2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)

Leicester City look to make it three wins on the spin in league play Saturday when they host an Everton side out to regroup after a disappointing exit from the Carabao Cup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Foxes (4-0-3) enter this contest in eighth place, just ahead of new boys Wolverhampton on goal difference and also reached the fourth round of the Carabao Cup by ousting Wolves on penalties nearly two weeks ago. Claude Puel’s team followed that match with a professional 2-0 road victory over struggling Newcastle United last Saturday.

Jamie Vardy struck a penalty on the half-hour after Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin handled Harry Maguire’s shot inside the 18, and Maguire rose highest to meet a corner by James Maddison in the 73rd minute. Leicester’s defence – powered by the central pairing of Maguire and talisman Wes Morgan – stifled the Magpies and limited them to one shot on target, a speculative 60-yard effort keeper Kasper Schmeichel comfortably caught under the crossbar.

Maguire will likely add to his 14 international caps following his recall to the Three Lions for the upcoming international break. This time the 21-year-old Maddison will join him at St. George, hoping to show manager Gareth Southgate the playmaking skills England are lacking in the midfield at the moment.

“We’re doing really well at the minute, there’s a great spirit around the place and training’s been really good and we’re keeping to high standards so long may that continue,” Maddison told LCFC TV while looking ahead to Everton. “They’ve spent a lot of money in recent years and they’ve got a good squad with a lot of quality and it’ll be a tough test, and it’ll be brilliant for us if we can go into the international break off the back of three wins in a row.

“That’s fantastic at any point of the Premier League if you get three in a row. We’ll work hard on the training pitch and we’ll go into that the best prepared we can.”

Puel will again be without Demarai Gray, who missed the win over Newcastle with an ankle injury suffered in the Carabao Cup. The Frenchman, though, has definitely found a comfort level with a 4-2-3-1 formation as Ricardo Pereira and Daniel Amartey have alternated at right back and right wing throughout the season.

Both Vardy and Maddison have two goals and an assist in Leicester’s last three league games, while Kelechi Iheanacho has a goal and two assists in that run.

Everton (2-3-2) are 11th in the table on nine points but have yet to find that next level to be competitive for those spots beyond the Big Six that could result in European play next term. The Toffees have one win in their last five matches in all competitions (1-2-2) and were dumped out of the Carabao Cup on penalties Tuesday at home against Southampton after a 1-1 draw.

Theo Walcott came off the bench to score the equaliser five minutes from time, but both he and Richarlison were unable to convert from the spot against Southampton keeper Angus Gunn, with the young keeper saving Walcott’s attempt after Everton counterpart Martin Stekelenburg gave the Toffees a lifeline with a save on Matt Targett’s try.

Given Everton were coming off their most complete win of the season last weekend – a 3-0 drubbing of Fulham – while Southampton had the sword taken to them by Liverpool with an identical scoreline – there is an eagerness among the Toffees to put aside the disappointment of this result.

“It’s a massive game against Leicester,” centre back Michael Keane told EvertonTV. “We had a good result at the weekend and we’re fully focused on that game now. We played some very good football in the Fulham game, especially in the second half, and we want to bring that into Saturday’s game.

“Against Southampton, I think some of the lads who haven’t been playing put in some good performances and showed what they can do – but there’s always room for improvement. Theo got that goal and we had a few half-chances towards the end but we couldn’t nick it. Then anything can happen in penalties.”

Lucas Digne is expected to reclaim his spot at left back for this match after being held out versus Southampton, but high-profile summer signing and centre back Yerry Mina is not expected to make his Everton debut until after the international break. The Colombia international had a recent setback recovering from the foot injury that has sidelined him to date, and Everton manager Marco Silva hinted he may schedule some closed door friendlies during the break to get Mina closer to match fitness.

Gylfi Sigurdsson, who had a second-half brace against Fulham after having thumped a penalty off the crossbar, has scored four goals in his last five matches across all competitions.

The home team won both matches last season, with Vardy and Gray scoring 11 minutes apart in the first half-hour at the Midlands. Leicester City are 4-0-3 in their last seven in all competitions versus Everton after winning just one of the first 18 matches (1-13-4) between the sides in the Premier League era.

Vardy has four goals and two assists in six lifetime matchups with the Toffees.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Leicester City are solid 23/20 favourites, with both the Toffees and a draw returning 23/10 odds for their respective selection. The Foxes have 12/5 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals in the match, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw checks in behind that at 10/3. A low-scoring Leicester win is next at 4/1, followed by an Everton win over 2.5 goals (17/4) and under 2.5 goals (6/1). A 2-2 draw or higher is the longshot at 10/1.

Vardy is a clear favourite to make it 1-0, leading the line at 7/2. His attacking partners Maddison and Iheanacho are next at 6/1, and Richarlison is the top pick for Everton at 13/2. Despite his brace last week, Sigurdsson is further back at 17/2.

Vardy has 13/10 odds to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Maddison (2/1) edging out Iheanacho (21/10) for second. Richarlison is again the top pick for Toffees goal-scorers at 9/4, with Sigurdsson closer behind at 14/5.

PREDICTION

Leicester City are playing their best football of the season to date as Maddison has deservedly earned his call-up to England’s senior side for the upcoming international break. Had Vardy not opted to retire from international play, it is quite likely he would have joined Maguire and Maddison with the Three Lions.

