Well, it’s been quite the week.
The departure of Rafael Benitez provided an instant boost to a beleaguered fanbase, whose morale hit rock bottom after last weekend’s miserable defeat at Norwich.
There was an ever-creeping toxicity that got worse with each passing week, with fans bickering amongst themselves. I’ve rarely seen the fanbase so fractured and there was a real fear about how low the club could go.
Benitez’s sacking does not solve all the team’s problems, far from it, but it at least galvanises the supporters, who will unite behind Duncan Ferguson when he returns to the dugout against Aston Villa on Saturday.
The hope of course is that Ferguson can inspire the kind of performance and result we saw in the opening game of his first spell as caretaker against Chelsea in December 2019 – because boy do we need it.
The Toffees are worryingly close to the relegation zone and make no mistake they are not too good to go down, not on recent form anyway.
A win would not only lift the club away from danger, but it would also give everyone some breathing space and ease the sense of panic surrounding the club. That would hopefully ensure the board do not rush into another costly managerial mistake (though rumours linking us with the likes of Roberto Martinez and Fabio Cannavaro suggest they have not learned their lesson).
Goodison has been a horrible place of late but it will be rocking on Saturday. I don’t think Evertonians have looked forward to a game as much as this for a long time. There’s a feeling that we have got our club back.
Ferguson’s return to the dugout provides this game with a key narrative, but there are plenty more when you look at the opposition, not least with the manager.
Yes, former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will be in the away manager’s dugout and will no doubt be afforded a warm welcome by the Goodison crowd.
His presence was always going to add an edge to this fixture regardless. To his credit, he has made a positive impact at Villa Park since heading south from Rangers, winning four out of his first six matches to lift the club into mid-table.
Things have stumbled since, but the arrival of former Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho and a certain Lucas Digne has provided a timely boost, with Coutinho scoring the equaliser in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Manchester United.
They also have a decent recent record against Everton, remaining unbeaten in the five meetings since they returned to the top-flight in 2019.
Last time out
Aston Villa 3-0 Everton, September 18 2021
The first sign of the wheels coming off for Rafa Benitez’s Everton, three goals in nine second-half minutes condemned the Toffees to a 3-0 defeat the last time the sides met in September.
Ferguson reported a near clean bill of health after a full week’s training.
The only injury absentees are Tom Davies, who is recovering from a hamstring operation, and Fabian Delph who is reported to have suffered a serious hamstring injury of his own and could be out for some time.
Allan is available after missing last weekend’s defeat at Norwich through illness, while Alex Iwobi is away with Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations.
What they said
Everton caretaker boss Duncan Ferguson: “They [players] are determined to show their true colours, they were on the floor, if you continue getting bad results, it is very difficult to turn around.
“We have tried to get the confidence into them, told them a few home truths and tried to get a reaction out of them.
“I don’t want to go back, that’s in the past. I want to leave that and look to the future.
“The players look upbeat, I have pushed them as hard as I can, the main thing for me is to keep that intensity
“On the training ground, they looked good – but that’s on the training ground.
“Let’s hope they can do it in a game, which is where it counts.
“If you are on a losing run, like we have been, you have to make changes. It’s not been working.”
Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard: “You can quite clearly see, listen to and read the noises that are coming from Everton at the moment, which is the caretaker manager demanding a reaction.
“I don’t think it’s difficult to predict what’s going to be coming our way. I think you’re going to see a real cauldron of an atmosphere at Goodison, I think they’ll be behind the team.
“The majority of them [the fans] wanted a changed in that position [manager]. To have an iconic figure leading the team, it will be pretty similar to what happened when he took over previously.
“The atmosphere, noise and support behind the team changed and he got a big reaction out of the players. From our point of view, we need to be ready for that, we need to handle that and make sure we’re the best version of ourselves.”
The departure of Benitez has changed this game from one we were dreading to one we are all looking forward to. However, it’s important to remember that passion and hard work is only part of the job and will not guarantee success – Aston Villa are a fine team with a manager who will be determined to get one over the old enemy. However, passion and hard work has been missing from the team for some time, which at least gives us a fighting chance.