They have had to wait a little longer than everyone else, but Everton finally return to action after the international break with a home game against Burnley on Monday night.
Not only has there been a 16-day gap since the Toffees were last in action, it’s also over a month since they played at home – that raucous 3-1 comeback victory against Southampton on the opening weekend – as well as the first game at a capacity Goodison under the lights since January 2020 against Newcastle (yeah, the stoppage-time game).
The chance to visit the old lady is motivation enough, but Evertonians heading to the game will head to L4 quietly satisfied with the start made to the season.
Three games, two wins and seven points represents as solid opening to the campaign, and there is an eagerness to see what further improvements Rafa Benitez can make to the side, a welcome change to the grumbling toxicity that greeted his appointment over the summer.
We have also seen the transfer window shut since the last game. It was a timid deadline day from Everton’s perspective, with our long hunt for a new right-back continuing. It is a position that should have been strengthened a long time ago but the wasteful spending of recent years is finally coming home to roost.
A frugal year was the inevitable result of that largesse, meaning we have little choice but to cross our fingers (again) and hope injuries don’t bite too hard into what is a thin squad in places, as well as having faith in Benitez to get the best out of the existing players.
One of those players is the enigma that is James Rodriguez. Benitez made it clear he wanted to Colombian to leave but no deal could be agreed (was he ever going to give up his reported 200k a week wages?). So if he is going to be here until at least January, what role will he play?
His natural ability and class is clear, his fitness record and work rate not so much. It’s obvious he does not fit into Benitez’s system but to leave him in the reserves would be a waste, especially given we are hardly bountiful in the creativity department.
There was one late new face added to the squad. Salomon Rondon has reunited with Benitez again to bolster Everton’s forward options. Not an earth-shattering signing, but by all accounts he has an exemplary attitude and has a desire to fight for the shirt and his manager, something that always goes down well with Evertonians.
Sean Dyche just keeps on working his magic.
After starting last season with six defeats out of seven, having invested little over the summer, I was convinced the Claret’s time in the Premier League after five successful years was up.
But Dyche’s tightknit bunch turned it around.
Their eventual finish of 17th looks shaky but they were 11 points clear of the bottom three having lost seven out of their last eight games, so it was more comfortable than it looks.
Can they do it again though?
They have again been relatively quiet in the window, though a late flurry saw Connor Roberts and Maxwel Cornet bolster the full-back positions joining defender Nathan Collins and free transfer signings Wayne Hennessey and Aaron Lennon.
It means Dyche will once again largely rely on the tried and tested – Nick Pope in goal, James Tarkowski and Ben Mee in defence, Dwight McNeil in midfield and Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes up front.
Jurgen Klopp had a moan about Burnley’s physicality during their match at Anfield, saying the Clarets were taking advantage of the referee’s supposed more lenient approach to tackles this season.
I thoroughly expect the Everton players to get a buffeting on Monday as well, but as frustrating as it is you can’t really blame Burnley. They have their style of playing and it has proven effective over the years. They have a tiny budget compared to a lot of teams in the division so they must do whatever they can to survive.
Everton 1-2 Burnley March 13, 2021
Everton’s home form was starting to slide when Burnley came away with a deserved 2-1 victory back in March, with first-half goals from Chris Wood and Dwight McNeil securing the points.
Rafael Benitez says Seamus Coleman is fit and in contention despite pulling out of the Ireland squad with a hamstring injury.
Ben Godfrey and Yerry Mina are also available after resuming full training, but James Rodriguez is not yet match fit and Fabian Delph is sidelined (shock, horror).
New signing Salomon Rondon is also in contention, though it is likely to be from the bench.
What they said
Everton manager Rafa Benitez: “Our team spirit and the commitment is really good.
“The way that we are playing, we are scoring goals, we got a clean sheet in the last matchday. A lot of positives.
“I think we have to expect even more from this group of players because they have the quality and the right mentality. I think they will be better, but at the moment I’m really pleased with them.
“Burnley is a strong team. Physically, they are very strong. They know each other really well, they know the manager, how they want to play, the style… The strikers are strong and good in the air. [Dwight] McNeil has a good left foot, good deliveries.
“It’s a very dangerous team to play against. But we have confidence, and we will try to be sure that we do well.”
Burnley boss Sean Dyche: “I don’t think the performance levels are a mile away. I think the general performances have been pretty decent but a couple of sloppy mistakes have cost us.
“We have to keep our concentration for the whole game. We looked better against Leeds but it is just generally about the two boxes and getting those small details right.”
Burnley are always an awkward opposition to play against, as they demonstrated last season. They will defend deep and look to hit on the counter, they will look to physically intimidate and be a threat from set pieces. So if Everton are to get the win it is unlikely to be pretty. It’s about winning those battles first and hopefully then their quality will show through.