Everton are playing some of its best football since Don Carlo Ancelotti left town for Madrid. Sure, the style isn’t as fluid as it was back then, but the results are coming in hotter than they have in years, and the players seem to believe in an infectious, contagious way.
Having Dominic Calvert-Lewin back has been perhaps the biggest difference, but it is not the only one to be sure. Purchasing Beto from Udinese will prove to be a wise and forethoughtful selection, even though he has yet to get off to the start it might have been imagined he’d have.
Then there are the likes of James Gardner, Amadou Onana, Jack Harrison, and Dwight McNeil; not only is there toughness and tenacity now, but there have been goals scored too. Many players deserve a mention to be fair, but against Crystal Palace, performances will have to be ramped up to take down a side with the skills and experience that the Eagles possess.
Roy Hodgson and company know how to stay in matches for the most part, but can break them open if an opposing defense is not careful and precise. They may not have Wilf Zaha anymore, but they’ve plenty of young pieces to compensate, and Sean Dyche will have made it clear to Captain James Tarkowski that sturdy performances at the back must be had should the Blues wish to stay in the game.
Who - if anyone - will win? Time will surely tell.
Ahead of Saturday’s match, we spoke to Jon from Palace site The Eagles Beak:
I think there is some realism around the supporter base. There are definitely those who are desperate for greater ambition (both in the transfer market and in our approach come match day). However Roy remains well liked and respected - and there is an understanding that we’ve been very unlucky with injuries - particularly to our creative players - that has perhaps prevented us maintaining the excellent momentum from the final third of last season.
RBM: What is the difference between this side and the one Patrick Vieira led? What does it do better and worse?
So I think it’s hard to talk about the side under PV as there were 2 very different seasons. His first season was full of energy, a higher amount of possession then we had been used to and some real attacking intent - including at times relentless pressing and some real high moments- the FA Cup run to the semi final, a breathless dismantling of Man City at the Etihad amongst others.
But then there was another side -shown in the FA Cup Semi final against Chelsea, and then fully implemented from the World Cup break last December onwards- of becoming more Roy ball than roy ever was. I think we had 3 games without a single shot on target...
In terms of what we do well/better now - I think we have obviously become less reliant on a single superstar. Obviously Zaha has moved on and is doing brilliant things in the champions league - but I feel we have evolved (a bit) in the sense that even though we have a few likley replacement ‘superstars’ (such as Eze and Olise) we don’t base our strategy around them doing something special.
RBM: How has Roy changed the side?
One of the biggest impacts Roy had immediately when returning last season was giving Eze the freedom and confidence that he had been lacking. That was the catalyst for a lot of our attacking play, and it was no surprise he ended with 10 goals and 10 assists. He hasn’t been quite as productive this season, but the underlying data has remained strong - and it has seemed in games like he has been very close to scoring many times. Unfortunately his recent injury has set back the team’s potential as without him or Olise we do lack a bit in creativity or breaking the lines.
RBM: What are the team’s ambitions this year, and what will the side look to improve upon during the January winter transfer window?
The Long term ambition at Palace is clear, it’s built around an enhanced stadium and a thriving academy - and the recent investment in that will hopefully bear fruit in the next couple of seasons. There is a sense we’re having more limited ambition in the short term to secure that future.
However, our sporting director - Dougie Freedman has also built an approach of picking very bright young talent in the championship. We didn’t do lots of business in the summer, and we could really do with a full back and a striker (in my opinion). We have been linked with both Bereton Diaz (who apparently isn’t enjoying Spain) and Boely of Galtassary. I’d be delighted with either but am ready for none.
RBM: Who is a dangerman for the Palace team that people do not recognize as readily as they should for their contributions?
Joachim Anderson. His passing from the back is critical to our build up play. Stop him doing that progressively and you stop a high proportion of Palace chance creation.
RBM: How do you expect Palace to set up on Saturday, and which of Palace’s players do you think can cause Everton the most issues in the game itself?
A variation of 4-3-3 moving to 4-2-3-1 in possession. In terms of causing Everton problems, to be honest I wish I had more to say on that - but I’ll go with Ayew being able to do something a bit special from the right.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s affair?
As I am at the game, probably 0-0! Or perhaps more hopefully a 1-0 victory via a set piece for the Eagles.
Our thanks to Jay for his time.