Everton come out of the international break in a slightly better position than they entered it. With two weeks of rest for some of our players, this has allowed the likes of Seamus Coleman and Alex Iwobi to gain fitness and get back into full training. Unfortunately, Lucas Digne did pick up a small hamstring injury on national team duty but he looks to have shaken that off in time for the visit of West Ham on Sunday.
Both West Ham and Everton sit in the top half of the table, with the visitors sitting three points behind the Blues after they conceded a very late winner to Brentford in their final game before the break. David Moyes’ side have managed to juggle life in Europe with the Premier League so far, something seemingly impossible for a lot of English sides in recent years. It almost became expected that your domestic performances would drop when entering Europe but with wins against Manchester United, Leicester City and away to Leeds, they are still managing to do the business. Not only in the league, they’ve managed to win both their games in Europe so far also.
West Ham have accumulated an xG of 11.5 so far this season which ranks fourth in the whole league. They also average five shots on goal per game which is the fourth highest in the league again. Moyes has often been referred to as a defensive manager but so far this season and most certainly last season, he’s rubbishing those claims. On top of that, only Manchester City, Liverpool and United have had more touches in the attacking third this season.
I think Everton are going to find it difficult to break West Ham down. They tend to sit back and absorb pressure, then attack efficiently. They are fourth lowest in the league for pressures applied to opponents and even worse for pressures in the attacking third. Both full backs for West Ham are solid and very rarely get dribbled past, with Vladimir Coufal and Aaron Cresswell only being successfully taken on seven times between them. To put this into context, the full back with the most in the league has ten on their own.
Since coming into the side, former Everton loanee Kurt Zouma has been a key player in West Ham’s aerial game. The Hammers sit third in the league for aerial duels won this season. Zouma has won 91.7% of his aerial duels this season which is the highest percentage in the league for players who have played three or more games. This is an area of the game where Everton may struggle especially with the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and possibly Yerry Mina missing this game. Along with Zouma, they have the Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek and Angelo Ogbonna helping them clock up their 132 successful aerial duels this season.
I really expect this to be a very exciting game with lots of pace, passion and attacking. Both sides have scored two goals each from counter attacks with no other team in the league managing this many. With Rafa Benitez and David Moyes both setting their teams up to be difficult to beat but also being effective in attack, I think the game will be won by individual brilliance rather than a team domination this weekend. Someone that may be important to this for the Hammers, is Michail Antonio.
The newly capped Jamaican international has started the season in fantastic form and has really cemented his place as a striker after years and years of position changes. Over the years we’ve seen him play right back, either side of midfield and now as a main man up front. With five goals so far this year, he’s outperforming his xG of 3.8. On top of this though, he’s chipped in with three assists also. He’s the best in the league for assists and goals combined per ninety minutes.
Antonio has also attempted the most shots in the whole league despite being sent off in one game and missing another through suspension. He’s a very unorthodox striker, not blessed with tremendous amounts of technical ability or a natural finisher but he’s an extremely hard-working player with pace to burn. The 31-year-old is built like a rugby player and will bully most centre backs in Europe. I worry if Mina is unavailable this weekend as he’s a player who absolutely relishes a physical battle like this. Not only Antonio, but West Ham also have multiple attacking players we must worry about. Said Benhrama, Jarrod Bowen and Antonio himself have all managed over 25 shot creating actions this season with all three creating more than any other Everton player.
Most pundits will be picking out the likes of midfield general Rice, the silky skills of Benhrama or the directness of Bowen as their one to watch for the Hammers. The player besides Antonio who I think may be a threat this weekend however is Coufal. I believe he’s one of the most underrated right backs in the league and West Ham picked him up for an absolute steal a couple of years ago. This is mainly due to his attacking threat, with him having the most touches in the attacking third for West Ham. On top of this, he’s second in the whole league for crosses attempted, only bettered by Dwight McNeil.
This is despite playing in what is supposed to be a defensive position but the Czech Republic international most certainly enjoys the more attacking side of the game. Anthony Gordon, who I expect to keep his shirt at left side of midfield this weekend, must improve his defensive game going up against Coufal. Although Gordon impressed against Manchester United before the international break, he showed signs of ill-discipline when it come to tracking runners and getting back into a defensive shape. I’m sure Rafa would have been working with him recently to improve this and hopefully with their vast team of analysts they can also realise the threat Coufal possesses.
With the attacking threat of Coufal and the number of crosses he puts in I feel Mina could be vital this weekend. His aerial ability up against Antonio will be vital with all the balls being delivered into the box. As I said earlier, he absolutely relishes one-on-one battles with attackers. He is fresh off the back of three straight clean sheets with Colombia and hopefully he can shake off the jet lag and grab a fourth against the Hammers. With Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison officially ruled out, I really expect us to struggle on Sunday.
Having Seamus Coleman back is a massive boost though but the lack of firepower through the middle up top may cost us. Salomon Rondon is yet to score this season and to be honest hasn’t really looked like doing so. With West Ham seemingly having a close to fully fit squad, they may have too much for us at Goodison Park.