Tom Cleverley could see competitive action for the first time since the end of August
The international breaks can be annoying interruptions to the season and often prevent a team from establishing momentum in the Premier League. So it's a welcome feeling to know that, starting with this weekend's meeting with Aston Villa, Everton now have an unbroken stretch of domestic action between now and the next round of national friendlies in March to hopefully dig in and put together a run of results.
Roberto Martinez has said on a number of occasions recently that he has been pleased with the signs his players have exhibited over the first 12 games that things are coming together; the challenge, as ever, is to translate those signs into consistent performances and support the belief that this talented Everton side is capable of mounting a challenge for the top four.
From Martinez’s point of view the fortnight off can be a useful pause to allow players to recover from injuries and, in this case, it’s allowed Leighton Baines to take part in a friendly that gets him that much closer to fitness and also give Tom Cleverley more breathing room to prime himself for a return to action after almost three months out with an ankle injury.
Although the manager has wisely said that he won't rush Baines back into the side, he intimated in his press conference yesterday that he would make a decision on the 30-year-old after today's training session at Finch Farm. Under normal circumstances – particularly given the setback he suffered two days before the start of the season in August – Baines would probably be eased back in but Martinez has something of a selection problem at left back.
Brendan Galloway is battling the thigh problem that prevented him yet again from making his England U21 bow this past week, Bryan Oviedo is still recovering from a hamstring strain, Luke Garbutt is on loan for the season at Fulham and even Tyias Browning who has been deployed as an emergency left back before, is a doubt with himself. With Phil Jagielka out until the end of next month, there isn't even the option of moving Ramiro Funes Mori across to fullback, which more or less leaves Gareth Barry (either as a left back or as part of a back three) as the last obvious option if Baines isn't risked.
If Barry is to be the solution, the readiness of Cleverley and Muhamed Besic comes as a timely boost, with either player able to step into central midfield alongside James McCarthy. Cleverley is also a candidate to play in the left-sided attacking midfield role alongside Ross Barkley and at the expense of Kevin Mirallas, although it would also edge out one of Arouna Kone and Gerard Deulofeu, both of whom were instrumental in the 6-2 hammering of Sunderland in the last home game. With the Spaniard having added another stunning assist at Upton Patrk a forntight ago and then run riot again for Spain U21s, it's almost unthinkable that he won't start.
Villa, of course, will be playing just their second match under new manager Remi Garde, the man charged with keeping in the Premier League after joining the top flight's bottom side in the wake of Tim Sherwood's dismissal. A new appointment can often provide a "shot in the arm" to a team and Garde's first game in charge represented a solid start to his tenure – a goalless draw against Manchester City and a rare clean sheet in his first game will have given the Midlanders some confidence and they showed on their last visit to Merseyside in September, when they gave Liverpool a fright, that they're not afraid to have a go.
That indicates that they will be no pushovers despite the fact that they have only won one game sdo far this season. Everton will have to keep an eye on the aerial prowess of the likes of Rudy Gestede and keep an eye on players like Jordan Ayew but Martinez's side should have more than enough to win – particularly if they attack the way they did against Sunderland – and the Goodison faithful will be expecting nothing short of three points on Saturday. These are the kinds of game we simply must be winning if we have European aspirations.
This next phase of 12 games that Roberto has highlighted as being so crucial for signs that his team has the collective determination and the killer instinct that could be so vital in driving them on towards a sustained challenge for the top four. If there has been a feeling that the Blues have been playing within themselves somewhat this season and allowed opportunities to pick up attainable victories to pass them by in games like the ones against Tottenham, Swansea, Liverpool and West Ham then they now have the best possible conditions in which to kick on and mount an assault on the top six in the coming weeks.
Kick off: 3pm
Referee: Michael Oliver
Predicted Line-up: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Baines, Barry, McCarthy, Deulofeu, Barkley, Kone, Lukaku
Quotes sourced from ToffeeWeb Match Report
Reader Comments (48)
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1 Posted 20/11/2015 at 07:02:56
The one thing that does worry me though is the aerial threat of the lad Gestede. Obviously villa are bottom for a reason but if they get the service into him the way our keeper deals with crosses it could be worrying.
On another note, Cleverley has done OK when he has played but it'd be folly to bring him straight back into the side, especially at the expense of Kone or Deulofeu who have both been instrumental in the last couple of games.
I'm expecting a tough afternoon and no classic but I expect us to shade it. Just.
2 Posted 20/11/2015 at 07:37:10
I'm not a betting man and if I was I would never bet on Everton to win or keep a clean sheet.
As you pointed out Lyndon we should be expected to win against teams like Villa but it's never that simple.
3 Posted 20/11/2015 at 07:57:20
4 Posted 20/11/2015 at 09:43:43
On paper, we should win this at a stroll, but playing on grass is quite often different, especially with Villa needing the points for survival, even this early in the campaign.
