The biggest game of the weekend, our Fixture in Focus here at Football FanCast, is Everton v West Ham. It may not sound like the most glamorous game on paper, but this one sees two teams who still have very real ambitions of European football come the end of the season.
With the league so bunched up, this has become quite a big game for both sides. And if you compare current form, you’ll see a pair of teams taking opposite trajectories.
West Ham haven’t lost a game of football in a month, whilst Everton’s last victory came on 17th September. That’s in all competitions. It almost seems hard to believe, but if the Hammers win this game at Goodison Park, they’ll find themselves just two points below Everton in the table. So much for the horror-start to the season.
For West Ham, it‘s about continuing momentum. For Everton, it’s about getting back on track.
So how will the Hammers approach this game, then? Our very own James Jones, Editor in Chief of Football Fancast and – handily enough for me – West Ham site West Ham World says, “Everton will no doubt dominate possession, but we’ve proven in recent games that we’re good enough to keep possession and take the game to the opposition away from home.”
“With Cresswell back in the side, Slaven Bilic will play 3-5-2. He did that when Cresswell returned from injury away at Palace and he proved just how much we’ve missed him at left-back.”
That could be crucial: if Bilic plays with wing-backs, that is something Ronald Koeman can exploit.
The pace and power of Romelu Lukaku is surrounded by the likes of Yannick Bolasie, and the space in behind the wing-backs is ripe for a tricky speed-merchant to exploit. If they can get in behind and drag a centre back out of position, they can give Lukaku space in the centre to work in. But with Cresswell back in the team, West Ham might have a defender alert enough to those dangers to dampen that threat.
But even so, the movement of Lukaku is one of his biggest assets. How do you stop him from trampling all over your defence?
“We’ve been asking that question for about three seasons now! Playing three at the back will help, but he’s such a great striker and will still cause us problems. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bilic’s gameplan centres around keeping him quiet.”
Does that mean sitting deep and playing on the counter attack so as to nullify those spaces behind the full-backs when Everton are in possession?
“We’re in form and unbeaten in four games in all competitions, so confidence will be high, and we’re not all about counter attacking football. We’re good enough to go toe-to-toe with Everton and I’d like to see us do just that.”
From an Everton point of view, that’s the mentality they’ll be hoping West Ham come out with. If the Hammers are full of confidence, they can be vulnerable to that pace and power on the break.
Given Everton’s poor form, they might dominate the ball less than you might expect, especially if West Ham settle into a rhythm early on. So an overdose of confidence might be Bilic’s downfall, ironically enough.
Expect balls to bypass the midfield and be played directly to Lukaku’s feet. His ability to hold the ball up with his back to goal and bring others into play could be how Everton start their attacks.
Last weekend, the Toffees may have been unlucky, but they lost to a Burnley side who played solely on the break. But the weekend before that, they managed a positive point away to Manchester City, who forced forced Koeman’s side to defend for most of the game. Perhaps Everton are actually more suited to direct, counter attacking play themselves.
Then again, it seems Irons fans may be happy enough with a draw: “A point will be good but we won here last season thanks to a late comeback, winning 3-2 despite being 2-0 down with 12 minutes to go.”
“I’m going for 2-2 – Dimitri Payet and a Romelu Lukaku own goal (he always scores against us so it’s time he scored for us, right?)”