Puel has his Foxes purring and a set rotation, curious shuffle of Amartey and Pereira on the right notwithstanding. Their spine is strong from Schmeichel out to Vardy, and while they may hit a ceiling below the top six, there is every reason to believe they can contend for that seventh spot and possibly higher if one of the evergreens slip.

Everton, on the other hand, can go from irresistible to uninspired and anywhere in between in a given match. While rotating a squad for the Carabao Cup can be forgiven, the fact the Toffees lost to a struggling Southampton side that overturned half their roster must be maddening to Silva. Mina cannot arrive to fortify the back four fast enough, and someone must emerge to lead the line (Bernard perhaps?) because both Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun are currently not getting the job done.

One matchup to watch is in the midfield, where Maddison and Sigurdsson will clash. This will be a good test for the youngster ahead of his first call-up, facing a grizzled playmaker with loads of international experience for his country. Whichever one of the two gets more support from his respective supporting cast will likely emerge the winner, and given Leicester’s form, the hosts are in line to make it three on the bounce in league play.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LEICESTER CITY 3, Everton 1

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)
Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)
Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)
Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

No lead may be safe Sunday at the Emirates, where in-form Arsenal look to win a fourth straight match on the bounce against an Everton side who regain the services of pacey attacking winger Richarlison.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal (3-0-2) started their second successive Europa League campaign on a positive note, easing past Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava 4-2 on Thursday. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a brace with goals on either side of halftime, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan assisted on two goals as the Gunners have now racked up 14 goals in their last five matches after starting the season with a 2-0 home loss to reigning champions Manchester City.

“It was an important victory and it was a bit tough in the first half, but thankfully we scored before we went to the dressing room at the end,” Mkhitaryan told Arsenal’s official website after staking his claim for more playing time. “In the second half it was easier because they started to play football, started to have the ball and started to attack, so we had more spaces in behind their defensive lines.

Summer signing and No. 2 keeper Bernd Leno made his Arsenal debut and the £20 million man came within 13 minutes of a clean sheet, but a breakdown by defender Stephan Lichtsteiner led to a goal before Vorskla snatched a second in stoppage time. The Gunners have yet to post a clean sheet, and that detail did not escape Aubameyang.

“I think we played well in the first half and at the beginning of the second as well and we scored four goals, but we need to improve and fight to not concede goals like we did in the last few minutes,” the striker noted.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery turned over eight players from the side that edged Newcastle United 2-1 last weekend, with the lone holdovers Aubameyang and left-side defenders Nacho Monreal and Sokratis. Summer signing and midfielder Lucas Torreira also received his first start as Emery tweaked his formation to a 4-3-3 after using a 4-2-3-1 throughout league play.

Emery lifted the Uruguay international in the 57th minute as a precaution after a knock, but teenager Matteo Guendouzi was in line to be restored to the starting XI for this match regardless of the outcome.

The north London side are expected to also bring back regulars Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin to the back four on the right, and they could be the ones with the primary responsibility of containing Richarlison.

The Brasil international makes his return for Everton (1-3-1) after serving a three-match ban for violent conduct for a headbutt on Bournemouth’s Adam Smith on Aug. 25. Richarlison — who scored three goals in the Toffees’ first two contests — made good use of his unexpected additional free time, making his debut for the Selecao during the international break and scoring his first two goals for them in a friendly versus El Salvador.

But Toffees manager Marco Silva may move the 21-year-old from the left wing to a centre-forward position for this match. That is because summer signing Bernard was the only attacking player to distinguish himself in their 3-1 home loss to previously winless West Ham United last weekend. Everton conceded twice in the first half-hour, and while Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled one back right before halftime, any hopes of a fightback were thwarted when they conceded a third just after the hour.

Richarlison, though, appears ready to move out of his comfort zone to get his compatriot on the pitch to get Everton going again, though it would make striker Cenk Tosun the odd man out in their 4-2-3-1 formation.

“Bernard is an agile player. He is really fast and scores a lot of goals,” Richarlison told evertonfc.com. “With his speed, he gets behind players and is a danger in the box. His ability pushes opponents back and causes them problems.

“He is highly thought of in Brazil. He is known as ‘Joyful Legs,’ so he is the type of player who will bring joy to the Everton fans. He will be popular here and, hopefully, have a great season and be a big influence on Everton.”

Something that would also bring joy to Everton fans would be a tightening of their side’s defence. The Toffees also have yet to record a clean sheet, which is slightly more surprising than Arsenal’s inability to do so since Everton have England No. 1 keeper Jordan Pickford between the sticks.

But in Pickford’s defence – or lack thereof – Everton already have an entirely different back four from the one that started the season. Lucas Digne has been credible at left back since supplanting Leighton Baines, but talisman Phil Jagielka has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Fellow central defender Michael Keane just returned to practice after suffering a small skull fracture, and right back Seamus Coleman is out indefinitely after suffering a foot injury playing for Ireland.

Mason Holgate and Kurt Zouma have paired in central defence the last three matches overall, but there is hope summer signing and Colombia international Yerry Mina could finally be ready for his Toffees debut, possibly at Holgate’s expense. Jonjoe Kenny continues to hold down the right back spot.

