It’s been an undeniably grim start to the new season for Everton. Following last term’s battle to stay in the top flight - which went right down to the wire - the club sits in the relegation zone with five league games played, something which is becoming depressingly familiar. The team has enjoyed a relatively kind start to the campaign also, in terms of opposition faced, yet has managed just a single draw and been beaten three times at Goodison Park already.
Last weekend’s loss to Arsenal underlined how tough a task it is going to be to steer the Toffees to safety this time around. The Gunners are a formidable outfit and there’s no shame in being beaten by them, even at home, but there are ways of losing games and Everton were way off it on Sunday. Devoid of a tactical plan to trouble the visitors, the home side slumped to a passive 1-0 loss that resembled a training match.
Next up in today’s 5.30 early evening local time kickoff is a trip to Brentford.
The London outfit completed their second campaign in the Premier League by demonstrating considerable improvement on their inaugural 13th placed finish in 2021-22, managing to break into the top half, ending up ninth on 59 points, up 13 from the previous term. A strong finish meant the Bees only missed out on qualifying for the Europa Conference League by two points, which would have been quite an achievement.
Star striker Ivan Toney’s suspension for gambling offences - which holds until mid-January next year - complicated transfer activity during the summer. Brentford are hardly big-hitters in terms of acquiring players, but still managed a net spend of around €63m, with major additions in the shape of Wolverhampton Wanders defender Nathan Collins, Freiburg goalkeeper Mark Flekken on a free and the purchase of winger Kevin Schade - also from the German club - for €25m following his arrival on loan in January.
Providing some extra cover up top during Toney’s absence will be Neal Maupay, the former Brentford player arriving on a season-long loan from the Blues, though of course the Frenchman will be unavailable today. The only significant player departing the Bees was the highly-rated goalkeeper David Raya, who is seemingly primed to displace Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal.
The new campaign has gotten off to a mixed start. Toney has been such a key factor in the club establishing themselves as one rightly belonging in the Premier League, that it was curious to see how they would manage without him - and his goals, of which there were 20 last term. Worth noting, the Bees managed to win their last three games last season after Toney’s suspension kicked in.
They began with a creditable 2-2 home tie with a newly resurgent Tottenham Hotspur, followed by a convincing 3-0 crushing of Fulham at Craven Cottage. Consecutive draws at the Gtech Community Stadium, first a low-key affair against a decent outfit in Crystal Palace, then a four-goal shootout versus Bournemouth, saw the club go unbeaten in four games, before finally tasting defeat to Newcastle United at St. James’ Park, courtesy of a questionable penalty decision.
The Bees currently sit in eleventh spot, five points above today’s visitors.
Style of Play
Thomas Frank is forging a strong reputation as a promising up-and-coming manager, courtesy of the impressive work he’s undertaking in West London. The Dane is flexible in his approach, using a 4-3-3 predominantly, but shifting to a 5-3-2 when going up against what he perceives to be stronger opposition, as was the case against Spurs and the Magpies; obviously, today Brentford will line up in the former system.
Brentford are adaptable, ceding possession to ball-playing sides like Tottenham and Fulham, but against more reticent teams they will look to control play more, as shown by the Bees racking up a 60% share of possession versus Palace and the Cherries. The hosts put up a 67% possession statistic last season against Sean Dyche’s Everton at Goodison, so it seems probable we’ll see something similar this evening.
Traditionally, Brentford are a direct team, though this season the proportion of passes hit long has reduced (to 13.6% - Everton are 16.0%) - probably due to Toney, who is a classic old-school number nine, being unavailable. Their pass completion rate is toward the lower end of the middle of the pack at 80.6%, a little above the Blues. Stylistically, the Bees are a well-organised, hard-working side, who set up in a low-block and look to spring with direct counterattacks - something today’s visitors have proved vulnerable to in recent seasons. They have plenty of pace in wide areas and up front, a workmanlike midfield and a solid defensive unit.
Flekken has big shoes to fill, considering the now-departed Raya was considered one of the best goalkeepers in the division. The Dutchman has so far looked solid enough and his passing has actually been more accurate than Raya last season (75.5%; Jordan Pickford is at 60.2%).
Bryan Mbuemo has stepped up to fill the offensive vacuum left by Toney. The pacy wide forward has struck four times already this campaign (albeit twice from the penalty spot) and loves to run with the ball, with 1.60 carries into the opposition penalty area per 90 minutes, though it’s worth noting that he’s failed on all eleven dribble attempts so far this season.
Mathias Jensen is Brentford’s primary set-piece man, capable of deliveries that will be sure to trouble Everton, unless the visitors have tightened up on an obvious weakness that’s been apparent this term. The midfielder is generating 4.05 SCA (Shot-Creating Actions) per 90 minutes, mostly from dead-balls. The Dane contributes defensively, with a combined 4.05 tackles and interceptions per 90.
It is likely Brentford will start the game in a balanced set up, waiting to see how Everton intend to play in the initial minutes. Should the Blues sink back into a defensive shell à la last weekend, then the hosts will take the invitation and begin to dominate possession, probing for openings. If the visitors are proactive, pushing up and pressing actively, then Frank’s side will probably sit back and look to hit the Toffees in transition - which they’ve been susceptible to in the past.
I’m expecting Everton to show a lot more aggression than was evident at Goodison on Sunday, so we may see periods of dominance from both teams at stages today. To be successful - and a point here would qualify as that - Dyche must give his attacking players more of a chance to impact the game than they had against Arsenal; it was a sorry sight watching Beto so isolated and ineffective during his home debut for the club. Brentford are a solid outfit, but far from then elite level the Gunners occupy, so if the visitors are unable to make an offensive impression on them this bodes very badly for both Everton and their manager going forward.
I don’t see radical change as regards the Everton lineup. A case could be made for James Garner to replace Ashley Young at right back, but I’m guessing this won’t happen. The midfield is presenting a structural problem currently: it doesn’t seem likely that Dyche will alter the personnel, though I can see Abdoulaye Doucoure reverting to a higher position in support of Beto and possibly Idrissa Gueye and Amadou Onana pushed up higher into conventional central roles, with no defensive pivot as such being employed.
Set-pieces could prove vital, with the Blues struggling to defend them effectively and also appearing short of ideas offensively. I see a cagey game playing out, one of few clear chances and possibly not an overly exciting prospect for the neutral viewer tuning in. The Blues have in general performed better away from Goodison, under Dyche and I feel this may be the situation today.
Prediction: Brentford 1-1 Everton