Following on from the unexpected cancellation of last week’s fixtures, Everton’s Premier League campaign resumes tomorrow with the visit of West Ham United to Merseyside. The postponement of a daunting trip to the Emirates, to play Arsenal without the services of in-form goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, may have worked to the advantage of the Toffees. Instead, they’ve had a week off to recharge and bring striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin closer to a return from the injury that has kept him sidelined for the start of the season.
The Blues have yet to register their first league win and will be anxious to do so prior to the pending international break; otherwise they’ll be sitting on less than a point per game average - not a good look after seven matches, nearly 20% of the season. Whilst it is true that performances have been solid - impressive even - the wait for an opening victory could threaten to undermine all the progress obtained over the summer and autumn, both in terms of what has been a coherent effort at rebuilding the squad, as well as improved performance levels on the pitch.
As for tomorrow’s adversaries, let’s examine how they’ve been getting on.
West Ham managed a sixth-place finish last term under former long-serving Blues boss David Moyes, particularly impressive considering the team combined this with making it all the way to a Europa League semi-final appearance against Eintracht Frankfurt, which they lost 3-1 on aggregate. A gruelling campaign did appear to catch up with the Londoners, however, as they won only two of their last eleven fixtures across all competitions.
This term, the Hammers (much like their opponents tomorrow) have come out of the blocks slowly. Perhaps aware that a lack of squad depth was found out towards the end of last season, the team invested considerably in the summer, spending approximately £164m on eight new players, whilst recouping a mere £16m in outgoings. Such a churn of playing staff can take time to properly assimilate (as the extreme example Nottingham Forest are currently demonstrating) and possibly this explains their sluggish opening to date.
The Irons started by losing their first three league matches, sandwiched around a win over Norwegian minnows Viborg in the Europa League. Subsequently, they’ve stabilized somewhat, enjoying a win over Aston Villa in what was a poor quality game and a draw against Tottenham Hotspur. They fell to defeat in their last domestic outing, but were the victim of questionable VAR officiating in losing to Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. The side comes to Goodison Park off back-to-back wins over European opposition in FCSB and Silkeborg.
Style of Play
Moyes has flipped around a bit in terms of formations used so far this season, perhaps searching for a way to fit in new signings, to cover for injury absentees, or to break out of their early funk. Seven times they’ve gone for a variety of back four systems; three times a back three. Blues fans will be very familiar with the Scot’s stylistic approach, which is pragmatic and emphasizes positional discipline and hard work. Traditionally, his teams play a deep defensive line and look to hit opponents on the counter, emphasizing direct play and a strong aerial target man leading the line.
It came as no surprise to see the Hammers bring in centre forward Gianluca Scamacca - standing almost 6’5" tall - for a fee of more than £32m in the summer, but the giant striker has failed to find the back of the net since his move from Italy. Goals have been something of a general problem to kick off the campaign, the Londoners only scoring three in six league games, whilst shipping eight in return.
There’s been criticism from some quarters regarding the team’s overly cautious starts to matches, perhaps most evident against newly promoted Nottingham Forest a month ago. In that game, at the City Ground, the hosts were far more aggressive than the Hammers and largely bossed the opening half. Moyes’ side came back strongly after the interval and were unlucky to lose, but they did not look like an outfit with top-six aspirations during a strangely passive first 45.
The visitors have some quality operators within their ranks, notably Declan Rice, who dominated Everton’s midfield single-handedly in this fixture last term. The England man is an all-rounder, positionally strong, capable of carrying the ball and also with a good range of passing. His midfield partner, Tomas Soucek saw his goal haul halved last season (five league goals, down from ten during 2020-21) but is looking more of a threat again this term.
Jarrod Bowen has been one of West Ham’s most potent attacking players over the past two campaigns, racking up 20 league goals and 15 assists, but has appeared off form so far this season. Still, he’s proven himself to be dangerous operating off the right wing and will need to be watched carefully. Michail Antonio is another regular source of goals for the visitors, hitting double figure goals in each of the last three campaigns. Even at 32, the brawny forward is a physical menace for defenders with the combination of pace and strength he offers. The Jamaican has scored in consecutive games coming into tomorrow’s match.
Marquee summer signing Lucas Paquetá has the tools to pull the strings from an advanced midfield position, though it is early days in the capital for the new recruit. At Olympique Lyonnais, the Brazilian was a regular source of goals, although it remains to be seen if he will be allowed the freedom to impact things further up the pitch within Moyes’ fairly rigid system.
The visitors beat Lampard's Everton last season at the London Stadium, though the Blues self-destructed during a crucial seven minute spell in the second half, throwing away what had otherwise been a competitive game. The Irons have not managed to recapture their pre-Christmas form, which had seen them present as genuine contenders for a Champions League berth up to that point, but are a formidable, well-organized outfit possessing some quality players.
Frank Lampard’s new-look Everton are far from the pushovers they appeared for long stretches last season. He and director of football Kevin Thelwell have largely rebuilt the side, adding energy, stability and character. It is almost certain that the Blues will line up in the 4-3-3 they’ve utilized to good effect during the last two matches, with a midfield trio of Alex Iwobi, Amadou Onana and probably Idrissa Gueye, which should give Rice, Soucek and Paquetá all the trouble they could want.
The Toffees have appeared a cohesive unit so far this season and have been fighting hard throughout every match, even if they’ve typically lacked a cutting edge. They will take enormous encouragement from an impressive outing last time out, against Liverpool, in which they showed attitude, compactness and the ability to play on the front foot. West Ham - competent as they are - are no Liverpool and the Blues should have no fear of the Londoners.
In what promises to be a gritty affair, Everton should take the game to Moyes’ side, winning the battle in the centre of the park, employing the sort of high tempo strategy that Forest used, getting the wing-backs high and confusing the West Ham defence with clever movement. If they succeed in this, I feel three points are within reach.