After an unscheduled two-week break Everton are back in action as they welcome West Ham to Goodison Park still seeking a first Premier League win of the season.
It has been a surreal and emotional few weeks for the UK following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, with a period of national mourning set to conclude following the late monarch’s funeral on Monday.
The decision of the Premier League to postpone last weekend’s games was understandable, though those who criticised the authorities also had a point given other sports went ahead and used it as an opportunity to pay tribute to the Queen.
From a purely footballing perspective the extra break probably helped Everton as it allowed some of their injured players extra time to get back up to fitness. It also means Jordan Pickford, who is sidelined until after the international break with a thigh injury, will miss one less game.
The break does, however, stall a little bit of momentum that the team was starting to generate. Granted they have yet to win in the Premier League this season but four successive draws, culminating in an impressive performance in an entertaining Merseyside derby, gave cause for cautious optimism.
It feels like the majority of Evertonians have bought into the Frank Lampard project and with that comes an understanding that things will take time to settle, where even incremental improvements should be celebrated.
So while they may sit 17th in the table as one of only two teams without a league win so far, the fans can see things are starting to turn in the right direction, with a busy summer transfer window plugging many - if not all - of the holes in the squad.
A win on Sunday would, of course, ease the pressure, but as long as those signs of progress are there, however faint, then I sense the Toffees fans will still be happy to come along for the ride.
After several years of struggle following his departure from Goodison Park, David Moyes looks to have rediscovered some of his old magic in east London.
The former Everton boss has turned West Ham from relegation strugglers to European qualifiers in the space of three years, with the Hammers going all the way to the Europa League semi-finals last season, before a seventh-place finish sealed a Europa Conference League spot this term.
Moyes spent heavily in the summer in an attempt to capitalise on that progress, splashing out around £160m on the likes of Lucas Paqueta, Gianluca Scamacca, Nayef Aguerd and one-time Everton target Maxwel Cornet.
Things have got off to an inconsistent start, with the Hammers winning just one of their opening six league games to sit level with Everton on four points. Progress in Europe has been much smoother though, with four wins from four bolstering Moyes’ belief that his side is on the right track.
West Ham 1-2 Everton - April 3, 2022
Everton’s slide towards the relegation zone continued despite a battling performance at the London Stadium in April. Mason Holgate cancelled out Aaron Creswell’s opener but a Jarrod Bowen strike earned the Hammers all three points.
Frank Lampard says he will make a late call on the fitness of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who is back in full training after recovering from a knee injury suffered on the eve of the new season.
Abdoulaye Doucoure is available after recovering from a hamstring injury and deadline day signing James Garner could make his debut.
Jordan Pickford is out with a thigh injury while Mason Holgate and Yerry Mina are out until next month with knee and ankle injuries respectively.
Ben Godfrey and Andros Townsend are out for several more months yet.
What they said
Everton manager Frank Lampard: “We’ve deserved more points than what we’ve got – that doesn’t mean anything but it’s nice to feel the confidence of being solid and feel like we’re going in the right direction.
“It can take time for certain elements of the team to grow but if we can keep more clean sheets – and be more tight and more difficult to beat – that’s a big starting point for us.
“We feel confident in ourselves, with the way we’re playing. We probably haven’t had the rub of the green here at Goodison.
“I feel we can see a strength within the team, but it can take time to translate the performances into results.
“We just have to keep working in the right direction and believe that will come.”
West Ham manager David Moyes: “I always look forward to going back to Everton, but I manage West Ham and my job is to go and win – and that is what I am going to try and do.
“I hugely enjoy it. It was a massive part of my career. I had eleven and a half years at Everton as manager – and if you say that nowadays very few managers will get to that stage at any one club. I have only got thanks and good feelings for Everton for what they have done for me and my family.
There is a still a work-in-progress feel to this Everton side given their struggles last season and the subsequently busy summer. But a first win going into the international break would be a real boost and add further credence to the feeling that things are heading in the right direction.