It’s been eight days since the Blues once again trudged across Stanley Park for their annual dismissal at the hands of local rivals Liverpool. In a game typical of such meetings at Anfield, it was a low-quality, drab affair played out in a low-key atmosphere and with the match officials having an oversized impact on the result.
Now that we can park the questionable excitement of the Merseyside derby for a while, Everton attempt to get the season back on track with a visit to the London Stadium, to face West Ham United.
In what will be the team’s first match since the passing of long-time Chairman and former owner Bill Kenwright last week, it is perhaps fitting that they go up against a side helmed by the manager most associated with his tenure at the club, David Moyes.
The Hammers suffered through an underwhelming season - at least as far as their efforts in the Premier League were concerned - lurking around the bottom of the table until the final few weeks of the campaign, when they finally pulled clear. For a side coming off an impressive prior campaign and having splashed a net €165m on reinforcements in preparation, skirting with the drop for so long, eventually finishing 14th - six points clear of the relegated Leicester City - was not at all good enough. The pressure was on Moyes throughout and only alleviated by a fantastic run in the Europa Conference League, which saw the East Londoners claim their first major silverware since 1980, when they lifted the FA Cup.
The ending of a long trophy drought has bought the Scot some goodwill, but fans were eager to see if the club could kick on this term, something complicated by the loss of talismanic midfielder Declan Rice to Arsenal during the summer. Flops Gianluca Scamacca and ex-Everton man Nikola Vlasic departed to Italy, adding to the huge pot of money the club made available for transfers. West Ham spent heavily on their midfield, in an effort to replace the multi-faceted Rice, bringing in James Ward-Prowse, Edson Alvarez and former Blues target Mohamed Kudus for a combined €116m - exactly the amount their ex-captain fetched from the Gunners, coincidentally. Tall centre half Konstantinos Mavropanos was added from VFB Stuttgart for another €20m, though the Greek has barely featured as yet.
The team got off to a strong start, going unbeaten over their initial four league fixtures, winning three, including impressive 3-1 victories over Chelsea and Brighton & Hove Albion, before suffering a first setback, against Manchester City. In their next domestic match they were well beaten at Anfield by Liverpool, but the London outfit responded with three straight wins in all competitions, including a good Europa League success at German side Freiburg and a comfortable home victory over the hapless Sheffield United. They salvaged a creditable late draw with Newcastle United, but followed that by ending up on the wrong side of a 4-1 scoreline at Villa Park, where the hosts demolished them after a competitive opening half.
The Hammers sit solidly in midtable, in ninth ahead of Sunday’s early afternoon kickoff, a heavily rotated side having suffered defeat to Olympiacos in Athens on Thursday evening.
Style of Play
Moyes has been in the management game now since 1998 and has his approach refined to the nth degree, and it hasn’t really deviated from his time on Merseyside, which ended more than ten years ago. Pragmatism is the order of the day; being defensively sound and hard to beat is the priority - not too dissimilar from the style employed by current Blues supremo Sean Dyche, in actuality. This term, the Scot has stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation he decided on in early March.
Like Everton under Dyche, they eschew possession, ranking 18th with a paltry 37.9% share and are one of the more direct sides in the league, with 14.9% of their passes going long (Everton are at 16.0%). Along with Luton Town, they focus most of their play down the flanks, slightly favouring the left, though they are not heavy crosses of the ball, unlike the Toffees. Somewhat surprisingly, considering they possess some strong technical footballers, the Hammers rank 15th for attempted shots per game, at 11.7 (compared to 15.4 for Everton).
Defensively, the East London outfit set up passively and tend to invite pressure, which has led to them allowing 18.2 attempts on their goal per match, behind only Sheffield United; this is in excess of five more than the Toffees are permitting. They tie the league in blocked shots, are third in stopping crosses and rank top at making interceptions (10.3 per game), which tallies with the low block defensive system they are using. They also rank right up there with clearances, making 25.7 per 90 minutes.
Under the 60-year old, they play a conservative game of fine margins, as do the Blues, but they are - for the moment at least - coming out on top. They have generated a total xG (Expected Goals) tally of 13.3, but have scored 16. On defence, they have an xGA (Expected Goals Allowed) statistic of 18.3, yet have also conceded just 16, so are about five goals up on where the data suggests they should be. By comparison, Everton are more than seven goals down from expectations.
Given the starting berth guarding the net this season, Alphonse Areola has conceded 2.6 less goals so far than could be expected from a statistical analysis of the shots he’s faced, which is helping West Ham come out on the right side of the winning and losing games equation. He impressed to a similar degree as a shot-stopper when on loan at Fulham a few years ago and is an underrated goalkeeper.
Jarrod Bowen has kicked on again after experiencing a relative dip in form last term. The marauding right winger has already matched last season’s goal-scoring total, with six in the league and is on pace to surpass the 12 he hit during the 2021-22 campaign. He’s attempting almost double the number of shots per game as anyone else in the side.
New addition Ward-Prowse is a perfect fit for a Moyes-style team. The set-piece specialist totalled 43 goal contributions over his last three seasons at Southampton and though clearly unfancied by the elite sides, he’s settled easily and is already proving his worth in East London, having hit the back of the net twice, in addition to providing three assists. He leads the team in SCA (Shot-Creating Actions) per 90 minutes, with 3.80, mostly from dead-ball situations.
This should be an intriguing matchup from a tactical perspective, although not one that may provide a lot of exciting action for the viewer. Both managers are essentially reactive, preferring to cede possession and the initiative to the opposition. As such, neither will have a obvious comfortable solution to facing a side who also wants to largely play without the ball. I can envisage a cat-and-mouse opening, with Moyes and Dyche waiting for the other to blink first, rolling the dice and going on the front foot. In theory, with West Ham being the home team, the onus should be on them to press the action and eventually I feel this is how it will play out.
Moyes, being a low-risk type of manager and naturally distrustful of flair players, tend to play Tomas Soucek, or even Ward-Prowse as the central attacking midfielder, rather than natural number ten Lucas Paqueta, who gets shunted out to the left wing. Likewise, the talented Kudus, who has excited Hammers fans in brief glimpses has yet to see much league action and has also been deployed away from his favoured central position when used. There’s plenty of quality in the hosts’ side, but they play with the handbrake on, in such a way as to not truly take advantage of all that they have.
Everton want the opposition to come at them, so as to be able to break on the counter. Dyche may have to be patient in the early going and hope that the Hammers fans get disgruntled at what they are seeing, if the game drags on without much attacking play in evidence. Going at West Ham would be playing into their hands. Powerful teams such as Man City have had success playing this way, but Everton are not that kind of side and would likely be punished. One thing the visitors have to avoid, is giving the dangerous Ward-Prowse any free kick opportunities with careless fouls around the edge of the box.
In terms of the starting team, I expect Dyche to bring back Idrissa Gueye into what should be a combative midfield battle on the day, with James Garner perhaps filling in for the suspended Ashley Young at right back, a position he excelled at for England during the summer at the European Under-21 Championship. Jack Harrison could be one to watch, considering he bagged three goals at the London Stadium in January 2022, when playing for Leeds United. This will be a tight game determined by positional play, set-pieces and who can best take advantage in transition and is one that Everton should have a solid chance to get points from.
Prediction: West Ham 1 Everton 1