Everton are feeling good as of recently - which isn’t something that has been frequently said since Don Carlo Ancelotti was staying on Merseyside.
Since a very difficult August that saw Sean Dyche’s side take not even a goal, let alone a point, the story has been different, to say the least - especially when appraised from a greater distance.
Across all competitions since September began, the Toffees have five wins, three losses, and a draw. They have given up just five goals across that span, and none since the very end of September in that disappointing Luton match. This is a side that feels good about the football its playing and finally has the players fit and a team identity once again.
They will need to be completely buttoned up against Brighton & Hove Albion, however, as the Seagulls are playing some really beautiful football - with a place in Europe and a relatively high position on the Premier League table as proof.
Can Sean Dyche and company keep the good momentum going? Only time will tell.
RBM: To begin with, Brighton have been mostly fantastic to start this year; what is the mood like around the AmEx and the south of the country right now?
Generally, the mood is great. We’re in touch with the European places, enjoying our first-ever European campaign, and coming off the back of our first-ever European win - against Ajax - so generally positive. But we haven’t won in the league for over a month and have quite a few injuries, so things aren’t perfect.
RBM: This side was good under Graham Potter and seemingly ascending; what has Roberto de Zerbi brought to take this team to an even higher level?
I think he’s taken the pretty attacking football that Potter began to impose but then taken it on a notch - we’re far braver in possession, a little more gung-ho in defence, creating a lot more chances and scoring a lot more goals. We’re conceding lots more too, but it’s a risk and reward thing that has clearly mostly worked so far. I think it’s a mentality thing, too - Potter improved players, but de Zerbi is improving them more - even the seasoned pros like Dunk and even Lallana, who have both been quoted as saying that they now see football in a completely different way.
RBM: While scoring and pretty football are key components of the Seagulls machine, why does the side sometimes concede loose goals? Just a part of the gamble of the style they play, or something more?
It is mainly the gamble in the style of play - we pass a lot between keeper and centre-backs to try to draw the opposing team in, to then hit them in the space they leave behind. This inevitably means that an occasional stray/underhit pass could result in losing possession very close to our goal. We also have very attacking fullbacks who themselves leave space behind.
This season I’d add that there has been lots of chopping and changing in defence - partly because of injuries, partly because of rotation; and we’re missing an imposing defensive midfielder as Caicedo left and Baleba is not yet a regular starter.
RBM: Does the side feel that the current boss can be retained for a long while, or does it feel like de Zerbi will be scooped sooner rather than later by another squad?
The whole club is very realistic - we know we have a ceiling and that we can’t offer what other clubs - in England and abroad could offer to de Zerbi - both in terms of money and eg, Champions League and trophy-winning opportunities. So everyone expects him to leave soonish. We’re just trying to enjoy every moment while we have him.
RBM: Will the team look to purchase in the winter window? If so, what areas - and any particular individuals in mind?
Based on past years, apart from a 17-year-old South American for the development/U21 squad, we’re very unlikely to buy anyone in January - unless the injury situation gets even worse. If we were to buy, fullbacks are the problem area right now. We were thin anyway, but now they’re all injured too.
RBM: How do you expect Brighton to set up on Saturday, and which players do you think can cause Everton the most problems at Goodison Park?
We generally set up in a 4-2-3-1 but, because of those injuries, played with a back three last week. I think a lot depends on whether Estupinan is fit enough to start at left-back and whether he’ll be risked ahead of Thursday’s return against Ajax (for that reason, too, a few others may also be rested). In terms of causing problems - Ansu Fati is gradually gaining in confidence and understanding with his teammates, so could be a threat. Also, if he starts, Evan Ferguson - the match at Goodison last year was when he first announced himself to the world and this match could be decided by which of Ferguson and DCL has the better game.
Our thanks as always to Jeremy for his time.