Everton are buzzing after their really gritty, well-composed performance on Thursday against Newcastle United in the friendly confines of Goodison Park. A goal might have been scored earlier in the match from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but the final result was well-deserved and earned.
This is easily the best organized and conceived version of Everton that Toffees supporters have seen since Don Carlo Ancelotti left Merseyside for Madrid. There were moments across the succeeding two permanent managers - little glimpses at points - but Sean Dyche is proving that he is a top coach in the Premier League, capable of working wonderful magic with both Burnley and the Blues in turn.
Against Chelsea, Everton will have to play as well as they have to take three from the visitors; against the Toffees, Chelsea will have to play better than they have recently to stick with the likes of an in-form Dwight McNeil, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Jack Harrison, and perhaps even Beto. While Mauricio Pochettino’s lot have played better this season than last, inconsistencies continue to plague the side in ways that Everton supporters are all too familiar with themselves.
Who will win at Goodison Park on Sunday? Only time will tell of course.
RBM: Straight off, it appeared that Chelsea was going to struggle once again this season, but Poch has made some improvements over the last several months; what is the feeling like around London and the grounds right now?
DP: While Mauricio Pochettino has made some improvements, the feeling right now is rather negative thanks to two of our worst performances of the season, away to Newcastle United (4-1 loss) and away to Manchester United (2-1 loss), leading up to Sunday’s match. The loss at Old Trafford, while close on the scoreboard, has been widely recognized as our worst yet under the new manager.
The good vibes, promising developments, and budding cohesion in our play from early on in the season have disappeared since the November international break. Admittedly, that’s not a very long period of time, but things change very quickly in football. We seem to be struggling in every phase of play, in and out of possession, individually and as a collective, and it feels like things could spiral out of hand very easily from here. (The alternative ending to this story, of the team suddenly getting back on track seems a far less likely outcome.)
RBM: The team is still a bit off of the pace at the top of the table, but what has Mauricio Pochettino achieved that his last several predecessors could not at Stamford Bridge?
DP: Well, in all honesty, not much yet. He’s improved the sense of belonging and team-spirit among the squad, especially before the aforementioned recent downturn, but in terms of results, the improvement has been marginal at best. He’s cut a more assured figure on the bench, on the training ground, and in press conferences than our last two managers (Frank Lampard and Graham Potter), but that’s not really saying much…
RBM: What has the boss improved upon thus far, and what must still be worked upon?
DP: Pochettino made it very clear from day one that he wants to create a family feeling around the club after the turmoil and upheaval of the previous twelve months, and to a large extent he’s succeeded in that admirably. He also said that he wants to return us to our winning ways, and while he obviously didn’t put a timeline to that expectation, we haven’t made too much significant progress towards that aim. Our familiar woes in attacking (finishing chances) and defending (especially set pieces) have continued from last year (and before), and our midfield has lacked control far too often.
The team’s obviously still young and new, and we’ve yet to find a way to put all these disparate pieces together in a way that they would click with each other. Other classic young-team symptoms have plagued the team as well, such as a lack of focus, inconsistent effort, and imprecise execution. We have often played up or down to the level of our opposition, at least before the last few games.
RBM: How do supporters feel about Todd Boehly thus far?
DP: Todd Boehly remains the lightning rod for any and all anti-ownership feeling among the supporters, even if he’s been little more than a supposed figurehead for the past year, after stepping back from day-to-day involvement in January 2023.
I think most recognize what the owners are trying to do with the team, building a young (and very expensive) team for the future, but our trust and belief in this project is waning steadily. Their often random and ad-hoc decision-making on the football and recruitment side of things hasn’t engendered any great confidence in the plan either, and neither has the constant churn of personnel behind the scenes in marketing and financial positions. We’ve already had two CEOs, for example, not to mention a handful of sporting directors (including Boehly himself for a bit) in their 18 months of ownership, and we didn’t secure a front-of-shirt sponsor until two months into the current season.
That’s not all on Boehly — it’s unclear how much may or may not be. But he’s the easy name and figure to associate with the ownership group’s decisions, especially as they have yet to follow through on their promise of open frequent and clear channels of communication with the fans. Similarly, we have no updates on the stadium plans, which was supposed to be one of their priorities after taking over in 2022.
RBM: What are the expectations for this side for the rest of the year, with no European football to think about?
DP: Not that long ago, a top-four push may have been a realistic expectation. Now that seems little more than optimistic, wishful thinking. I suppose the expectations now remain the same otherwise: to improve our results, to make progress, and to show some signs that this project can lead to the glorious outcome that may have been envisioned.
RBM: Will Chelsea be able to purchase any upgrades this January or are they going to be concerned with FFP in the wake of the Everton punishment?
DP: I don’t think we’re necessarily any more concerned with FFP as we were prior to the Everton decision. We can only hope that the people in charge do, in fact, know what they are doing with the balance sheets.
That said, I wouldn’t expect yet another record-breaking transfer window. We’re never far from a rumor, of course, but a nine-figure spend on yet another striker, be that Victor Osimhen or whoever, is probably not on the cards.
RBM: How do you expect Chelsea to set up this Sunday, and who do you think could cause Everton the most problems in the game?
DP: Pochettino has been quite consistent with his 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 setup (depending on what role the third central midfielder plays), and I would expect him to stick with that. Injuries continue to limit squad rotation, even in a busy week such as this one. Reece James should be ready to start once again (meaning that a more defensive full-back will likely play on the left then, such as Levi Colwill), and Conor Gallagher is back from suspension to come back into the midfield. That said, most of the team had a terrible game on Wednesday, so if we’re going off performances, no one should be guaranteed a spot.
Young Cole Palmer has been our most consistent danger-man this season, and Raheem Sterling has had a few absolutely brilliant 90-minute outings as well. Many in the team have the theoretical capacity to cause problems for the opposition, but those two have done it most often, so it’ll likely be up to them once again.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s match?
DP: Given Everton’s form, I think we’re in for further frustration. 2-1, to the non-London Blues.
Our thanks to Dávid for his time.