Everton’s four game unbeaten run came to a not-unexpected end last weekend, with a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. It wasn't so much the result, nor the scoreline that disappointed, more the manner of a first half performance which saw Jordan Pickford repeatedly forced into action in order to keep the team from being on the end of an embarrassing scoreline.
Sean Dyche was not happy with the level his side hit during the match, though it could be said that the 4-4-2 formation the boss deployed left the Blues as defensively open as we’ve seen since he arrived to take over the reins at Goodison Park. The Toffees sit in 17th position in the league table, ahead of Nottingham Forest by virtue of possessing a superior goal difference, as they enter the home run of what has been a turbulent season, on and off the pitch.
The former Burnley stalwart has eight matches left to secure Everton’s top flight status: four home and four away. The team has managed just one road win all season - more than six months ago at Southampton - so, unless Dyche can figure out how to engineer one, form on home turf will be vital.
Next up at Goodison is Marco Silva’s Fulham.
Ex-Blues chief Silva took over at the Cottagers in the summer of 2021 and brought the team straight back up to the Premier League at the first time of asking, winning the Championship in impressive fashion. He lost young talent Fabio Carvalho to Liverpool and loaned-out (again) midfielder Frank Anguissa on a permanent transfer to runaway Serie A leaders Napoli, at a knockdown price of just €16m, meaning the club actually managed to lose a chunk of money on the Cameroon international. Still, he was backed to the tune of almost €40m net, bringing in players that have formed key elements of the team, in Andreas Pereira, Issa Diop, Bernd Leno, free agent Willian, Joao Palhinha and Manor Solomon.
The West Londoners got off to a solid enough start, picking up five points from their first three league matches, before losing four of the next seven, but subsequently rallied to win two and draw two, including a goaless tie at Craven Cottage with Everton. Creditable back-to-back 2-1 defeats to both Manchester clubs followed before the campaign was interrupted by the World Cup, but Fulham returned in impressive form, putting together four successive league wins, ended by losses to Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur. Silva’s team recovered well to go unbeaten in seven, including two FA Cup wins which set up a Quarter-final matchup with Manchester United in March.
After a Fifth round cup tie win over Leeds United, however the wheels have come off for the Cottagers. Four straight league defeats, sandwiched around a shambolic cup exit to the Red Devils, during which Silva and two players - Willian and Aleksandar Mitrovic - received straight red cards, have left the season in danger of ending on a sour note. Deprived of the influential Serbian striker, who is serving an eight match ban for putting hands on an official during their cup implosion at Old Trafford, they’ve put in two toothless efforts in succumbing to relegation-threatened Bournemouth and - last time out - West Ham United. Fulham arrive at Goodison sitting in tenth spot in the table, ahead of West London rivals Chelsea on goal difference.
Style of Play
Wedded to the 4-2-3-1 formation, Silva likes to play attractive, possession-based football, as Everton fans would have witnessed during the more successful periods of his time at the Merseyside club. A hands-on coach, as opposed to a more stand off type of manager, the Portuguese promotes confidence within his players, in order to enable those with the requisite technical skills and footballing intelligence to prosper within his system. The team’s success this season has shocked a lot of pundits and analysts who expected them to struggle and most of the credit has to go to the 45-year old, who appears to have matured as a manager in the almost 20 months he spent away from the game following dismissal by Everton in December 2019.
The Londoners have unquestionably overachieved, according to the raw data. They’ve scored 39 league goals, from an xG (Expected Goals) total of 35.2 and conceded 40, compared to an xGA (Expected Goals Allowed) tally of 48.6. Statistics would tell us that maintaining such advantageous numbers is unsustainable over a longer period, which is maybe what we are witnessing now, during a period in which they’ve been beaten in every match in which they’ve lost the xG battle, compared to their last league success, over Brighton & Hove Albion, in which they posted an xG of 0.3 against 2.2 for the Seagulls, yet emerged as 1-0 victors.
Offensively, Fulham like to use the full width of the pitch and to put in deliveries for dangerous target man Mitrovic, who of course will be absent on Saturday. The Serb’s replacement, Carlos Vinicius is nowhere near as clever or dangerous, but is a big body who will compete aerially (31% success rate), so they are unlikely to deviate from the basic game plan. In the two games since Mitrovic’s suspension, they attempted 17 crosses against Bournemouth and an astonishing 47 versus West Ham! As befits a possession side, Fulham attempt the least dribbles in the league, just 14.9 per 90 minutes. They are about midtable in terms of possession and passing accuracy.
On defence, the Cottagers are well structured and composed, which has resulted in them giving only a single counterattacking goal away all campaign. In what was a weakness during Silva’s time at Everton, Fulham have conceded nine goals from set-piece situations, which is a middling total.
One of the pickups of the season, Leno’s €3.6m capture from Arsenal was an inspired piece of business. The German has a save percentage of 76.6% and has been beaten 38 times from a PSxG (Post-Shot Expected Goals) total of 43.0, which puts him in the 93rd percentile across major European leagues. Always a consistent goalkeeper for the Gunners, the 31-year old is enjoying his best campaign to date.
Sidelined for almost five months with a serious knee injury shortly after making his debut for Fulham, the on-loan Solomon quickly made an impact on English football upon his return to action, scoring five goals in five consecutive appearances. Since, he’s gone three games without finding the back of the net, but the talented Israeli is a danger operating off the left flank.
Vinicius will be expected to continue to fill Mitrovic’s boots and to lead the visitor’s line at Goodison. The Brazilian did score against Brentford three games ago, but is levels below the Serbian, with an xG per 90 of 0.20, compared to 0.61 for the ex-Newcastle man.
Palhinha has been a fantastic addition for Fulham. The imposing midfielder is in the 92nd percentile for aerial duels won (2.06 per 90, winning 63.1%) and the 99th for successful tackles (4.09 per 90). The Portuguese has also contributed at the other end, pitching in with three league goals this term.
The visitors arrive in poor form, despite overall experiencing an excellent debut campaign in the Premier League. The loss of talismanic front man, Mitrovic, whose influence extends far beyond the mere fact that he’s fired eleven of Fulham’s 39 league goals, has rocked them badly. They’ll also be without Silva on the touchline, as he serves the final match of a ban for his part in the fracas at Old Trafford last month.
Everton played very badly last weekend, but within the context that on their home turf United are a tough proposition, beaten only once in 14 league matches. Dyche definitely got his team set up wrong; however, there seems little likelihood he will repeat that error. At Goodison, the Blues have played with intensity and effectiveness since Dyche arrived and I see no reason to doubt this will be the case again.
I see the boss reverting to the 4-5-1 or 4-1-4-1 he’s typically deployed and feel it will be all change at fullback, with Vitalii Mykolenko restored and possibly Nathan Patterson in for Seamus Coleman, who suffered a minor injury last time out. Up front I’m expecting Demarai Gray to lead the attack and James Garner to come into midfield, alongside Amadou Onana and in front of Idrissa Gueye.
I don’t think Dyche needs to reinvent the wheel here. Everton have created a reasonable number of decent chances in each of their five home games under their new boss and I expect them to do so again, against a side that is competent on both sides of the ball, but is hardly impervious. The Blues match up well enough with Fulham in all areas of the pitch and with the backing of their home support, will have enough about them to secure a vital win on Saturday afternoon.
Prediction: Everton 2-0 Fulham
Stats provided courtesy of fbref.com, transfermarkt.co.uk and whoscored.com