Everton take a short break from what’s developed into a quite uplifting Premier League campaign (on the pitch, at least) with a return to Carabao Cup action tonight. Injuries and suspensions were an issue heading into last weekend’s trip to Turf Moor, but the team passed the test with a comfortable 2-0 win over a poor Burnley side.
Everton must travel to the capital to face Tottenham Hotspur for a three o’clock kickoff on Saturday, so Sean Dyche will have some thinking to do about team selections, with a few players in doubt. However, a Quarter-Final at Goodison Park against Fulham under the lights tonight will be an appealing prospect for the boss.
The Cottagers looked to build on an unexpected tenth-place finish last term following their return to the top flight. But a summer transfer window, at the end of which the team saw talismanic striker Aleksandar Mitrovic leave in pursuit of plunder in Saudi Arabia and influential midfielder João Palhinha’s deadline day move to Bayern Munich only collapse at the last minute, was not conducive to streamlined planning for the new campaign.
In the end, the club spent a net €16m, recouping a huge fee for Mitrovic, but bringing in a few shrewd acquisitions like Everton’s Alex Iwobi, defender Timothy Castagne from Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Raul Jiménez and Ajax centre back Calvin Bassey. Fulham started the season by beating the Blues 1-0 at Goodison, which was one of those early season matches in which Everton could not seem to be able to buy a goal despite dominating the game.
They went winless in their next three league games, before managing a close win over Luton Town. By the end of matchday 12 the London outfit’s only other league win had been over another promoted side, in Sheffield United, measured against six losses. They appeared to be one of the division’s weaker teams, but have picked up recently, winning three from five, scoring eleven goals in the process, including consecutive five-nil home wins.
They arrive at Goodison coming off a 3-0 defeat to Newcastle United, a game greatly affected by Raul Jiménez's bizarre martial arts tackle leading to a straight red card received in the 22nd minute. Fulham have dispatched Spurs (on penalties), Norwich City and Ipswich Town en route to this Quarter-Final appearance.
Style of Play
Silva started the season off using a 4-3-3 formation, before switching to his more typical 4-2-3-1 in October. The Portuguese favours a passing, progressive approach, seeking to play on the front foot and to control possession; essentially what Blues fans would recognize from his time on Merseyside, though he’s added a little more pragmatism since those days.
He likes to use a lot of movement and switching of players in attacking areas, in order to create space and confuse defenders, particularly in his use of inverted wingers. Despite losing Mitrovic, the Cottagers are scoring a decent amount (26), though are overachieving from an xG (Expected Goals) tally of 21.6. They enjoy a 49.4% share of possession in the league, placing them eleventh.
Defensively, Fulham like to sit in a compact shape and to contest the ball in the middle third, sometimes using this as a means to spring counterattacks. They rely heavily on the exceptional Palhinha to serve as a midfield anchor point. They have been a little susceptible this season, conceding 29 times from an xGA (Expected Goals Allowed) of 30.5.
Iwobi, once signed for Everton under Silva’s watch has hit form in recent weeks, having scored three goals and assisted another. Deployed on either wing, he’s averaging 3.89 SCA (Shot-Creating Actions) per 90, all from open play.
Another ex-Blue, Antonee Robinson is offering a threat going forwards, completing 0.71 crosses into the opposition area per 90. He can be positionally suspect, but is an active defender, making a combined 5.71 tackles and interceptions per game, in addition to 6.67 recoveries.
Palhinha is leading the team in recoveries (7.24), as well as combined tackles and interceptions (7.80). He’s also way out in front in terms of blocks made (2.20), illustrating why Bayern were after him as a solution to the lack of a true high-calibre defensive midfielder in their side.
A difficult match to assess properly, as quite where the EFL Cup ranks in terms of either team’s priorities is unknown. Fulham are in a solid enough position in the league to have a go at a cup run, whereas Everton’s situation is a little more complicated. Still, I’m assuming Dyche will want to field the strongest possible lineup, whilst not wanting to take undue risks with players returning to fitness.
Vitalii Mykolenko was not walking comfortably as he and the rest of his teammates attended former Chairman and Everton owner Bill Kenwright’s Memorial Service yesterday, so I am predicting that he will not play tonight. His absence - along with Ashley Young - leaves the Blues without a genuine left back, so I believe Dyche will retain the 5-4-1 that was on display at Turf Moor on Saturday, or a variation thereof.
With Abdoulaye Doucoure likely to be unavailable, I can see Idrissa Gueye replacing him in central midfield and the returning Jarrad Branthwaite slotting into the back three for either Michael Keane or Ben Godfrey. Beto could be granted a start up top and would be eager to impress Dyche, if given the chance. Otherwise I expect no changes.
Fulham are not as poor a side as they looked in the early part of the season, though they’ve been overachieving recently, with a pair of 5-0 wins in which almost everything on target went in. They’ll miss the suspended Jiménez, who was rediscovering his confidence in front of goal after a very long dry spell. The visitors will look to get on the ball and Everton will be happy to let them have it, as this suits the hosts preferred low-possession, direct transitional game perfectly.
With the momentum the team has been enjoying, confidence high and the atmosphere surrounding a night-time cup match, I expect the Toffees to win fairly comfortably and progress to an unknown destiny which awaits them in the Semi-Final.
Prediction: Everton 2-0 Fulham