While much of the focus is on Richarlison, ex-Arsenal winger Theo Walcott will return to the Emirates for the second time as an opponent. Walcott, who has two goals in Everton’s first five matches, broke in with the London side as a 17-year-old in 2006 and totaled 65 league goals in 170 starts and 270 top-flight matches.

Arsenal did the double in emphatic fashion last term, scoring five goals in each victory. The 5-2 rout at Goodison Park last October marked the end of Ronald Koeman’s tenure at Everton and started the whirlwind courtship of Silva, much to Watford’s protest. The Gunners followed that up with a 5-1 thrashing at the Emirates as Aaron Ramsey bagged a hat trick and Mkhitaryan assisted on three of those markers.

Arsenal have won three on the bounce over Everton overall and carry a 23-match home unbeaten streak (19-4-0) in all competitions. The Toffees have yet to win at the Emirates, losing their last five and going 0-4-9 since its opening in 2006.

Everton’s lone victory at Arsenal in the Premier League era is a 2-1 win Jan. 20, 1996, at Highbury on goals by Graham Stuart and Andrei Kranchelskis.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid favourites at 4/9 odds, while Everton are 11/2 underdogs to end their hoodoo at the Emirates. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 18/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting plenty of scoring in this match as the Gunners are 10/11 favourites to win while there being more than 2.5 goals. While they still pick Arsenal to win a low-scoring contest, it is a decent 4/1 return the final score is either 1-0 or 2-0. A draw with a total of under 2.5 goals is 6/1, and a deadlock over that threshold is 10/1. A Toffees victory of 2-1 or better is listed at 10/1, with little faith being put in their defence being able to ride out a 1-0 or 2-0 victory at 16/1.

Aubameyang unsurprisingly leads the line for first goal-scoring options at 16/5, with Alexander Lacazette second at 7/2. Denny Welbeck, who scored in the Europa League win, rounds out the top three options at 4/1, and the Arsenal playmakers — Mkhitaryan, Ramsey and Ozil — are all in step form from 11/2 to 15/2. Tosun is listed as Everton’s best bet to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 8/1, followed by Oumar Niasse (17/2) and Richarlison (9/1).

Aubamyeang is better than even money to grab a goal during the 90 minutes at 5/6 odds, and Lacazette is level. Richarlison appears to offer a decent 5/2 return on finding the back of the net for the Toffees, and ex-Gunners winger Walcott checks in at 3/1 to put one home against his former mates.

PREDICTION

Eleven months ago, Arsenal decimated the blue part of Merseyside, setting in motion the chain of events that bring us to his match. Everton underwent a drastic overhaul, arguably overspending for their shiny new toys, but one in which they went out to change the culture of the club and remove the “sleeping giant” label.

Silva’s side are still a mess defensively, evidenced by the home loss to West Ham last weekend. Throwing Mina into the fray this weekend has an air of desperation, but at the same time, there is a sense the Colombia international’s presence cannot make the situation any more dire in terms of breakdowns in front of Pickford.

In attack, moving Richarlison out of this comfort spot on the left is also a big risk. He obviously has the size and the pace to be a centre forward, and he can most certainly give a questionable Arsenal defence fits, but at what cost does it come for Everton chemistry in the final third?

The Toffees have yet to be held off the scoresheet, and there is no shame in being held to one goal in two of the three matches without your best attacking option. There’s little doubt Bernard will find his way into the starting XI, sooner rather than later, and there’s also the issue of what to do with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored three goals in all competition during Richarlison’s ban.

Arsenal offered no clues to their consistency with Thursay’s win over Vorslka, though it did show that Emery was right in tabbing Cech over Leno for Premier League duties. There is still a sense keeper is the last position where the Gunners have to rip off the band-aid to commit to this rebuild, but their defence is not good enough where Cech’s shot-stopping skills are to be dismissed.

The Torreira-Xhaka debate will continue to rage until Xhaka gets sent off or picks up his fifth yellow card and sits a match, which is something that could happen by the next international break. It is nice to have depth in which Emery can rotate all three midfielders, but Torreira and Guendouzi are the future in front of the back four.

The middle third is going to be a no-man’s land of sorts — whichever side can pin the other’s holding midfielders back likely will emerge as a victor in this game. And right now, that looks to be the Gunners by virtue of having a (slightly) better defence and finishers in a bit better form than the Toffees at the moment.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 3, Everton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Everton (1-3-0) vs. West Ham United (0-0-4)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

The arrival of Manuel Pellegrini was supposed to usher in a new era at West Ham United, one where the east London side would finally realise their potential as a leviathan and begin climbing the ranks of the Premier League.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Coming out of the international break and into Sunday’s match at Goodison Park versus Everton, however, it has been more of the same old, same old as poor play and off-the-pitch dysfunction have ruled the day.

The Irons (0-0-4) are the only team in the top flight without a point, having shipped 10 goals in their defeats. With Pellegrini came an aggressive spending spree in the summer transfer window as 11 new players arrived with a cumulative cost of nearly £100 million. The results, though, have been uneven at best as Pellegrini has struggled to find his best four at the back and the midfield of newcomer Jack Wilshire and holdover Mark Noble have failed to influence matches offensively.

West Ham went into the break on a 1-0 loss to new boys Wolverhampton, and the hope is the time off has cleared everyone’s heads and the Irons can reboot themselves for this stretch of games to get off the foot of the table.

