A week on from the team’s latest poor result, it is something of a surprise to find beleaguered manager Frank Lampard still at the helm of the Good Ship Everton; a captain desperately trying to steer his vessel through the turbulent seas that constitute the bottom of the Premier League table. I’d have given long odds on Frank still being in charge after his team were booed off the Goodison Park pitch following defeat to bottom side Southampton last weekend.
Whether Farhad Moshiri is awaiting events at other clubs (namely today’s opponents and Chelsea), hoping potential replacements become suddenly available, or is simply unwilling to fire Lampard - given that he’d publicly backed him recently - is anyone’s guess. Surely a third loss to a relegation rival within less than three weeks would force the Blues owner to pull the plug, however.
The Toffees arrive at the London Stadium to face a troubled side in West Ham United, one whose fans would not have anticipated anything like the struggles they’ve witnessed this term.
The Hammers enjoyed an excellent season in 2021-22, finishing seventh and reaching the semi-finals of the Europa League, where they were beaten 3-1 on aggregate by Eintracht Frankfurt, after seeing Aaron Cresswell red-carded early in the second leg. They did slacken off considerable down the stretch, losing form from around April. Despite a huge influx of new signings during the summer, totalling approximately €182m the new campaign has continued in that vein; take away eight wins in the Europa Conference League and the results make for grim reading.
In the Premier League, kicking off with three straight defeats, including one to newly-promoted Nottingham Forest, set the tone and the East Londoners have struggled to get on an even keel ever since. Across their next nine league fixtures, they managed four wins, all but one (over Fulham) registered against out of form sides. If there were grumblings of discontent from the fanbase when that run of games ended, back in October, then since then the pressure on manager David Moyes has risen exponentially.
West Ham have fallen off a cliff, losing six of their last seven, the only positive result seeing them hanging onto a point against Leeds United after squandering a lead with twenty minutes to go. Three of the six defeats they’ve suffered have taken place at home, to Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Brentford, by a combined scoreline of 5-1. They enter this afternoon’s crucial match off of a 1-0 loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux, sitting at 18th in the table, ahead of Everton on goal difference.
Style of Play
Blues fans will need no explanation as to what Moyes is all about, of course. His mix of hard work, defensive stability and somewhat direct attacking play has remained largely as it was when he departed Goodison Park many years ago. It has served West Ham well in his two full seasons in charge and it’s a genuine shock just how this side, which threatened to crash the Champions League qualification spots for a lengthy period last term, has all but collapsed this time around.
It’s not helped that major defensive addition, Nayef Aguerd has been unavailable due to injury, though the Moroccan has started their last three outings. The club’s other big signings, Lucas Paqueta, Gianluca Scamacca and Maxwel Cornet have failed to deliver, or at least Moyes has to date not been able to get the best from them. Paqueta in particular has been an oddity, in complete contrast with the excellent form he demonstrated with Brazil in the world cup.
Moyes has deployed his side in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 recently, with a 3-4-3 used in a loss to Brentford being the outlier. The side has only enjoyed a majority of possession in two of their last seven league outings (ranking 16th across the whole campaign), which tallies with the dour Scotsman’s conservative approach. They favour the left side slightly in attack, go long around 13% of the time and average 22 crossing attempts per game. The Hammers are taking plenty of shots - 13.8 per 90 minutes - though they are far from clinical, having scored just 15 league goals, the same as Everton. They attempt relatively few dribbles, succeeding with just 4.8 per match.
New addition Danny Ings has been registered in time for today’s game and Moyes will be hoping his new striker - who has a reputation as a clinical finisher - will make the difference. The 30-year-old had been marginalised this season at Aston Villa, under both Steven Gerrard and Unai Emery, but despite only starting eight of 18 league matches, he has six goals to his name - double that of anyone at Everton. Ings offers clever movement and is scoring at a rate of a goal every 136 minutes, which is not bad at all.
Saïd Benrahma has arguably been West Ham’s most effective attacker this term, boasting a combined xG (Expected Goals) and xA (Expected Assists) of 0.44 per 90, which leads the team. Surprisingly, the Algerian winger has been in and out of the side in recent weeks.
Tomáš Souček has continued to decline in effectiveness, dropping down from ten league goals in 20-21, to five last term and just one so far this season. Regardless of these diminishing returns, the Czech is still an ever-present in the West Ham midfield, along Declan Rice, who is also enduring a dip in form.
Everton managed a fairly decent performance against today’s opponents at Goodison Park back in September, emerging as 1-0 winners. Those days seem long ago, given the side’s poor performances and results. On that occasion, Lampard used his favoured 4-3-3 formation and accordingly he may well be tempted to give it another go, given the failure of a switch to 3-5-2 last weekend. Neal Maupay scored his only goal for the Blues in that win; could he be given another chance today?
At this stage it’s hard to see the under-pressure manager deviating too much from his preferred starting lineup, the players he trusts for better or worse. It is possible that the team may play better on the road, considering the turmoil surrounding the club both on and off the pitch in Liverpool currently. Certainly. there should be less pressure to perform. The Blues were able to put in somewhat creditable efforts away against both Manchester teams over the last few weeks and the Hammers, on paper and in terms of results, are nowhere near that level.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the visitors may be able to frustrate West Ham on their own turf and encourage dissatisfaction from the home fans, who are no doubt incredibly frustrated by the way their team has been performing. A low-block, counterattacking approach looks to suit this Everton team better than attempts to play out and dictate play. Whether Lampard sticks with his 3-5-2, which I feel he lacks the personnel for, or goes back to the 4-3-3, I’d like to see a compact midfield, in order to deny Rice the space to set the tempo for the Hammers and to look to use the pace that the Blues possess in attacking areas, such as Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Demarai Gray, in order to exploit a slow, vulnerable-looking opposition back line.
Prediction: Everton 1 West Ham 1