Once again our hopes were built up as we pushed towards a place in the top four of the Premier League, only to be dashed by an indifferent performance against Crystal Palace a fortnight ago. Perhaps it will be an effective wake-up call to remind the players that merely turning up does not guarantee a win in the top league, even if we are playing against a team who had not beaten us in eight previous attempts. Despite not playing particularly well, we did take the lead in the game, but Rice’s (inexplicable to me) handball, and then switching off as the game approached the ninetieth minute, resulted in our second home defeat of the season. Palace were nothing special either, and the game could have gone either way, although those of us sitting in the stands could somehow predict what was about to happen when Ayew managed to stay onside (just!) to score the winning goal. Nevertheless despite the disappointment, 12 points from 8 games represents a decent start to the season (it took us 14 games to reach that figure last season, and 16 games the season before), and, after all, eighth place is higher than we have managed for a while in a whole season. Let us hope we can retain or improve upon that place as 2019-20 progresses. As much as I dislike the disruptive influence of international breaks, this one has come after a defeat, and gives the manager some time to work with the players who didn’t go away, and it is an opportunity to re-group and take stock.
To many followers of the game, one of the surprises of the season to date is to see Everton occupying one of the three relegation places with just 7 points from their eight games played. It is still very early days of course, and more than three-quarters of the season remains, nevertheless I still wouldn’t have expected to see the Toffees down there at this point. For many years (until fairly recently) they have been a bogey team of ours, but I do dislike seeing us coming up against a team in such poor form. How many teams break a losing sequence when facing us? It happens so often I’m afraid. Of course, early days in the league table mean that stringing together a few positive results can mean a rapid rise, as consecutive defeats can conversely mean a significant fall.
After their opening four games (wins at home to Watford and Wolves, a draw at Palace, and a defeat at Villa), Everton sat in a comfortable sixth place in the table, in the sort of position many expect them to occupy at the season’s end. But four consecutive defeats (in trips to Bournemouth and Burnley and in home games against Manchester City – no surprise, and Sheffield United – a big surprise) mean that with no points in their last four games they are the most out-of-form team in the league at this moment. It also means that Marco Silva heads the betting (at 5/4) for the next Premier League manager to leave his post (ahead of Solkskjaer at 2/1 and Pochettino at 5/1). What better for Everton than a home game against West Ham who specialise in helping teams and managers in this kind of predicament? Incidentally, at 50/1 our manager has only two managers below him in the betting to be next to leave (Klopp and Lampard are both 66/1).
Everton have only found the net six times in their eight games, and half of those came in the 3-2 win over Wolves. However five of those six goals have come in the four games on their own ground so it might be difficult for us to keep a clean sheet, especially in the absence of our first choice keeper who has successfully come through a hip operation, but is not expected to play again until 2020. The only time Everton failed to score at home this season so far was surprisingly against Sheffield United. I say surprisingly, but a look at the league table and fixtures played so far actually shows that Sheffield United are unbeaten in their four away games to date. Only Liverpool and ourselves can match that record after just four away games played by each team in the division this season! Also, no team in the Premier League has kept more clean sheets than ourselves this season (3). Even Liverpool have only managed two despite their 100% start.
Head to head fixtures against Everton stretch back for more than a century and, at the moment have a symmetrical feel to them. In 140 meetings, Everton have won 70, and the other 70 have been either draws (30) or West Ham victories (40). Positive results at Goodison Park are even rarer. Two goals from Yarmolenko helped us to achieve a 3-1 victory there last season, and in 2015-16, three late goals in the last 15 minutes meant an unlikely comeback win after trailing by two goals. Apart from those two wins, our only other success on their ground in the last quarter of a century came courtesy of a Bobby Zamora winner in another comeback win (2-1) in 2005.
But at least the bogey team thing seems to have disappeared for the moment as we have won two of the last three games we’ve played against Everton; previously we had won twice in the 22 meetings that preceded those! Everton have traditionally enjoyed playing against us, and in Premier League fixtures they have beaten us and scored more goals against us than against any other team.
For the benefit of TV we kick off at 12-30, so we have the opportunity (with a win) to temporarily leapfrog over other teams into a Champions League position! On the other hand a defeat would mean that Everton would (in the short term) rise six places in the table and they’d be just two points below us on ten points, a point ahead of the once mighty, and now not so mighty Manchester United, who will fall still further this weekend if they are unable to get a point against 100% Liverpool.
Everton are odds on to beat us, as are all the home teams on Saturday with the exception of Villa (at home to Brighton), and Palace (at home to Manchester City). Of the five games that Everton have lost (out of their eight games this season), four have been by a margin of two goals. Perhaps we can inflict a fifth two-goal margin defeat on them, perhaps repeating last season’s 3-1 win, to heap further pressure on their manager? All of our three wins have been by two goals, and another will do nicely. However, to do so we will have to improve significantly on our showing against Palace in the last game, but an early goal would silence the crowd, or perhaps even make them turn on their own team, who must be very short of confidence after these four successive defeats. I just hope that we don’t allow them to turn around their run of losses, as we are often inclined to do for any team having a poor time. It is 14 years since Everton last lost five league games in a row! I shouldn’t have highlighted that fact!