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 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

2018-19 EPL Team-by-Team Previews: Watford (July 24)

(Writer’s Note: This is the seventh 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 Aug. 10. Links to previous teams’ previews can be found at the bottom of the page)

WATFORD HORNETS

Manager: Javi Gracia (Hire Date: Jan. 21, 2018)
Tenure Length: 15th/20 in Premier League and 55th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 11-8-19, 41 points, 14th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 44
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-20
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League: 4 (including 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2015
Last Relegation: 
2007
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Second-round loss (Bristol City)
2017-18 FA Cup: Fourth-round loss (Southampton)

2017/18 REVIEW

Watford made the most of its early season schedule, taking points in seven of its first eight matches. The lone defeat came in a 6-0 thrashing by Manchester City, and after a 2-1 victory over Arsenal on October 14, the Hornets were fourth in the table.

Nine days later, however, things fell apart dramatically after Everton sacked Ronald Koeman and began pursuing Marco Silva as his replacement, and that interest was returned despite Silva having signed on with the Hornets in May. Watford owner Gino Pozzo dug in his heels, turning down four Everton offers in compensation for Silva that reportedly started at £8 million and gradually increased to £15 million, ultimately sending the Merseyside outfit a cease-and-desist letter.

The fracturing of the locker room, though, proved too much to overcome as Watford entered a tailspin that included a 3-2 loss at Everton on November 5 in which the Hornets squandered a two-goal lead. They righted themselves briefly with back-to-back wins but then had eight losses in their next 11 matches (1-2-8) before Silva was sacked January 21.

Javi Gracia, who had been out of a job after parting ways with Ruban Kazan at the end of the 2016-17 season, took over at Vicarage Road and helped salvage some of the lost cause by claiming 10 points from his first five league matches to make sure the Hornets stayed in the top flight.

Once more, Watford faded down the stretch, taking just five points from its final nine matches (1-2-6). In 2016-17, the Hornets lost their final six league matches and they went 2-7-2 in their last 11 league contests the season prior while reaching the FA Cup semifinals.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Watford Lineup.png

There is competition throughout the lineup, starting at keeper, where Ben Foster was brought in from relegated West Bromwich Albion, with Garcia not especially keen on incumbent Heurelho Gomes, who had mentioned the possibility of leaving Vicarage Road in the offseason. Pontus Dahlberg is in camp this summer, and the 19-year-old could be the No. 2 if Gomes does kick on.

The back four likely will be comprised of Daryl Janmaat, Craig Cathcart, Christian Kabasele, and Jose Holebas, and there is depth at the wide backs with new acquisitions Marc Navarro and Adam Masina.

Gerard Deulofeu made his move from Barcelona permanent for a reported £11.5 million and will be on one flank with veteran Troy Deeney on the other with Richarlison departing to Everton. Tom Cleverley is expected to miss the first few contests of the season after undergoing an Achilles’ procedure, which leaves Roberto Pereyra as the top playmaking option.

With Deeney underneath, Andre Gray should remain in the most forward role, and Ostersund signing Ken Sema could squeeze into the rotation.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

While Watford did bring in six new players, the obvious headline banner is the recent departure of Richarlison, who reunited with Silva at Everton with a transfer price tag of at least £40 million that could reach £50 million depending on incentives reached. While a player of his talent was going to kick on to a bigger club at some point, doing so this close to the start of the season — even with a staggering return on Watford’s initial investment — is a blow Gracia and the team will need some time to recover from and regroup.

There are some who will argue Richarlison’s departure is addition by subtraction given the mercurial Brazilian scored all five of his goals for Watford in the team’s first 12 matches and failed to register an assist in the final 21 contests as he fell out of favour with Garcia. Andre Carillo also has departed, with the Peru international going to Al-Hilal of the Saudi Professional League.

Of the newcomers, Foster may have the biggest impact as he returns for his second stint at Vicarage Road, having played for Watford in the Premier League in the 2006-07. He is a durable keeper, having missed only one league match in the last two seasons for the Baggies and still managed 10 clean sheets for a last-place side in 2017-18.

Deulofeu is technically a transfer in, though he did play seven matches for the Hornets last season before making his move from Barcelona permanent. It only seems like he has been around forever, but the 24-year-old has yet to perform at a level that matches his potential.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Abdoulaye Doucoure (MF)

Doucoure scored a team-high seven goals for Watford in his second season in the Premier League after arriving from Ligue 1 side Rennes, and he found a comfort zone in the latter stages of the season for the Hornets. Doucoure also showed a strong box-to-box presence and was unafraid to get involved physically, picking up 10 yellow cards last term.

While there have been rumours he may leave Vicarage Road before the transfer window closes, Richarlison’s transfer fee means Watford do not have to sacrifice the 25-year-old in order to land a striker should the right player come along.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Watford has been picking up steam in the wrong direction as one of the teams expected to be relegated. As of July 23, the Hornets were considered the fourth-most likely team to go down and were getting 15/8 odds. They were also fourth-most likely to finish at the bottom of the table at 7/1 odds and joint-third to finish in the bottom half of the table with Fulham and Brighton and Hove Albion at 1/10.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 11 — Brighton and Hove Albion (15th) H
Aug. 18 — Burnley (7th) A
Aug. 26 — Crystal Palace (11th) H
Sept. 2 — Tottenham Hotspur (3rd) A
————–
April 20 — Huddersfield Town (16th) A
April 27 — Wolverhampton (N/A) H
May 4 — Chelsea (5th) A
May 12 — West Ham United (13th) H

OUTLOOK

No one ever likes to lose a talented player, but one gets the sense Richarlison’s departure to the blue section of Merseyside finally closes a chapter that brought nothing but aggravation and frustration to Vicarage Road for nearly nine months. There is a sense of “what-if” with the Hornets over the past few seasons as they have performed springtime fades in league play after reaching safety.

For Gracia, this is essentially a high-wire audition without a net since he is out of contract at season’s end after signing an 18-month deal to take over last January. He is the ninth manager at Vicarage Road since Pozzo took over in June 2012, and that list includes two current Premier League coaches (three if you count Sean Dyche, who was let go in July 2012). That track record has put Gracia as the most likely first sacking in the top flight, but a quick start before that away contest versus Tottenham could ease that pressure.

Watford does have pieces, but will those players mesh is still a very large question mark. Not having Cleverley as a steadying influence in the midfield early will pose some problems, and the Hornets will need talisman Deeney to find that 2015-16 form in which he totaled 13 goals and seven assists.

Gray must also prove a better return for the £18 million invested in him and recapture the 23-goal form he showed in helping Burnley gain promotion in 2016. Deulofeu needs to incorporate his creative play into the team’s framework so both can thrive in the attacking third.

The stability in the back four in front of either Foster or Gomes will provide some cover, but this will be another season where Watford needs graft and craft to reach 40 points once more.

PREDICTED FINISH

17th 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