Everton’s campaign, faltering in the early going - at least so far as results are concerned - has gradually picked up momentum, the firsts signs of which were back-to-back wins over Brentford and Aston Villa towards the end of September. Since, the blips have been rare: a squandered opportunity against lowly Luton Town at Goodison Park, along with the obligatory defeat to Liverpool, in the Anfield derby.
The Blues are currently on a run of three consecutive victories, gained over an eight day spell. The team’s recent form is excellent, with nine wins and a draw against three losses. In fact, the only game were the Merseysiders have been irredeemable all season was the 4-0 away league hammering by Villa, on matchday two, all the way back in August.
Sean Dyche’s determined, hard-working outfit has enjoyed a six day break since their last outing, when they showed some signs of fatigue in defeating Chelsea 2-0. Next up is Burnley, at Turf Moor on Saturday afternoon.
Last season’s runaway Championship winners underwent considerable surgery during the offseason, signing 15 new players in preparation for their immediate return to the top flight, having being relegated in the 2021-22 campaign. After they’d gone down, their US-based owners had headhunted talented young manager Vincent Kompany and largely rebuilt the relegated side, with the current version bearing little resemblance to that which Dyche had helmed until about 18 months ago.
A few leftover old stagers like Ashley Barnes and Matt Lowton departed and a host of (mostly) youngsters added, to the tune of around €107m net. Few recognisable faces arrived, really just Sander Berge (€14m) and Nathan Redmond (free), the former a regular in the lineup, the latter not so. Of the others, Basel striker Zeki Amdouni, Espanyol winger Luca Koleosho, West Bromwich Albion defender Dara O’Shea, Borussia Monchengladbach centre half Jordan Beyer and Manchester City youth team goalkeeper James Trafford have seen most game time.
To say that Kompany has found the step up to the Premier League something of a shock would be an understatement. With the exception of a couple of successes in the Carabao Cup, a run ended by the Blues at Goodison in November, the Clarets have won only twice this season, both - perhaps tellingly - over fellow promoted sides, in Luton and Sheffield United. Otherwise they’ve managed draws against a struggling Nottingham Forest and last time out, versus Brighton & Hove Albion, when they were outshot by 29 to six; set those modest achievements against 12 league defeats.
Style of Play
Kompany has so far stuck to his guns, determined to play the progressive football that he brought with him to Burnley and which propelled them back into the Premier League in such commanding fashion last term. The Belgian has shuffled formations from the start of the season, in search of an answer to his team’s struggles, though has settled on a 4-4-2 over the past seven games.
A major issue for the Clarets has been a lack of cutting edge. They’ve accumulated an xG (Expected Goals) statistic of only 14.4, scoring 16 but with five of those strikes coming against a dreadful ten-man Sheffield United. A team that wants to exert control, Burnley have managed a 48.9% share of possession, ranking eleventh, yet take just 10.6 shots per 90 minutes (18th). They rank midtable in terms of passing accuracy, with 81.8%, indicative of their attempts to play out from the back.
On the other side of the equation (with winning football matches being the solution), the Lancashire outfit permit an xGA (Expected Goals Allowed) metric of 26.7, yet have actually conceded 34 times. They aren’t facing an enormous number of efforts on their goal at 14.7 per game, though that does rank 15th. The team are a little shaky defending set-piece situations (from which Everton have scored eight goals), having shipped six so far this season.
The Man City legend, still in the foothills of his managerial career is firmly wedded to a possession-heavy approach, playing out from defence and along the ground, in the manner adopted by many elite sides. However, as we saw when an admittedly rotated Burnley side was dispatched with ease from the Carabao Cup by the Blues, for all their possession (62% that night) they quickly run out of ideas in the final third (three attempts on goal) and are also prone to giving the ball away in dangerous areas through overplaying. Whether they continue in this vein today, we’ll have to wait and see.
Trafford looks to be a promising ‘keeper, but he’s very inexperienced at 21 years of age and is being exposed by his team’s defensive deficiencies and tendency to cough up possession in compromising positions. As would be expected, considering Burnley’s way of playing, he’s a sweeper-keeper who is comfortable taking part in build up play from the back, in addition to being quick to rush out to the edge of his penalty area.
With Koleosho injured, Burnley’s major creative threat is probably Johann Berg Gudmundsson, operating from the right flank. Now 33, the Icelander enjoyed a couple of productive seasons under Dyche before dwindling in importance. The veteran has enjoyed a run in the side recently and currently tops all comers in SCA (Shot-Creating Actions), with 4.28 per 90.
Everton will be missing Jarrad Branthwaite this evening and with nominal third-choice central defender Michael Keane probably unavailable, it’s likely that Ben Godfrey will be called upon. A 91st minute substitute appearance against Sheffield United three and a half months ago and a start against Doncaster Rovers in the League Cup a few days earlier represent the out-of-favour 25-year-old’s only action this term, which doesn’t inspire confidence.
Idrissa Gueye is also suspended, but Amadou Onana looked good replacing the veteran at half time last weekend, following an injury layoff, so midfield will be in good hands. The Blues will be without either Ashley Young or Seamus Coleman, leaving Dyche with no alternate than to use Nathan Patterson at right back. The Scot did well against Chelsea, coming on in the 41st minute for the injured Young and handling the rapid Mykhailo Mudryk well, which should give him a confidence boost ahead of today’s match.
Burnley may be at home, but they figure to be exactly the type of side Dyche prefers to go up against. The Everton boss will be happy to let them have as much of the ball as they want, confident that his well-drilled, organised side will be able to keep the Clarets at arm’s length. Assuming Godfrey or Keane don’t make any big errors, the hosts should present little attacking threat.
On the other side of things, Everton should enjoy plenty of opportunities to get at Burnley, should they try to play out and through midfield, as expected. The Toffees press effectively and Kompany’s team have committed costly errors when caught in possession all season. Dyche’s men have the ruthlessness to punish the Lancastrians whenever the chance presents, whether from open play, set-pieces, or in transition. With Nottingham Forest losing last night, even a draw will see Everton leapfrog Steve Cooper’s plummeting outfit; a win likely sees them top Crystal Palace too.
So long as the Merseysiders maintain the level of performance that we’ve seen plenty of over the past couple of months, this should be a routine win, notwithstanding the nagging concern over Branthwaite’s absence. Still, if there’s a game that Everton should be able to do without their outstanding young defender, then this is the one.
Prediction: Burnley 0 Everton 2