5 Posted 20/11/2015 at 09:44:04
I'm guessing tomorrow's match against Villa will be a lot more testing than it would have been before Garde took over. If nothing else, the new manager syndrome lasts at least a few weeks and I expect a long afternoon attempting to break down a well-organised opponent.
Over the years, games against Villa have usually produced quite exciting affairs but I feel tomorrow's could be about one goal deciding it.
We really need to be aware of the threat of Rudi Gestede, one of the most dangerous headers of the ball there is and well, I don't need to go into detail about our defensive vulnerability at crosses! But we dealt well with Andy Carroll so let's hope we do more of the same.
We need to win really, people say it's "must win" because frankly in these sequences of "winnable" games we have developed a bad habit over the years of drawing too many, this the main reason why we fall short of challenging. Games against Aston Villa and Bournemouth really need to be yielding the 6 points.
8 Posted 20/11/2015 at 11:25:39
If Baines is fit, he should play. Personally I'd have loved to have him come off the bench a couple of times to get match sharpness but I'd rather have him at LB than Barry, who hasn't been doing a bad job lately at DCM. Also, given Villa will look to defend first, this should mean that Baines (from a defensive point of view) should have a relatively easy game to ease back in. It would also be good to have him back in the side for his experience and free kicks.
Which then takes us to the midfield. Assuming Baines plays, Martinez will presumably stick with McCarthy - Barry in the middle and Lukaku up top. So the only question is who are the three attacking midfielders? Personally I'd start with Mirallas, Barkley and Deulofeu as we need all the creativity we can get to break down Villa. Bit harsh on Kone but we're going to have most of the possession and are not going to be playing on the counter. Barkley hasn't been playing that well but you just never know he might belt one in from 30 yards.
Cleverley and Kone on the bench give us some options. I'd push McCarthy up and make it more of a 4-1-4-1 formation with Mirallas and Deulofeu out wide.
Either way, we should be looking for 3 points... Yes, no easy games (blah blah); at the end of the day, they are crap compared to most of the teams we've played so far and we're at home.
9 Posted 20/11/2015 at 12:43:50
Is this too much too ask for?
10 Posted 20/11/2015 at 12:54:53
At present teams are concentrating on marking Lukaku as we do not seem to have the same threat from anywhere else. Barry does not have the pace to play left back and would be seen as vulnerable by any other manager. Let us hope that Baines is recovered sufficiently to play as we do not have cover for either full back at present.
Howard will need to really command the six yard box if we are to contain Villa from crosses.
Give Mirallas a break and play him up front with both Kone and Lukaku. He on one wing and Deulofeu on the other should give us more than enough attacking threat. Surely our defence and midfield can cope with Villa at Goodison.
The one plus for Naismith and Cleverley as subs is work rate if required. Both are competitive enough and Naismith may well pop a goal in.Barkley is playing too passively IMO and should be much more robust and energetic, if brought on at half time or later. I want to see this lad fulfil his potential tomorrow, it is about time !!
11 Posted 20/11/2015 at 14:55:40
I wouldn't be surprised though to see Galloway make a late recovery from his injury so Baines can be eased back in.
I feel it is important that we start the game with more energy than has been evident so far this season and I would hope that Kev gets some decent time at some stage of the game.
12 Posted 20/11/2015 at 15:06:35
The hiding we gave Sunderland was down more to their abysmal defending than our attacking capability on the day. I believe Villa will give us a game so anyone who expects an easy three points Ă˘â‚¬â€ś beware!
Again, anyone who watched Bournemouth vs Newcastle last week and saw them robbed, after they totally dominated 99% of the game, will realise there are no 'easy' points these days.
13 Posted 20/11/2015 at 15:50:37
14 Posted 20/11/2015 at 15:51:39
Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Baines
Deulofeu, Barkley, Kone
Mirallas does better on the counterattack and I think Kone's movement and ability to hold off a man will be better suited to this game which will surely be a tight one.
15 Posted 20/11/2015 at 16:17:27
Deulofeu to take the free-kicks.
16 Posted 20/11/2015 at 16:48:16
17 Posted 20/11/2015 at 17:15:34
18 Posted 20/11/2015 at 17:26:01
19 Posted 20/11/2015 at 17:31:57
If I were the manager, it would be:
20 Posted 20/11/2015 at 17:40:01
21 Posted 20/11/2015 at 17:47:29
I did a quick read and I am equally excited for Connolly.
22 Posted 20/11/2015 at 18:01:25
23 Posted 20/11/2015 at 18:04:24
Playing a newly-promoted side in the first few games of the season and playing a side that has a new coach. It seems in both cases those teams punch above their weight.
26 Posted 20/11/2015 at 19:39:09
We are facing a side that has hardly had a win away in the last 3 seasons and, new manager or not, we should be sending them to another defeat.
FFS, we maligned Moyes for "knives to a gunfight"... now we should be scared of a bare-knuckle encounter!!!!
