Everton head down to London to take on Brentford looking to arrest a worrying slide in form that is on the brink of becoming a full-blown crisis.
I must admit I did not expect the season to disintegrate quite so quickly, but after ending September pushing for the European spots Everton could head into December well and truly entrenched in the bottom half.
The Toffees have picked up more injuries than points over the last two months, with the majority of those sidelined key players.
The spine of the side – Yerry Mina, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison – have all been ruled out of lengthy spells, and the list continues to grow with each passing week.
Demarai Gray and Allan are the latest to pull up lame, though they have not yet been ruled out of Sunday’s game.
It leaves Rafa Benítez with a paucity of options from what was already a meagre-looking squad and should be considered when assessing the Spaniard’s start to life in the Toffees dugout.
But with the fanbase increasingly fractious he is unlikely to be afforded much leeway if things to continue to go wrong, even if the problems at the club run much deeper than the manager.
The increasing gloom meant expectations were already low heading to the Etihad last week, but the ease by which City breezed past Everton was demoralising and humiliating.
The gap between the two sides looked enormous and you felt City could have scored several more had they wanted to, with 3-0 a kind result for Everton in the end.
We all knew this was a transitional season that had to be endured while the finances are repaired, but that does not make the experience any less tortuous.
Compared with the glum Toffees Brentford are buzzing after making a solid return to the top-flight after a 74-year absence.
They have risen from League One to the top flight in the space of eight years under the ownership of Matthew Benham, whose has employed an innovative style of recruitment that is regularly compared to ‘Moneyball’ (even if the club aren’t always enamoured with that comparison).
Their progress is symbolised by their move from the ageing, cramped but charming Griffin Park to the Brentford Community Stadium in August 2020.
They are a club on the up.
That was reflected in their fine start to the season that yielded three wins and just one defeat from their opening seven games.
However, they take on the Toffees on the back of four defeats and a draw from their previous five games, a sign perhaps that the novelty of Premier League life is wearing off.
You won’t be surprised to discover that previous meetings between the sides are thin on the ground.
They have only met 17 times, the last being a League Cup tie in 2010 that Brentford won on penalties.
The previous match between the sides was a Second Division clash in 1954, with their last top-flight meeting in 1946.
A big game for both sides you feel.
Rafa Benitez has confirmed Abdoulaye Doucoure has resumed full training after a broken foot and could make a long-awaited return to action.
Demarai Gray’s groin injury is not as serious as first feared but he remains a doubt, while Allan has been receiving treatment on a knock but should be OK.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Yerry Mina, Tom Davies and Andre Gomes are injured, while Mason Holgate and Richarlison are suspended.
Ellis Simms will likely earn a place in the squad though he is unlikely to start, with Salomon Rondon expected to stand in for Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison.
Lewis Dobbin and Charlie Whitaker missed the U23s’ clash with Spurs on Friday which suggests they too will be involved in the squad.
Brentford 1-1 Everton (Brentford win 4-3 on penalties) 21 September 2010
As mentioned, it is a decade since the sides last met in a League Cup second round tie down at Griffin Park.
Seamus Coleman was on target for Everton but Gary Alexander’s leveller sent the game to spot-kicks, which the Bees won 4-3.
What they said
Everton manager Rafael Benitez: “It is important to win any game but this is the first one we have [to begin a winning run],” said Benitez.
“If you think about just winning one game, we could be really close to the top six.
“That is the situation, there is a lot of teams very close together and one game can change everything.
“Hopefully, this game will change everything for us and we will be higher in the table and with more confidence for the next ones.”
Brentford head coach Thomas Frank: They will see this as an opportunity to get three points; that’s what every manager should think going into the next game. I am more focused on what we can do. It is very important that our approach is front-footed, aggressive, and brave. That is the bit I can control.
Every game is a huge experience and huge occasion. I am very aware of that and try to embrace it but after that it is just a match. I am in charge of a team that I badly want to win.”
This really feels like a pivotal game as the fallout to it will directly influence the mood of the club going into next week’s derby. Another defeat and we will be in full-on crisis mode ahead of one of the biggest fixtures of the season, and a potential powder keg if Liverpool score one or two (or three!) early goals at Goodison on Wednesday.
Win and the morale boost will give players and fans alike precious momentum going into the Liverpool game.
Brentford are struggling for form themselves so it is unlikely to be a free-flowing encounter. A scrappy 1-0 win would not live long in the memory but could prove hugely significant in shaping the direction of the season.