Everton wrap up the first segment of the new season with a third away trip in the space of week down at Brighton.
Despite all the noise and fury surrounding his appointment, Rafa Benitez has done a quietly effective job so far.
There were fears the Spaniard would play a safety-first formation with the handbrake firmly on. Instead Everton have been much more progressive, albeit in matches where they should be playing on the front foot.
They gave us all a scare during their midweek Carabao Cup tie at Huddersfield, but deserve some credit for securing the win despite spending much of the second half with 10 men.
As a write this Moise Kean, who was the man sent off against the Terriers, is still an Everton player, but it seems the Toffees could be extremely busy in the final days of the window should the Italian move on.
Worrying rumours of a PSG bid for Richarlison gathered pace as well – though Benitez was quick to dismiss any talk of an exit in his preview press conference.
Still, the squad could look very different when they return after the international break. Heck, we may even sign a right-back.
To return after the break in September with a refreshed squad and still unbeaten having taken something from the Amex would represent a fine start indeed and provide a solid platform to build on for the rest of the campaign.
If you thought Everton’s start was good, Brighton’s is even better.
The Seagulls have won all three games in all competitions so far, winning their first two games in the top-flight for the first time - conceding just once in the process.
Graham Potter’s side became a byword for XG last season, with their failure to regularly convert their chances costing them dear. Had they matched their expected goals Brighton would have finished fifth, instead they just avoided relegation in 16th.
That, however, is in the past and the early signs suggest Potter, linked with the Everton job earlier this summer, has finally got his side to click.
Neal Maupay, also linked with Everton, has two in two, Yves Bissouma is a class act in midfield, winger Alexis Mac Allister is an example of Brighton’s excellent scouting network, while Shane Duffy has returned from his difficult loan at Celtic with a point to prove.
Everton also don’t have recent history on their side. They have never beaten Brighton at the Amex in the Premier League, losing two and drawing two of the four meetings. They haven’t won away at Brighton at any venue in any competition since 1983.
Rafael Benitez says Fabian Delph will miss the trip after suffering a shoulder injury,
Moise Kean is suspended following his red card at Huddersfield, while Alex Iwobi is doubtful with an abductor problem picked up in the same game.
Ben Godfrey could make his first appearance of the season after returning from Covid isolation.
James Rodriguez has also been spotted in training, but is unlikely to feature as he continues to be linked with a move away.
Brighton 0-0 Everton, April 12, 2021
A game to forget as an injury-hit Everton played at a dour draw at an empty Amex. Pandemic football at its worst.
What they said
Brighton boss Graham Potter: “They’ve invested over the years in their playing group and they’ve got another manager who is really experienced.
“He understands the game, tactically he is very strong and he can organise a team in a fantastic way.
“I have huge admiration for Rafa. He’s still working at the highest level and still hungry.”
Everton boss Rafael Benitez: “They are a good team. They are playing with a lot of confidence and, as usual in Premier League, it will be a tough game.
“They know each other really well. They are dangerous at set-pieces. They can pass the ball and they can keep possession.
“They have some good players up front who have pace and ability. It will be a tough game, and hopefully we can play in the same way that we have.
“If we can be strong together, we can challenge and get a result.
Two in-form sides going head-to-head on a sunny bank holiday Saturday, it has all the makings of an entertaining encounter on the south coast.
Potter has quietly built an effective side that could finally be realising its potential – though it is still very early days.
However it is a game Everton should be taking something from if they want to be challenging at the right end of the table.
Plus, losing the last match before an international break is really annoying. So please don’t do it, Everton.