When acquiring an array of sought-after talents during the summer, few assumed Everton and West Ham would be facing the mess they’re stuck in now. Two clubs who hoped this would be the season in which they disrupted the top six finding themselves well and truly in the relegation mix after 13 games, under different managers than those who started the campaign in the respective dugouts.
That has made Wednesday’s meeting between the Toffees and the Hammers a pivotal encounter in both of their seasons; a win would lift David Moyes’ Irons to the right side of the relegation zone and depending on other reasons, it could well be Everton who take their place. Likewise, three points for the Merseysiders would leave the London outfit somewhat marooned, and could potentially push them beyond 14th place.
Needless to say, Everton’s season is beginning to spiral out of control. While decent results against Watford and Crystal Palace lifted the Toffees out of the relegation zone, they’ve conceded nine goals in their last two games and the quality of the opposition – Atalanta and Southampton – makes that return all the more concerning. Confidence at Goodison Park has clearly reached a significant, potentially all-time low for the Premier League era.
What’s the biggest boost Everton can take into Wednesday’s game?
Rhod: “The biggest positive Everton can take into the game against West Ham is that they have a very strong record over the Irons at Goodison Park. The clash against Hammers is usually a routine victory for the Toffees at home, and they could try to take advantage of David Moyes’ side’s poor form, though their straits are not quite as dire as their upcoming opponents. The absence of Javier Hernandez will no doubt help Everton’s porous defence, but with David Unsworth’s side so susceptible to aerial balls, Andy Carroll could have a field day.”
West Ham, meanwhile, may still be stuck in the bottom three but Moyes’ first two outings have shown signs of their form turning around. The Hammers at least resembled a cohesive unit for the majority of the match against Watford, despite eventually losing 2-0, and were arguably the better side in a tricky 1-1 draw with Leicester City last Friday.
What’s the most significant improvement Moyes has brought to the team so far?
James: “The most encouraging sign, particularly from what we saw in the Leicester game, is some actual desire from the players to succeed. We’ve desperately lacked desire and purpose this season but the players seem a lot more up for it. The players do already seem a lot fitter as well, evident in the fact we were still pushing for a winner in the final minutes on Friday night.”
Many would argue Everton’s biggest problems stem back to the summer transfer window. It saw the club break all kinds of spending records, but the lack of planning in the recruitment process has cost them dearly. In no position is that more evident than at No.10, which Davy Klaassen, Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson were all acquired to fill. While Rooney has occupied it on the most-part this season, he’s surprisingly been left on the bench for the last two games in favour of the Icelander.
Who would you start at No.10 against the Hammers and why?
Rhod: “I would start Gylfi Sigurdsson against West Ham as against Southampton and Crystal Palace he has shown signs of life. The Iceland captain provided an assist against Palace before scoring a corker against the Saints on Sunday, and he looked like Everton’s only source of danger at St Mary’s. After starting the season well Rooney has gone off the boil in recent weeks, and Everton are in no position to accommodate the veteran, whose lack of positional discipline can prove rather detrimental.”
If there’s one aspect clearly working in Everton’s favour though, it’s that history is on their side. West Ham have scored less than one goal per game against the Toffees during their 42 meetings in the Premier League and beaten them on just seven occasions. Obviously, the Hammers will need at least one goal if they intend to return to London with all three points.
What’s the Irons’ best chance of scoring on Wednesday?
James: “We need to exploit Everton’s inability to defend crosses. Southampton scored twice with crosses into Charlie Austin at the weekend and we put in a ridiculous amount of crosses versus Leicester on Friday. If ever there was a chance to use Andy Carroll to our advantage it’s now, and if we can ensure our crosses beat the first man for once then I think this will be our best chance of scoring goals. Everton picked up more defensive injuries at the weekend and will be significantly weaker as a result, so we must take advantage of that.”
Will Carroll’s aerial menace be the difference at Goodison Park then?
James: “West Ham must take advantage of Everton’s weaker defence, but they should also be looking to do the same to us. If Andy Carroll can make a nuisance of himself without assaulting anyone then I think he will be the difference.”
The mood at Goodison may be glum at the moment, but West Ham are hardly in fine health themselves. Only the Toffees have conceded more goals than them this season and their last win was all the way back in September against lowly Swansea City.
What West Ham weaknesses should David Unsworth look to exploit?
Rhod: “West Ham are a strange team because they do have a number of good players but they just haven’t gelled at all yet. My best guess would be to exploit them down the flanks, test Marko Arnautovic’s desire to track back and try to exploit Aaron Cresswell, who is out of sorts and has been for a while, and Pablo Zabaleta, whose best days are behind him. Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang have not looked entirely comfortable in recent weeks; hopefully the energy of Idrissa Gueye and Tom Davies can force a few errors.”
And finally lads, let’s hear your score predictions…
Rhod: “Everton can’t stop conceding goals, and I don’t think that will change on Wednesday. I expect Unsworth’s side to ship three against the Irons, with Carroll getting on the scoresheet with a header, while the absence of Oumar Niasse will again stifle any potency up front. 3-1 West Ham.”
James: “I’m feeling unusually confident about this one because I genuinely think, at this moment in time, Everton are a lot worse than us. We’re beginning to improve but they’re getting worse – seeing them ship four in the manner they did against Southampton convinced me we can go to Goodison Park and get a win. I’ll go for 3-1 West Ham. I wouldn’t be surprised if Everton thrashed us though because that’s the West Ham Way these days.”