Everton ended their three-game losing slump last weekend with a resounding 3-0 victory over Crystal palace at Goodison Park, a result that restored a lot of faith in manager Frank Lampard's methods and the ability of the team to find the back of the net. Now, the Blues have to demonstrate the capacity to bring that same energetic, aggressive performance on the road to Craven Cottage, where they take on Marco Silva’s surprise package, Fulham in Saturday’s late afternoon kick-off.
The Toffees, playing with a lot more attacking verve and positivity accumulated a higher xG (Expected Goals) tally against Palace than they’d managed in their previous three games combined. The team has not fared as poorly away from home as last season, but have secured just one victory, against two draws and three defeats, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.
This weekend’s match is the second of what - on paper at least - comprises a less-demanding four-game run leading into an enforced six week break for the bizarrely- arranged winter World Cup in Qatar. Let’s take a look at Saturday’s opponents in more detail:
Appointed in July 2021 as successor to Scott Parker, whose attempts to keep the team in the Premier League had floundered during the 2020-21 season, Silva accomplished what most expected and gained promotion at the first attempt, winning the Championship with a 90-point haul. The Portuguese had been out of the managerial loop since being fired by Everton in December 2019 and this was his big, maybe final chance to re-establish himself in English football. The former Blues boss, always regarded as a top coach, got the best out of young academy talent Fabio Carvalho and a resurgent Harry Wilson, who registered an astonishing 30 league goal contributions on the way to the title.
Despite some preseason comments from Silva, Fulham have backed him to a degree in the transfer market, making several shrewd signings such as Joao Palhinha from Sporting, Manchester United outcast Andreas Pereira, Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno and Brazilian veteran Willian. Other notable additions, Issa Diop and on-loan duo Daniel James and Shane Duffy have yet to get going, to varying degrees.
Early favourites for the drop by most pundits, the London outfit have so far defied expectations. A deserved draw with Champions League finalists, Liverpool was followed by an unlucky tie with Wolverhampton Wanderers and an impressive late win over last season’s Premier League underdogs, Brentford, to get the side off to a good start. Defeat to current league leaders Arsenal was no disgrace and the Cottagers responded with victory against Brighton & Hove Albion, before being beaten by Tottenham Hotspur. A six-minute blitz saw them take all three points from Nottingham Forest, however a disastrous early straight red card for Nathanial Chalobah doomed them to a 4-1 home loss to Newcastle United.
Missing talismanic striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham were comfortably disposed of by West Ham United, but have impressed since, being unlucky to be held by a resurgent Bournemouth, putting the final nail in Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard’s managerial coffin with a 3-0 hammering and latterly emerging victorious from a five-goal thriller against struggling Leeds United. They enter Saturday’s game unbeaten in three and sitting happily in seventh place in the league table, five points clear of the Toffees.
Style of Play
Blues fans will need no reminding of Silva’s footballing philosophy. Regarded as an outstanding coach on the training pitch and beloved of an attractive, possession-heavy style of play, under the Portuguese, Fulham are creating plenty of chances (xG of 15.2) but are scoring a lot more goals than could be inferred from the data (22 - twice the number Everton have managed). Partly this is down to Mitrovic’s form, the burly Serbian having netted nine times in eleven appearances to date. Fulham are keeping the ball on the ground generally, only 13.4% of their passes being long (Everton are at 16.1%)).
The Cottagers are looking very effective at set-pieces: they’ve racked up seven goals to date, in addition to three penalties (all awarded at Craven Cottage) and - hard to believe as this will be for Everton fans - defending them well too! Silva imbues confidence in his players to get on the ball and play; after a slow start Fulham are showing signs of being competitive in terms of game control and - omitting the freak Newcastle result where they were down to ten men after eight minutes - are averaging 55% possession over their last seven matches. Both the home side and the Blues are down near the bottom of the rankings as regards passing accuracy.
Silva’s team play with a lot of width and - understandably, given Mitrovic’s prowess - put plenty of crosses in (19 per game at Craven Cottage), but attempt relatively few dribbles (ranking 17th), 3.3 less per match than the Blues. Their relatively open style, in Silva’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, allow the opposition plenty of chances (conceding 13.8 shots per 90 minutes): their Expected Goals Allowed (xGA) is 21.5 across 12 matches and they’ve shipped an alarming 22 league goals so far this term.
Mitrovic. The big striker, often derided by pundits as being short of Premier League class, is proving many wrong and his efforts would be even more noticeable if it wasn't for Erling Haaland’s ridiculous start to the campaign. The Serbian is slow by the standards of the top flight; however his link-up play is strong and his movement intelligent. Added to that, he is a rugged competitor and excellent in the air. He adds a focal point to Fulham, much like Dominic Calvert-Lewin does at Everton.
Joao Palhinha has proven an astute recruit. Looking like an elite defensive midfielder, the Portuguese is registering 4.5 tackles per 90 minutes, making 4.95 ball recoveries and winning 67.6% of his aerial duels, providing a reliable shield for a shaky Fulham backline. The tall midfielder also acts as an effective pivot for his team, taking more than 47 touches per 90 and boasting an 83.5% passing accuracy, second only to centre back Tim Ream.
Manchester United nearly-man Pereira is finally shining following his move south to Craven Cottage. The attacking midfielder is the kind of player that would excel in Silva’s system, as proven by his 3.73 Shot-Creating Actions (SCA90) per 90 and is a threat from dead-ball situations (1.82 SCA90).
The 34-year old former Chelsea star Willian, enjoying a return to England after enduring a miserable spell back in Brazil with Corinthians, is showing he still has something left in the tank. He had a total SCA off 12 in the last two matches and won all five attempted dribbles last time out against Leeds, a game in which he also scored. It’s a small sample size considering he was a deadline day signing who picked up a knock almost immediately, but the winger has an SCA90 of 6.81.
The challenge for Lampard is to get the Blues to play on their travels with something of the passion, grit and attacking flair they demonstrated so succinctly at Goodison Park. Fulham will likely look to dictate play but they can be sloppy in possession and Everton rank 4th in the league for interceptions (10.1 per game), so can expect to lay traps and spring breaks when the ball is turned over. The hosts are dangerous attacking set-pieces, but the Toffees are not the soft touches they were last season and have been solid in defending dead-ball situations.
Lampard’s outfit must play with intensity in their pressing and cause the home side to cough up possession in dangerous areas, exposing their suspect defence. Everton have plenty of pace and direct running in the side and Fulham’s defenders can be vulnerable in one-on-one situations. Playing Alex Iwobi in that roaming playmaker role we saw last week could be instrumental in creating space for his teammates.
Fulham have been a surprise package this season but, whilst they can be an attractive attacking side, they are held together defensively but just one man - Pahlinha - and if he can be bypassed by the kind of clever movement and passing that we saw the team execute against Palace, then Everton can gain some momentum by taking all three points north with them this weekend.