Top-scorer in all competitions, Dominic Calvert-Lewin has made a strong case for being deployed in his natural central position
Everton are back at Goodison Park for the second in a run of four consecutive home games that Ronald Koeman is hoping will provide a belated springboard for his team's season.
The optimism that had been engendered by big spending early in the summer, progress to the Europa League group stage and two positive matches to start the Premier League season may have evaporated by what became an increasingly dispiriting run of results after that but Wednesday's win in the League Cup rekindled some hope for 2017-18.
Thanks to Dominic Calvert-Lewin's double and a first goal in Everton colours for former outcast Oumar Niasse, Koeman's men easily brushed Sunderland aside with their first win in over a month. The reward may have been a daunting trip to Stamford Bridge in the next round but it was clear from his press conference yesterday ahead of the visit of Bournemouth this weekend that that will be a challenge for another day.
“Easy one,” the Dutchman quipped when asked for his reaction to the fourth round draw. “If you like to win a title, you have to beta all the teams. Of course, it's away at Chelsea but, okay, it's not important for now.
“Let's hope [last night's result] will be positive and what we need. The first step was yesterday and this Saturday is really important. Every game is important and you play to win every game but with the last (recent) results, of course, we need a win at home.
“[N]ow we need to show we are still strong and I'm confident after what I saw yesterday because the best medicine to get that confidence is good performances. You need a good feeling and that comes from winning games.”
Short of facing winless Crystal Palace, a home date against 19th-placed Bournemouth could be as welcome a game as Everton could hope for as they seek to pick up their first Premier League points since the 21st of August. The Cherries lost all of their opening four fixtures but registered their first victory in the League last weekend with a 2-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion and then beat the same opposition after extra time on Tuesday in the League Cup.
They, too, could becoming into the weekend with a bit of confidence, particularly given the fact that forwards Jermaine Defoe and Josh King are off the mark, but they have yet to come away from Goodison Park with a point, having lost 2-1 and 6-3 on their previous visits to L4.
It would be hard to see a repeat of last season's goal-fest, however, given Everton's struggles in front of goal this season. Averaging a paltry two shots on target per game in the League so far, the Blues have been worryingly toothless in attack but Calvert-Lewin, currently the team's top scorer, has made a strong case for leading the line as a conventional striker.
The 20-year-old has been deployed wide in an attacking three, as a wing-back and as a centre-forward with mixed results but he is showing that when played in his natural central position, he can score goals. Koeman is reluctant to place too much of a burden on his young shoulders but with Niasse still something of an untried quantity and Sandro Ramirez still adapting to England, Calvert-Lewin looks to be Everton's best goalscoring hope at the moment.
Koeman's problem, of course, has been one of formation and personnel — namely, how to shoe-horn his varying No.10s into a coherent starting XI that will improve the team's woeful offensive production without undermining the individual talents of its component parts.
Gylfi Sigurdsson has been largely anonymous since he arrived in a club-record deal last month and while he has scored the Toffees' only two League goals so far, Wayne Rooney hasn't really provided the leadership and influence that Koeman would have been hoping for when he signed him from Manchester United.
Whether the manager can accommodate both players in the same line-up remains to be seen but he has been given a further option by the form thus far of Nikola Vlasic who was impressive against Sunderland in the cup. Like Tom Davies and Calvert-Lewin, the Croatian has been showing Koeman that youth should be no barrier to more consistent selection in the starting XI, particularly if the older guard aren't producing.
While inconsistent with his line-ups, Koeman can be conservative in his approach which makes predicting the team for this weekend challenging. Phil Jagielka's reported injury in midweek might preclude his involvement and see Ashley Williams and Michael Keane continue as a partnership. Jonjoe Kenny was given a belated first start of the season on Wednesday but may have to be content with a place on the bench, with Mason Holgate replacing him either as a wing-back or conventional right-back.
Much of the talk around Everton's poor form has focused on the failure to replace Romelu Lukaku but it's the lack of fluidity through midfield, service to the forward line and an over-reliance on two holding midfielders that have been the bigger issues and that is where Koeman needs to focus his energy over the next few months.
While the team lacks pace, there are goals in the side if he can get his charges moving the ball forward effectively rather than lumping it forward or passing it aimlessly from side to side trying to find an opening. Eddie Howe is famous for his own emphasis on passing football and his team isn't especially renowned for “parking the bus” but the Blues should expect them to come to Goodison looking to keep it tight, especially with them knowing how hard Everton have found it making chances.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 23 September, 2017
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Last Time: Everton 6-3 Bournemouth
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Williams, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Davies, Sigurdsson, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin