After Leicester’s extremely unlikely interruption last season to how we expect the Premier League to look each year, then this time around normality has been resumed. The top six clubs in the league are the big 6, the ones way ahead of the others in terms of revenue, turnover, income, or whatever monetary measure you may care to use when assessing size. Our visitors this week, Everton, are doing their best to break into this club, a bit like we tried to last season. To give them their due they are hovering on the brink of sixth place, although they have played more games, and the matches are running out. However, if recent history is anything to go by they will be licking their lips at the prospect of visiting the London Stadium for the first time, to face a depleted, injury-stricken, and lacking confidence West Ham team, who have won just once in the last seven games.
The Toffeemen (how strange that name seems in the modern age) are so far ahead of the eighth-placed team that they are already assured of at least a seventh place finish, and could still finish higher. They hit the ground running at the beginning of the season with a draw and four wins in their first 5 games which put them in second place in the table, before stuttering in their next ten games, winning just once, when we visited them at the end of October. In a fairly scrappy game Lukaku (who else?) opened the scoring, before Barkley wrapped up the points in what turned out to be a relatively comfortable victory for them in the end. The defeat left us perilously close to the relegation zone at the time. Since then of course we have pulled away from it, before almost being dragged back into it in recent times. Everton were seventh on Boxing Day and have retained that position in the league since.
Everton’s home record is superb, having only lost one game, a 0-1 reverse to their Merseyside neighbours in December. Since that game, eight consecutive home matches have produced eight wins with 29 goals scored and just 6 conceded. Fortunately we are not playing them at Goodison Park, and although our home record is nothing to write home about, then much the same can be said about Everton on their travels in recent times. After two away wins in their opening four games (at West Brom and Sunderland) they have only won two further league games away from home, at Leicester in December, and Palace in January. But the fact that they haven’t won an away league game for more than three months is just the type of statistic that West Ham revel in, as we are masters at helping clubs to end poor runs of one sort or another.
This is Everton’s 63rd consecutive season in the top flight of English football, a figure that coincides with my age, so nobody under the age of about 70 will remember them being anywhere other than at the top table. Only Arsenal have had a longer uninterrupted run in the Premier League, and before that Division One. The other teams currently recognised as the top six, namely the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham have all had a spell outside of the top division in that time. So Everton can be applauded for their consistency and longevity to remain at the top.
During that uninterrupted run they have had some success, being league champions on four occasions and FA Cup winners three times. Like ourselves they have also won a European trophy, the Cup Winners Cup, in 1985. But their last major trophy win was the FA Cup in 1995, and their last league title was 30 years ago, demonstrating the difficulty of breaking the stranglehold of the top clubs. But then again, for all their dominance in the 1980’s, their neighbours Liverpool haven’t won the title since 1990 themselves, the top honours since the formation of the Premier League being shared by the two Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea, with just two interlopers, Leicester last year, and Blackburn in 1994-5 (and where are they now?).
So what can we expect this weekend? Well one thing looks a certainty. Lukaku has scored for Everton in each of his last nine appearances against us, so that is one run we would love to put an end to. We’ve only beaten Everton once in our last 17 Premier League meetings (the 3-2 win at Goodison, coming from two down after Lukaku missed a penalty). We haven’t beaten Everton at home in the Premier League since 2007 when a Bobby Zamora goal was the only goal of the game. Lukaku is the top scorer in the Premier League this season.
Everything points to an Everton victory, and the bookmakers recognise this making them the favourites to win the game despite their poor away form. We are a club in some disarray and need to get through to the end of this season and re-group. There needs to be major changes for us to get back to the type of season we had last year. So what do I expect? This time with no real logic or evidence to suggest it will happen, I fancy the boot to be on the other foot, and hope for a 2-1 win completely against the odds. What are the chances?