“Everyone was disappointed after the Wolves game,” fullback Ryan Fredericks admitted to the club’s official website. “We’ve been working hard over the international break and we’re confident of a much better performance and hopefully a better result on Sunday.

“There is no thought of letting things go. Some hard truths were spoken after the Wolves game and everyone wants to do the best for the club and the best for themselves. The plans the club had at the start of the season, we expected things to go better than this and for us to be higher up the table, so it’s up to us all to work hard and put things right on the pitch.”

That means finding a secondary scoring source beyond Mark Arnautovic, who has scored both of West Ham’s league goals and only one in the run of play through 360 minutes. Who lines up with Arnautovic in that starting XI has become a puzzling source of frustration to the Chilean as The Times reported Thursday a Twitter account with the handle ExWHUemployee has been posting the lineups publicly before Pellegrini has told the players.

Pellegrini’s usual M.O. is to tell the players four hours before kickoff, but the only people he talks to before meeting the players regarding the lineup are team owners David Sullivan and David Gold. It’s another headache for a team that spent most of the international break fighting a public battle with the landlords of London Stadium over things from putting a claret-coloured surround on the track around the pitch to the naming rights for the stadium since there is still no rights partner.

Everton (1-3-0) are not without their troubles both on and off the pitch, but the bigger worry for gaffer Marco Silva heading into this contest is the staggering amount of first-team players unavailable for this contest. At the top of the list is star winger Richarlison, who will complete his three-match ban for a red card following his headbutt of Bournemouth’s Adam Smith on Aug. 25. Defender Michael Keane is sidelined with a small fracture of his skull suffered in that 2-2 draw, and right back Seamus Coleman is out indefinitely after breaking his right foot while on international duty with Ireland.

Centre back Phil Jagielka and midfielder Andre Gomes are also not expected to be available due to injuries and holding midfielder Idrissa Gueye is likely a match-time decision due to a knee injury. Winger Dominic Calvert-Lewin also picked up an ankle injury with England’s Under-21 side and could miss out on this match as well.

One of the players who has been pressed into duties with all of these injuries, defender Mason Holgate, has made the most of his increased playing time, something likely to continue with Everton’s spate of injuries and Carabao Cup commitments in addition to league play.

“You see a lot of new signings come in but when the club comes out and say they see a future for you here, it gave me a lot of confidence,” said the 21-year-old Holgate to Everton’s official website. “They believe I can come in and do the job – and hopefully that’s what I’ve been doing so far.

“Despite the players that are out, we are still going to field a good team and I feel we are going to still do well,” the centre back added. “In every position, we have two or three players who can play there comfortably. On our day, we can beat anybody.”

The off-the-pitch problems continue to swirl around Everton’s full-court press to prise Silva from Watford after they fired Ronald Koeman last term, with an independent inquiry to determine if Everton were “tapping up” Silva now underway. The two clubs have been embroiled in a bitter dispute for nearly a year when Everton made repeated offers to give him the job last November, with Watford’s ire rising with each offer they had to spurn.

There was a thought the teams settled the issue when Richarlison moved from Vicarage Road to Goodison Park for £40 million to be reunited with Silva – a figure many believed to be well above market value for the Brasil international – but Watford filed a formal complaint and escalated the affair.

Everton could face anything from a hefty fine to a potential points deduction depending on what the inquiry fines, which includes obtaining any contact from Everton owner Farhad Moshiri through the club’s front office with Silva. It is the first case in which talk of points being deducted has arisen since Chelsea made an illegal approach for Ashley Cole in 2005 and had a suspended three-point deduction in addition to a £300,000 fine.

The home team won both matches last term, with Everton smashing four without reply by West Ham as Wayne Rooney recorded a hat trick. The Irons have just three wins in 23 matches (3-4-16) in the blue section of Merseyside in the Premier League era and one league win in the last 11 visits (1-3-7).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Everton are solid favourites with 21/20 odds, while the odds of West Ham either winning or notching their first point of the season are both 5/2.

The Toffees get 2/1 odds for a win and more than 2.5 goals, while a draw under 2.5 goals returns 17/4. An Everton win under 2.5 goals checks in at 4/1, just ahead of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw (15/4).

Tosun is the front-runner for the first goal of the match at 4/1, followed by Oumar Niasse (9/2) and Arnautovic (11/2). Despite his illness, Chicharito is still on the board at 11/2, while Calvert-Lewin and Wolcott are just behind the Mexico international at 13/2.

Tosun is listed at 7/5 odds to score over the 90 minutes, while Niasse (8/5) and Arnautovic (9/5) lurk in the top three. Walcott is getting 21/10 odds, and Lookman offers an intriguing 5/2 odds to open his scoring account on the season after just 33 minutes of action versus Huddersfield Town in his league debut.

PREDICTION

“This charming man” has a lot of problems in east London. The humour of the club’s former employee putting out accurate lineups before Pellegrini tells his players who is in the starting XI has the feel of “That’s so West Ham.” It is the kind of culture Pellegrini has been fighting since his arrival, and the fact this story has gained traction shows just how much of a fight there still is for him to wage.

