With little time to reflect on Everton’s vital 1-0 win over West Ham United at the London Stadium on Sunday, the team must ready itself for a quick midweek return to action. The Blues have won four and lost two of the last six across all competitions, as things look to be coming together for Sean Dyche’s side.
Tonight, in the Round of 16 of the Carabao Cup, the Toffees entertain Burnley, the club intimately associated with their current boss.
The Clarets dispensed with Dyche towards the end of the 2021-22 campaign, as the club’s new owners made a late, desperate attempt to salvage their Premier League status. This turned out to be in vain, but the appointment of Vincent Kompany, ahead of a year in the Championship, heralded a new approach and a stylistic 180. A refresh of the squad was undertaken, with established players departing, in Nick Pope, Nathan Collins, Maxwel Cornet, Ben Mee, Ashley Westwood, James Tarkowski and Dwight McNeil - the latter two of course to Everton - to be replaced by 15 new signings, all for low fees.
Armed with essentially a new team, Kompany proceeded to impose his progressive style of play on Burnley, driving all before them en route to an imperious charge to the title and automatic promotion. Losers of only three league matches all campaign, the Lancashire outfit amassed 101 points and scored 87 goals with a display of attractive, free-flowing football. In possession of a manager receiving plenty of praise, the Clarets got to work preparing for the rigours they’d encounter back in the Premier League.
The US-based owners backed their man handsomely, spending a net €107m on new talent in adding another 15 players during the summer, targeting youngsters that could be moulded to Kompany’s system. So far it’s been a tough ask for the novice manager and his charges, who have shipped plenty of goals and lost most of their games. A Carabao Cup run aside, the Clarets have managed only a single win - over fellow strugglers Luton Town - and an away draw against Nottingham Forest back in September. They arrive at Goodison Park tonight on the back of a run of three straight defeats, by a combined scoreline of 9-2. Last time out they were beaten 2-1 by Bournemouth, on the road.
Style of Play
Kompany gained much approval last season for his tactical approach, which is heavily influenced by that of Pep Guardiola. In effect, Burnley were akin to Manchester City on a Championship budget: committed to possession-heavy football, playing out from the back, with inverted fullbacks and a lot of players interchanging positions in a mobile attack that confounded the opposition more often than not.
The Belgian generally stuck with a 4-2-3-1 formation last term, but has used no fewer than five different setups so far this season as he’s searched for something that works. After a promising opening match against City at Turf Moor, where his young charges gave the champions plenty of trouble with their enthusiastic approach, before ultimately being dispatched 3-0, it’s been a case of watching Burnley slowly deflate.
They’ve enjoyed plenty of possession, but generated little in the way of a consistent attacking threat, accumulating an xG (Expected Goals) statistic of 8.5, from which they’ve scored eight. Defensively, it’s been a horror show. The Clarets have permitted an xGA (Expected Goals Allowed) of 18.9, but conceded an enormous 25 strikes already, in just ten league matches - an unsustainable rate of 2.5 per game. Many of the goals conceded have been due to them naïvely turning the ball over in the their own half, as they seek to play out.
I’m all for applauding teams for playing progressive, front-foot football, but this is looking like too much, too soon for Kompany. The Championship is at a good standard, but the jump up to the Premier League is still a big one and Burnley are being found out at this level. Whether the 37-year old manager will look to adjust his tactics, or stick to his guns and go down fighting is difficult to predict at this point.
Right winger Luca Koleosho has shown glimpses of talent. The youngster manages 1.29 key passes per 90, along with 2.43 carries into the penalty area and a huge 8.39 attempted dribbles, from which he has a 44.8% success rate. The 19-year-old is quick, agile and possessing of good technique and backs himself against defenders.
A big question is what priority either team places on the Carabao Cup? Kompany rotated heavily in the previous round - although that was facing weak opposition, in Salford City; for their first cup match, against Forest he made relatively few alterations. The Belgian may see this game as an opportunity to give a few underutilised players a chance to impress, but will be desperate for the confidence boost that a victory on Merseyside would offer.
As for Dyche, he made just one late substitution at the weekend which - even by his standards - was parsimonious. This may imply that some obvious players that went unused - namely Beto, Idrissa Gueye and Arnaut Danjuma, may get the start tonight and with it, some valuable minutes and the possibility of catching the manager’s eye. With a big game coming up on Saturday, against Brighton & Hove Albion, also at Goodison, the need to maintain momentum must be balanced with protecting key playing assets.
Consequently, I foresee perhaps four or five changes from the Blues.
The Clarets have shown themselves to be a weak side so far, lightweight in attack and open at the back, but they must still be respected and I’ve no doubt Everton will do that. I can’t see Kompany deviating from the approach he’s gone with since arriving at Burnley - not yet anyway - so this is a great opportunity for Everton to give them as much of the ball as they want and then to jump on them, either via a high press or in the middle third of the pitch. So far, the visitors have proven vulnerable to this technique and the Blues under Dyche are rather good at pulling it off.
This has all the hallmarks of a game where the Toffees end up with around 40% possession, but create havoc in transition and with their improving set-piece delivery. I can’t see anything but a win for the hosts tonight, under the lights at Goodison and possibly by a healthy margin.
Prediction: Everton 3 Burnley 0