Coming off another poor result in exiting the FA Cup on Saturday to Luton Town at Goodison Park, the Blues form since the end of December is a worry. Everton have now managed only one win in eight games across all competitions, gaining just one point from their last four Premier League outings.
Admittedly, a close away loss to Tottenham Hotspur along with a home defeat inflicted by Manchester City were hardly surprising and a 0-0 draw at Goodison against Aston Villa was a decent enough result. The only terrible league performance over that stretch was a 3-0 walloping by Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux, where the team seemed ill-at-ease in its 5-4-1 shape.
Throw in a Carabao Cup exit on penalties against Fulham, in which Everton had been the better side, a creditable FA Cup stalemate with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park - the Blues having been unfairly reduced to ten men in the closing stages - and a dull 1-0 win over the same opposition in the replay and a case could be made for the club’s form being more inconsistent, than awful.
Still, it’s undeniable that the heady days of mid-September to mid-December, in which the Toffees won ten of 14 in all competitions seem long gone. Injuries have impacted the squad and a relentless series of ten games over a 39-day period from November 26th through to January 4th, with little rotation have left the players looking jaded.
Next up, Everton travel to Fulham for tonight’s game at Craven Cottage.
The Cottagers managed to ride out a turbulent summer transfer window, which was heavily affected by the Saudi Arabian league’s sudden spending spree, and emerge intact. Losing the influential Aleksandar Mitrovic to Al-Hilal was a blow, though the healthy €52m fee they received for the 28-year-old proved useful in rebuilding the squad, with players like Alex Iwobi, Timothy Castagne, Calvin Bassey and Raúl Jiménez arriving and bedding in as core members of the first team.
The club managed to hang on to the outstanding defensive midfielder Joao Palhinha, following a late bid from Bayern Munich, which may have been more important than any new signing.
Their form this season has been inconsistent, the Cottagers having managed to win consecutive games just twice: a pair of astonishing 5-0 victories over Nottingham Forest and West Ham United, with the second sequence consisting of a great win against Arsenal, paired with a rather more routine cup success over Championship outfit Rotherham United. Fulham have lost back-to-back games on three separate occasions.
Following that victory over Rotherham, the team is on a four-game winless run and their lone positive result, a 1-1 draw with Liverpool at the Cottage, saw them exit the Carabao Cup at the Semi-final stage, on aggregate. They’ve lost four of their last five in the league and await the Blues in 13th spot in the table.
Style of Play
Marco Silva is a 4-2-3-1 man and has stuck with this formation throughout, though he started the campaign in the similar 4-3-3. He’s a manager who likes his team to get on the ball, as Blues fans will remember from his 18 months at Everton. A fluid style in possession, with plenty of movement and swapping of positions is emphasised and can present matchup problems for rigid defensive setups. Wingers are encouraged to come inside and width is provided by overlapping fullbacks, particularly ex-Blue Antonee Robinson, on the left.
Fulham enjoy a 49.9% share of possession, which is quite reasonable for a lower midtable side and demonstrates their desire to ask questions of the opposition. They use the ball well, posting an 83.4% pass accuracy (ranking ninth), courtesy of their possession game and helped by a selection of solid technical footballers. Tonight’s hosts have scored 28 times in the league, slightly up on their xG (Expected Goals) statistic of 25.2.
On defence, Silva sets them up in a solid shape, anchored by Palhinha and does not overcommit going forward, evidenced by the team only conceding once via counterattack this term. The West Londoners have shipped 36, broadly in line with their xGA (Expected Goals Allowed) of 36.5. They permit the same number of efforts on goal as the Blues: 13.2 per 90 minutes. Fulham are defending set-pieces very well, conceding only twice and rank joint top along with Man City and Wolves.
Willian will be a threat tonight, operating off the left flank. The Brazilian will be up against Nathan Patterson, whose positional defending has been weak and who has also looked reluctant recently to break forward, either due to a lack of confidence or by managerial instruction. The veteran winger is not the player he was of old, at 35, but is still agile, tricky, good on the ball and has an eye for a goal.
Palhinha has the ability to dominate Everton’s midfield, which lacked its usual energy at the weekend. The Portuguese makes 7.21 tackles and interceptions combined per 90, along with 1.87 blocked passes and leads the team with 6.93 ball recoveries. He’s tidy in possession also, completing 82.8% of his passes.
The Londoners have played one more game than Everton this month, so in theory the visitors should have been the fresher side tonight but unlike the Blues, Fulham rotated heavily in their 2-0 FA Cup loss to Newcastle United on Saturday, resting a number of key players. Sean Dyche was limited in some respects as regards team selection against Luton, but he certainly could have made some changes, both to the starting lineup and during the match.
Expecting the Toffees manager to alter from his preferred approach of sticking with the same eleven starters - barring injury or suspension - and largely ignoring his bench, appears fruitless at this point; the ex-Burnley man is going to stand by his principles, regardless. Right now, this adds up to a team comprised of tired players who he trusts and those on the outside, who are given scant opportunity to contribute. The situation is less than idea and continues to bother me.
Everton have actually played well overall in both outings against tonight’s hosts this season, albeit winning neither and with the proviso of enjoying home advantage in each. Perversely, however under Dyche the Blues have generally performed better away from home, possibly due to the way he sets them up to play without seeing much of the ball and maybe also minus the pressure of an expectant Goodison crowd.
I’m expecting minimal changes in the Toffees lineup tonight; why would anyone assume anything else? Obviously Jordan Pickford will return, but the only real question is whether Calvert-Lewin, on a 15-game blank streak in front of goal, or Beto - who didn’t pull up any trees on Saturday - will get the nod. I can’t see Dyche sticking with a front two, off its poor performance against the Hatters, so for me it’ll be DCL leading the line.
In for the Portuguese will be Ashley Young deployed as a right winger, with Jack Harrison moved inside in support of the lone striker. I feel Arnaut Danjuma and Lewis Dobbin will again be relegated to bench-warming duty, although a slight window of opportunity for one of them could open should Dyche opt to use Young at fullback, benching Patterson.
There was little reason for encouragement to be drawn from Saturday’s fiasco, yet I have a feeling that Everton may unexpectedly rebound and put in a solid effort against the Cottagers. The team’s back is against the wall and that may bring out the best from them on the road. It’s tough to see the Blues winning against any half-decent opposition currently, but a hard-fought draw is attainable.
Prediction: Fulham 1-1 Everton