A lot of this, though, could be solved with the salve that cures all ills — winning. West Ham appear to have the same disconnect Arsenal have, a leaky back line and a promising attack with a midfield that is hit or miss. The fact West Ham have a former Arsenal player as part of that existing problem only adds to the parallels. The Irons need Anderson to take a game by the throat, and they need Yarmolenko to start proving his worth on the pitch.

Everton are going to be a patchwork lineup for this week and likely next week as Silva may have to change over half his preferred outfield. Kenny will be tested severely at right back as he will likely get first crack at filling Coleman’s spot, and Lookman will finally get his chance to show Silva he is deserving of more time with Richarlison out along with Andre Gomes.

It was not a good sign there were stories floating around about Pellegrini being bought out after four matches and no points, and even with Everton short-handed, the empty run could continue at Goodison Park. Tosun is due to score a goal, and that may be enough for Everton to secure at least one point. The bigger issue is this may be the game where Pickford steals the other two for the Toffees.

Predicted Final Score: EVERTON 1, West Ham United 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Watford vs. Manchester United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 2 Preview — Everton (0-1-0) vs. Southampton (0-1-0)

Reunited and it felt so good.

After marking his Everton debut in grand style, Richarlison and the Toffees open their Goodison Park slate Saturday versus Southampton looking to maintain their offensive flow.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

A record £50 million signing from Watford, Richarlison is together again with Marco Silva, who brought the Brasil international to Vicarage Road from Fluminense prior to his sacking.

While the process to reunite the pair at Goodison Park was equal parts protracted and messy — it surprised no one Wednesday when Everton football director Marcel Brands admitted to The Times the animosity between the clubs drove the asking price for Richarlison above market value — it was clear for one match at least the 21-year-old was every bit worth the extra quid.

Playing the left wing, Richarlison scored goals on either side of halftime, twice giving Everton the lead before the 10-man Merseysiders were pegged back in a 2-2 draw at promoted Wolverhampton.

The two goals displayed the different natures of Richarlison’s goal-scoring nous, bundling his first inside the six-yard box as a free kick fell to him in the 17th minute and picking the far corner to beat Rui Patricio inside the right post from 12 yards after being sent through by Cenk Tosun in the 67th.

“We are talking about a player who is 21,” Silva told The Telegraph about Richarlison, who failed to score in his final 26 league matches with Watford. “We have to be calm with him. He has the talent, he has everything there, but you have to protect him, support him.”

Calm is not a word that could be associated with centre back Phil Jagielka, who will serve the first of his three-match ban for a direct red card following his studs-up challenge on Diogo Jota in the 41st minute after losing possession on the slick pitch. Everton did not appeal the suspension, which rules Jagielka out for the next two league matches and their second-round Carabao Cup contest.

After using Jagielka and Michael Keane as his first central defence pairing, Silva could turn to a new duo. New signing Yerry Mina was ruled out of this contest as he continues to work to match fitness. The ex-Barcelona man and £28.5 million signed after a standout effort for Colombia at the World Cup in which he scored three goals in helping Los Cafeteros reach the round of 16.

Kurt Zouma, on loan from Chelsea, started 32 matches for relegated Stoke City last term as he fell out of the rotation at Stamford Bridge following a torn ACL suffered in the 2015-16 season. Mason Holgate, who played the final 49 minutes after Jagielka’s expulsion as a tactical sub replacing Gylfi Sigurdsson, is also in the running for a spot.

Southampton (0-1-0) did not look much better than the side that narrowly escaped the drop last term as they played Burnley to a scoreless draw at home last Saturday. Despite attempting 18 shots, the Saints put only three on target and failed to get going offensively until the introduction of Danny Ings and Mohamed Elyounoussi just before the hour mark.

“We needed to gain control of the game so we changed the personnel and the shape as well which helped us,” Southampton boss Mark Hughes told the club’s official website. “We were able to get up the pitch. We created a number of chances and on another day I think we did enough to win the game.”

Elyounoussi, though, is not expected to be available after suffering a hamstring injury in the draw. Hughes did say Stuart Amstrong should be recovered from a knock and available for selection.

Ings, on loan from Liverpool as a rare player move to St Mary’s between the teams in recent years, is trying to adjust to playing underneath as opposed to a traditional striker.

“At the moment, I’m getting used to the way the team play – I wanted to come on and get a feel for the football they play,” said Ings, who took three shots and has just four goals since bagging 11 for Burnley in 2014-15. “There were a lot of spaces coming deep, so I drifted into those pockets, got on the ball and tried to play people in.

“I want to show people it’s not all about running in behind for me – I can come short and play too.”

Hughes could restore left back Maya Yoshida to his starting XI after holding out the Japan international, who helped Samurai Blue reach the knockout round of the World Cup this summer. Yoshida would likely replace Wesley Hoedt in Southampton’s three-man back line.

The Saints took four points from last season’s meetings, routing a disheveled Everton squad led by caretaker manager David Unsworth 4-1 last November. The Toffees rescued a point against the 10-man Saints in a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park on Tom Davies’ goal in the 96th minute.

Southampton have taken points in two of their last three trips to the blue part of Merseyside but are winless in 13 there (0-4-9). Their lone win in 19 Premier League matches (1-5-13) at Goodison Park was a 2-0 victory in 1997.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Everton are strong favourites at 20/23 odds, while Southampton check in at 10/3. Those who believe the points will be shared can get a return on 23/10 odds. The two most likely scorelines listed are 1-0 Everton and a 1-1 draw, which both return 11/2 odds.