We really should view this as an opportunity for another 6 and start the game accordingly.
If we can't outscore Villa at home, then we don't deserve top 8 never mind top 4.
27 Posted 20/11/2015 at 19:49:57
Villa with a new manager getting a home draw against Man City is all well and good. But coming to Glorious Goodison Park, to the 9 times Champions, is a different kettle of fish. Villa will be cacking themselves.
Mark my words, we'll absolutely stuff them 1-0 (Baines, 89 pen).
28 Posted 20/11/2015 at 20:01:26
Time to adopt an aggressive stance and get right in about them.
29 Posted 20/11/2015 at 20:13:03
30 Posted 20/11/2015 at 20:24:32
Kidding of course, but it does drive home the point that we have played 14/15 matches in all competitions and have had zero penalties (not counting the shootout). About time for one, I'd say. On the flippy, I don't know if we have conceded one either.... I should've stopped before I pointed that out.
31 Posted 20/11/2015 at 20:31:14
Their new coach is trying a new style and they will be vulnerable. We have better players and we must beat them if we have any ambition whatsoever. We should not be making excuses in advance; we should be taking them apart.
32 Posted 20/11/2015 at 20:42:33
Robles never Howard
Galloway Baines ain't fit
McCarthy not sure why
Barry we need an old head in front of the young back 4. Set pieces are sure to be a joke again.
33 Posted 20/11/2015 at 21:52:02
34 Posted 20/11/2015 at 22:01:58
35 Posted 20/11/2015 at 23:01:09
36 Posted 20/11/2015 at 23:43:08
Of course, that will mean 2 goals or more at the other end past a very crowded parked bus. The slower the tempo, the more crowded the bus. I know nothing about their new coach but Martinez, backed up by ex strikers Graeme Jones and Big Dunc, seems to be full of confidence at the moment and will definitely have a plan. It has the look of a very bruising encounter and the young referee will need to be on top form.
37 Posted 20/11/2015 at 23:52:40
They will all be busting a gut for their new boss, and their future, both as a team, and individually. I would take a 1-0.
38 Posted 20/11/2015 at 23:53:11
I'm not suggesting one has to go, but if one did it's pretty clear to me which one. Barry was average last season but this year has been more like his first season with us. Although admittedly I do question his ability to play every game this season. He will need a rest at some point, but not yet.
39 Posted 21/11/2015 at 01:52:08
Makes me nervous every single time.
In games where we expect to dominate possession like this, I would like us to drop McCarthy and try Besic, Cleverley, etc, fitness permitting. Just something different.
James may be a good DM and the long-term successor to Barry but I find him frustrating at times. It's been said a million times but his complete lack of offensive ability (mentality?) drives me mad. Too many safe passes.
40 Posted 21/11/2015 at 06:54:58
41 Posted 21/11/2015 at 07:35:53
43 Posted 21/11/2015 at 08:32:00
44 Posted 21/11/2015 at 08:57:05
His quiet nature is something I have to accept. It's the way he is. Let's face it. No-one is quieter than Jags and no-one is more loved than Jags. This is because he plays with zest, passion and desire. As quiet as a mouse but as brave as a lion. Always busting a gut for his team. I guess Ross could learn a thing or two from his captain.
45 Posted 21/11/2015 at 09:05:18
Scoring first would be a big advantage as it could knock their confidence. Not something we've done very often this season though. Anyone got the stat on this?
46 Posted 21/11/2015 at 09:11:24
47 Posted 21/11/2015 at 10:13:37
I wouldn't be surprised to see Funes Mori score his first goal for the blues tomorrow (with a header from a Deulofeu corner).
On the subject of free-kicks, anything 25 yards out and Deulofeu must take it. He has perfected the Ronaldo up-and-over toe-poke technique.
48 Posted 21/11/2015 at 11:00:39
49 Posted 21/11/2015 at 12:22:05
50 Posted 21/11/2015 at 12:27:23
51 Posted 21/11/2015 at 12:29:23
Should Barkley take to his shell, then what do we have? Our two reilable DMFs. Two bloody DMFs at home against the bottom team. Can Martinez not just for once, drop one, and play Cleverley or Gibson, or even Mirallas. Osman would even offer more going forward. Besic is another option. He is even more attack-minded. But no, no, no... we have to have Barry and McCarthy at all times.
Just hope today that Everton get on the front foot from the start. Give ourselves the best chance of winning this game. And not chasing a draw, with our best football late on. Our forwards and Deulofeu should have space and chances today. Let's take them. And make our chances count. Stop Villa scoring. And score a few ourselves. Fingers crossed, I'm going for 3-0 or 4-0. Why not? COYBs
52 Posted 21/11/2015 at 12:45:33
If Villa score, we will up the tempo and probably get the goals we need to win. Either way, we should have enough to take 3 points.
53 Posted 21/11/2015 at 12:58:00
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