton have had the better of their recent clashes, West Ham had the last laugh overall last season, finishing in sixth place and qualifying for the Europa League. That aside, getting the better of David Moyes has remained a somewhat perverse pleasure for Evertonians since his days at Manchester United.
With Watford and Wolves ahead before a game against Spurs, getting three points here will not only serve to make some headway against a direct rival but also be a boost of confidence ahead of the hectic holiday schedule.