Despite his brace at Molineux, Richarlison is ninth on the list for any-time goal-scorers at 13/5 odds and sixth among Everton players. Tosun leads the line at 5/4, followed by Oumar Niasse (8/5) and Saints forward Charlie Austin (7/4). For opening goal-scorers, Tosun again is the favourite at 16/5 odds, with Niasse 4/1 and Austin 9/2. Richarlison is again down the pecking order at 7/1.

Beyond Austin for Southampton, Gabbiadini is a 5/2 any-time goal-scorer and 13/2 to make it 1-0. Ings is an 11/4 any-time scorer and 15/2 to stake the visitors to a 1-0 lead.

In terms of personal preferences, I like the match result of Everton and under 2.5 goals returning 14/5 odds.

PREDICTION

Jagielka’s absence could be an addition by subtraction as it forces Silva to test his depth at centre back. Zouma appears to be the most likely replacement for this match at least since Mina is in his first week of practices with the Toffees, and it’s also possible Silva takes the path of least resistance and keeps Keane as opposed to trotting out a new duo in front of Jordan Pickford.

Offensively, there is little to worry about for Everton except where Barcelona loanee Andre Gomes can be deployed after his late arrival before the transfer deadline, though that headache has been put off for another week since the Portugal international will be held out. Silva could not make aggressive changes down a man against Wolverhampton as Sandro Ramirez and Dominic Calvert-Lewin sat unused.

Southampton left much to be desired offensively versus Burnley, and the Saints likely will have less possession in this match given Everton’s talent on the ball. Without Elyounoussi, the task becomes that much harder to maneuver through the midfield, and getting service to Charlie Austin will be vital to at least challenge whoever is in Everton’s central defence.

Still, Everton look to have too much class for Southampton and should open their home schedule with three points in convincing fashion.

Prediction: Everton 2, Southampton 0

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am making edits in the interim, adding projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction in this blog.)

Other Match Day 2 previews:

Chelsea vs. Arsenal
West Ham United vs. Bournemouth
Cardiff City vs. Newcastle United

2018-19 EPL Team-by-Team Previews: Everton (July 30)

(Writer’s Note: This is the 13th of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on August 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page)

EVERTON TOFFEES

Manager: Marco Silva (Hire Date: May 31, 2018)
Tenure Length: 19th/20 in Premier League and 79th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 13-10-15, 49 points, 8th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 44
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-14
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League and/or First Division: 65 (includes 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 1954
Last Relegation: 
1951 (First Division to Second Division)
2017-18 Europa League: Group play exit (Third place)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Fourth-round loss (Chelsea)
2017-18 FA Cup: Third-round loss (Liverpool)

2017/18 REVIEW

Everton had an early start to last season, navigating through two qualifying rounds to reach the Europa League group stage proper. Gylfi Sigurdsson, the top signing in a summer during which the Toffees spent £140 million, secured passage to the group stage with a wonder goal that lifted the Toffees to a draw at Hajduk Split.

Those good feelings, though, quickly dissipated in a slow start in league play as Everton suffered losses to Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United by a combined 9-0 scoreline in three straight matches around a 3-0 thrashing by Atalanta to open Europa group play.

The end for manager Ronald Koeman came one day after Everton was embarrassed at home 5-2 by Arsenal, allowing the Gunners to unload 30 shots at Jordan Pickford. As repeated bids to pry Marco Silva from Watford to take over as manager failed, David Unsworth served as caretaker, but the uneven results that included a 4-1 loss to Southampton meant Unsworth would never be full-time manager.

Enter Sam Allardyce, the master fixer, who arrived at Goodison Park on Nov. 30. He watched Everton’s 4-0 thrashing of West Ham United from the director’s box the day before he formally took over, and the Toffees went unbeaten in seven to make sure there would be no threat of relegation. During that time, Everton’s Europa League adventure came to a meek end with one win in its six group matches.

The Toffees were a flat-track bully team, able to dominate the Premier League’s lightweights while going 0-4-8 versus the top six. Their victory drought against eternal Merseyside derby rivals Liverpool reached 17 (0-9-8) with a pair of draws in league play bookending a 2-1 loss in the third round of the FA Cup.

Late in the season, Allardyce began angling for the full-time job, only to be met with strong pushback by Everton supporters, who wanted something more than the defence-first, plodding style Allardyce has nearly perfected in his repeated rescue missions throughout his Premier League coaching history.

Everton did take points in seven of its final nine matches, capping a turbulent season with a 3-1 loss at West Ham United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Everton Lineup.png

 

Silva’s preferred approach is a 4-3-3, and even before reuniting with Richarlison, who will be on the left flank, he had plenty of pieces in place. It’s also a formation which could morph into a 4-2-3-1 with Morgan Schniderlin and Idrissa Gueye serving in support of the back four while pushing Sigurdsson further forward.

