Time is simply running out for Everton. With matches against Brighton & Hove Albion today, Manchester City next weekend, Wolverhampton Wolves and AFC Bournemouth left, Everton need points and they need points desperately. Three points would be a gift from on high as the expression goes, and would give real belief and possibility to this side as May is truly upon us.
Yet today, Everton face off against Brighton - a team that is firmly in Europe next year bar a collapse, and that is aggressive and well-bossed. With Pep and company coming next, however, at least a single point is imperative; a point will be hard to come by against the defending champions, and three in this match today would depressurize that highly pressurized match - even if only a bit.
Can it be done today? Can the season be saved? There are two winnable matches at the end of the season still, but the Blues are simply leaving things too close for comfort. A win against the Seagulls - difficult though it would be - would go a long way in finally quelling nerves a bit.
RBM: First off, Brighton have continued their really impressive run this campaign; what are the feelings around supporters, the training ground, the side, and the AmEx?
The feeling is brilliant! This is as good as it’s ever been for us - playing brilliant football, in with a great chance of qualifying for Europe for the first time in our history, FA Cup semi-final - we’ve never had it so good.
RBM: What has gone right for this team since last we spoke? Seems like the side might have only improved with the change of boss.
Roberto De Zerbi has kept a lot of the values of the Potter style but added more belief, more goalscoring opportunities and, therefore, a lot more goals. I think a lot comes down to the wingers - Graham Potter had not yet given Mitoma a run, while March is a player transformed and has spoken about how de Zerbi has given him the self-confidence that had perhaps been an issue in the past.
RBM: What does this team do well under De Zerbi and what does the side struggle with? What has the difference been between Graham Potter and the current boss?
Potter could be pragmatic at times, and ironically sometimes, we had our best results under him when we ceded possession and looked to hit teams on the break. de Zerbi’s immovable ethos is to keep the ball, to pass it out from as far back as goalkeeper and defence, to draw the opposition so that they leave space behind, and then attack - so kind of the best of both worlds - possession and hitting on the break.
It’s high risk but has worked brilliantly - in large part because Steele in goal, but especially Dunk and Webster or Colwill at centre-back are so good on the ball. Dunk must surely be the most underrated player in the division (in my totally unbiased opinion). Where they struggle - the strength is the weakness in that they do still occasionally lose the ball in dangerous positions. Maybe also an element of lack of squad depth - we’ve run out of fit right backs, we still don’t have a very reliable out-and-out goalscorer and we have looked a little tired recently.
RBM: Brighton certainly must have European ambitions at this point; is the Europa League the best bet for the side right now?
We’re not going to be greedy - Champions League would be amazing but the points dropped in de Zerbi’s first few matches - along with the disgusting refereeing performance in our match against Spurs - has probably put that out of reach. But even if were to have to settle for Europa Conference League, it would still be an stunning, unprecedented achievement for us.
RBM: Will Brighton be active in the upcoming summer transfer window? How might Roberto De Zerbi address any deficiencies he sees within the squad?
We’ve already announced the signing of Joao Pedro from Watford and have been linked with James Milner. I guess these are the two types we’re looking for - young talents who can do special things, improve and probably eventually move on at a profit, and experienced players who have played internationally and in European football and can pass that experience on. I expect more of that type of thing but a lot depends on who leaves in the summer. I’d expect Mac Allister and Caicedo to leave and worry about how we will replace Caicedo in particular.
RBM: What will next year’s ambitions look like for this side? Surely there will be new players to replace those that are sold, but the ambitions must remain high?
The ambition is to establish ourselves as a top 10 side and, however well this season finishes, I don’t think we should get too carried away, and this should remain the ambition. This is a freak year with the World Cup, with Chelsea in a mess and with Liverpool, Spurs and Utd at times having issues. And if we do qualify for Europe, we will need to adapt to two matches a week - something which teams not used to Europe often struggle to adapt to. So while we obviously hope for year-on-year progression, I don’t think we should be putting too much pressure on ourselves.
RBM: How do you expect Brighton to set up against the Toffees on Monday night, and who do you think might cause the most issues?
A lot depends on who is fit, but I’d expect the usual 4-2-3-1 formation. In terms of who will cause issues - Mitoma has actually been a little quiet the last two to three matches so maybe this will be his time to get back to his best. I think Evan Ferguson is a good match-up for Everton but even if he is fit to play, he won’t be fully match-fit after a few weeks out. He could cause damage off the bench, though.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Monday’s match?
There’s a lot of pressure on us as we have a very tough run-in, and so need six points from the home matches versus you and Southampton as the on-paper more straightforward matches. However, you’re obviously playing for your lives and Dyche doesn’t have a bad record against us, so I’m a little worried you’ll spring a surprise. I’ll try to keep positive though, and say 2-1 to us.
Our thanks as always to Jeremy for his time.