Cenk Tosun, who arrived in the January window, had five goals in 14 matches for the Toffees and is expected to lead the line. Richarlison’s arrival has pushed Theo Walcott further down the pecking order among wing players as he fights for playing time with Kevin Mirallas and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Another player who is on the outside looking in is Oumar Niasse, the Senegal international who was second on Everton with nine goals in all competitions last season. Whether Silva feels some of the holdovers are not a proper fit for his style, it was somewhat surprising to see him state the Toffees need to sign as many as six players to fit his needs.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

Richarlison is the £40 million gamble that could very well define Silva’s tenure at Goodison Park. The young Brazilian had a blinding start to the season with Watford, scoring five goals in his first 12 matches. But Silva’s dalliance with Everton caused a huge drop in Richarlison’s play and with both manager and player unhappy at Vicarage Road, the pacy winger failed to register even an assist in his final 21 matches.

Richarlison’s interplay with Sigurdsson could determine both their success as individuals and Everton’s as a whole. But the Brazilian is the only new face on the squad heading into the final fortnight of the summer window as the Toffees cleared some dead wood from their roster, notably Davy Klaassen as he moved to Werder Bremen for £12 million one year after arriving from Ajax for double that amount.

Fellow veterans Wayne Rooney, Joel Robles and Ramiro Funes Mori also moved on, while Yanick Bolasie and Ademola Lookman are likely to be sold to streamline Everton’s roster. There has been talk of the Toffees being close to agreement on acquiring Lucas Digne from Barcelona, which would put him against incumbent Leighton Baines.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Jordan Pickford (GK)

Pickford was one of four standout players in leading England to the World Cup semifinals in Russia this summer — joining Harry Kane, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier — while emerging as the No. 1 for the Three Lions and gathering a full helping of confidence for his second season at Goodison Park. His best performance may have been against Sweden in the quarterfinals when he not only made three saves for his clean sheet, but the first two came at vital junctures in the contest for the Three Lions.

Everton, who spent £30 million before last season to land him from Sunderland, are reportedly working on a new and more improved contract for their No. 1 keeper to keep him away from the elite squads in both England and Europe.

Arguably the best shot-stopper in the Premier League, Pickford’s distribution also played a key role in England’s run to the final four and is something Silva will try to use to great effect as Everton look to become a free-wheeling offence that can compete with the top outfits in the top flight.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, oddsmakers are fairly confident a disaster will not befall Everton as the Toffees have long 33/1 odds on being relegated. They also have the second-shortest odds to finish in the top 10 at 1/3 and second-longest for the bottom half at 11/5.

Everton is the first outsider for a top-six finish at 4/1 odds and rank seventh for a top-four finish at 16/1. Tosun is on the board for the Golden Boot, albeit at 50/1 odds.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 11 — Wolverhampton (N/A) A
Aug. 18 — Southampton (17th) H
Aug. 25 — Bournemouth (12th) A
Sept. 1 — Huddersfield Town (15th) H
—————
April 20 — Manchester United (2nd) H
April 27 — Crystal Palace (11th) A
May 4 — Burnley (7th) H
May 12 — Tottenham Hotspur (3rd) A

OUTLOOK

Everton’s struggles during the preseason are ones to be expected as Silva’s players adapt to their new structure. Aside from a 22-0 thrashing of ATV Irdning, the preseason has been one of drilling to learn spots and roles as well as Silva learning which personnel combinations work best.

The other positive for Silva is the soft opening slate of schedule gives Everton some margin of error in terms of getting results while not playing its best football. All four matches are entirely winnable, and it can be argued the lid-lifter at promoted Wolverhampton is the most challenging of the four.

With the exception of West Ham United, no one outside the top six has spent heavily as a means of trying to lift themselves up the table. The Toffees have kept their powder dry beyond Richarlison, though Digne’s arrival appears imminent, and it would not be surprising to see one or two more new players arrive at Goodison Park before that opening contest at Molineux.

Once the Toffees find their identity under Silva, they should be a team that contends for a place in the Europa League for 2019-20. They could conceivably be the best of the rest among the non-top six, and if Chelsea and/or Arsenal fail to ignite under their respective new managers, Everton could pip the London giants if it can overachieve this campaign.

PREDICTED FINISH

7th place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                           August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                          August 6 — Manchester City

World Cup Recap Match 39 — Croatia 2, Iceland 1 (June 26)

Ivan Perisic’s goal in the 90th minute crushed Iceland’s dreams of reaching the round of 16 at the World Cup as Croatia completed a sweep of its three matches in Group D with a 2-1 victory Tuesday in Rostov-on-Don.

The Strakarnir Okkar had gotten a lifeline through Gylfi Sigurdsson’s penalty that leveled the match in the 76th minute and could have advanced with another goal after Argentina had taken a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute against Nigeria in the other Group D match in St. Petersburg.

But Milan Badelj, who scored Croatia’s first goal in the 53rd minute, dispossessed Emil Halfredsson and sent Perisic through on the left, and Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson did not get enough of his right hand on the striker’s left-footed shot from 10 yards as it sailed inside the right post.

Croatia, which was already assured passage into the knockout round before kickoff, will now play Group D runner-up in Denmark on Sunday in Nizhny Novogorod. It will be the Vatreni’s first appearance there since their third-place showing in their maiden World Cup in 1998.

Iceland finished last in its group on one point — gained against two-time champion Argentina — despite three competitive matches, unable to duplicate its surprising run to the knockout round from two years ago when it reached the European Championship quarterfinals in its first major tournament in club history. The smallest country at the World Cup with a population of 340,000, Iceland again earned the affection of neutrals in addition to the Russian locals with its large traveling fan base and Viking clap that electrified crowds around their venues.

These teams were no strangers to each other after Iceland pipped Croatia in their World Cup qualifying group, avenging a two-legged playoff loss for a berth in Brazil four years ago. The result was a cagey affair for most of the first half. Croatia made nine changes to its starting XI from the side that flattened Argentina, leaving Perisic and playmaker Luka Modric, while Iceland made three, most notably restoring Johann Berg Gudmundsson after he had missed the Nigeria loss due to a calf injury.

The first eventful moment of the match came in the 12th minute when Birkir Bjaranason took a swipe in the face from Marko Pjaca, bloodying the Iceland midfielder and resulting in a stoppage of play that required treatment and a yellow card for the Croatian.

There was little in the way of scoring chances until the 27th minute when Hordur Magnusson nodded on a long throw from Aron Gunnarsson across the face of goal that went unanswered. Magnusson then headed a corner wide as the Strakarnir Okkar began to probe Croatia’s defense in search of the all-important first goal.

Just after the half-hour, Sigurdsson had a free kick from 30 yards that Lovre Kalinic comfortably caught inside the left post, and Bjarnason had a shot from 10 yards knocked away after it had fallen to him following a corner. Iceland fashioned two scoring chances before halftime, but Alfred Finnbogason went narrowly wide of the right post from 18 yards after working a 1-2 with Sigurdsson, and Gunnarsson’s curling right-footed effort was parried wide by Kalinic shortly before the whistle.

Badelj fired a warning shot for Croatia in the 51st minute when his long-range effort cannoned off the crossbar, and word got through shortly thereafter Nigeria had pulled level through a Victor Moses penalty to heap on the pressure on Iceland. The Vatreni broke through on a goal by Badelj, whose first-time volley from 15 yards off a deflection beat Halldorsson inside the left post.

Iceland quickly sought to counter, forcing Kalinic into a quality save by tipping Sverir Ingi Ingason’s effort over the bar. On the ensuing corner, Ingason skimmed the crossbar with an unmarked header. Croatia lifted Modric on 65 minutes, which helped Iceland gain a semblance of possession, and then went defensive by bringing on Dejan Lovren in the 70th minute.

But it was Lovren’s clear handball on a cross by Sigurdsson that was whistled by referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz that allowed Iceland a chance to pull level. After missing a penalty against Nigeria, Sigurdsson made no mistake with this one, lashing the spot kick down the middle and just under the crossbar to make it 1-1.

In the 88th minute, Argentina pulled ahead 2-1, setting the stage for Iceland to find its way through with a late strike, but Perisic’s quality effort ensured there would be no fairy tale ending for the Strakarnir Okkar.

 

World Cup Recap Match 25: Nigeria 2, Iceland 0 (June 22)

Ahmed Musa’s second-half brace put Nigeria on the inside track for second place in Group D as the Super Eagles emerged with a 2-0 victory over Iceland on Friday in Volgograd.

Musa’s lash on the half-volley in the 49th minute completed a rapid counterattack that started when Kenneth Omeruo headed Aron Gunnarsson’s throw-in clear from the penalty area. Victor Moses was able to carry the ball unchallenged down the right side before crossing to Musa, who did well to deaden the ball with his right foot and let it drop before scoring from six yards with the same foot.

The CSKA Moscow forward added an important second on the stroke of the final quarter-hour, racing onto a long ball by Omeruo, rounding Kari Arnason into the penalty area and then waiting out Hannes Halldorsson before rifling the ball into the net.

Nigeria climbed into second place on three points and also threw a lifeline to Argentina, which is last in the group on one point with a minus-three goal difference and plays the Super Eagles to conclude group play.

While Iceland slips to third, ahead of La Albiceleste on goal difference, the Strakarnir Okkar will be left to rue Gylfi Sigurdsson’s missed penalty he blazed over the bar in the 83rd minute after VAR awarded the spot kick when referee Matthew Conger saw Alfred Finnbogason was fouled by Tyronne Ebuehi.

Iceland closes group play with Croatia, which is already through to the round of 16 and plans to overturn its starting XI to rest some of its key players as it is all but certain to top the group even with a loss. The Strakarnir Okkar will need to win that match and score at least two goals to reach the knockout round.

Nigeria, which looked so listless in its loss to Croatia, switched from a four-man back to a 3-5-2 set-up with Musa one of three new players in the starting XI for Gernot Rhor. But it took a full 45 minutes to contend with Iceland’s well-drilled banks of four as the Super Eagles failed to register a shot.

Iceland, meanwhile, started brightly as Sigurdsson had a curling 25-yard free kick parried by Francis Uzoho in the third minute and a low shot from 20 yards stopped shortly thereafter. Nigeria, though, yielded few quality chances after that, with Birkir Bjarnason volleying over the bar from 12 yards in the 34th minute.

The Starkarnir Okkar had one last quality chance, but Sigurdsson’s curling cross glanced off Finnbogason and wide of the left post in the 44th minute.

Musa has four World Cup goals, with the other two coming against Argentina in a 3-2 loss in group play in Brazil four years ago. All six of the Super Eagles’ victories at the World Cup have come against European sides.