Ahead of Chelsea’s clash with Everton in the last game before the international break on Sunday, I sat down for a quick chat with Matthew Chandler from SB Nation’s Everton blog, Royal Blue Mersey to talk about how the Toffee’s season has been going since our last chat. Be sure to check out the reverse edition on RBM as I give my take on Chelsea’s season, Sarri’s future, Kurt Zouma, and much more!
WAGNH: Everton fans held high hopes for this season back in the summer, seeing that they finally got the manager they’d wanted for some time and several big name signings; however, the season’s not exactly gone according to plan, the club currently sitting in the bottom half of the table. Where do you stand in regard to Marco Silva? Are a lot of Everton fans already #SilvaOut?
RBM: I think it is split half and half on Silva. He has obvious managerial shortcomings — his stubbornness being the most glaring of them — but I honestly believe that if Jordan Pickford does not palm that ball into Divock Origi’s path in December’s Merseyside derby, we would be far better off in terms of points, and you can’t blame Silva for a goalkeeping error.
I cannot understate how mentally damaging that defeat was to Everton; before then, we were sixth, now we are 20 points off sixth. Plus, Silva was dealt a terrible hand, inheriting the mess that Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce and former director of football Steve Walsh left behind. It was never going to be a quick fix.
You can blame him for many things that have happened since, but after sacking Roberto Martinez, Koeman and Allardyce in the last three years, I’m fed up of the constant change at the club which never leads to any long-term gain. I also have more faith in Silva than previous managers that he will get things right given time, and the style of play has been encouraging at times. Director of football Marcel Brands has proved an exceptional appointment so far, whose signings will only help Silva mould his team further in future transfer windows.
Silva must improve, but has earned the chance to do so, in my opinion.
WAGNH: What have been the key contributing factors to Everton failing to reach the expected aims and form for this season? Is it down to the manager, the players or both?
RBM: Both. As mentioned above, Silva’s stubbornness has been to our detriment. Refusing to give players like André Gomes, a man who had no pre-season and was injured until October, a break, for example, has not paid dividends, as has his persistence with an ineffective 4-2-3-1 formation.
The squad is also not as good as it is perhaps made out to be — Idrissa Gueye is the only player who I believe would get into a top six side — but more than anything, this team still lacks a spine. We have beaten none of the top ten this season, which is absolutely appalling. You do not need to be an exceptional footballer to see out a 2-0 lead at Newcastle, or a 2-1 lead at Millwall with 15 minutes remaining, either.
WAGNH: What are Everton’s goals for the rest of the season and beyond? Do you believe that the plans of eventually competing with the top 6 teams are still realistic at this point in time? Is your board doing the right things to achieve this target?
RBM: I don’t expect us to beat Wolves or Watford to seventh now but if we do, I think under the circumstances, and the dread state the squad was in when Silva arrived, that would be a decent season. The top six may not be realistic yet, but who wants your club to lack ambition? If Silva is not significantly closer to them in a year’s time, though, then I accept questions would need to be asked.
The board are certainly improving after some glaring mistakes in recent years. Denise Barrett-Baxendale has done a fantastic job since becoming chief executive last May, and Moshiri’s heart is certainly in the right place, and while I am grateful for the amount of money he has ploughed into Everton, I feel he would be better served leaving the football decisions to Brands.
WAGNH: The Europa League isn’t necessarily a competition English teams like to take seriously, at least in the early stages of the tournament, something Everton know very well in recent history. Do you think Chelsea’s journey to Kiev during the week will have an influence on Sunday’s game?
RBM: I hope so, though Chelsea’s squad is far superior to ours in terms of quality and we undeniably have a mental block against the top six, having not beaten any of them since January 2017.
I remember us beating QPR the Sunday after we played Dynamo Kyiv away in the Europa League the previous Thursday in 2014-15, but that was a dreadful QPR side, so probably isn’t much to go by. The best thing Everton could do is get into Chelsea’s faces from the first minute, rather than sit back and contain. Silva has at least showed some ambition in these games this season, though, so I would expect as much.
WAGNH: Chelsea’s currently loaned out a player to Everton who’s very much liked among the fan base, both for his strength and ability, as well as his middle name. How has Kurt Happy Zouma’s season been going for the Toffees after initially struggling to get minutes under Marco Silva? Would you want him to stay up north?
RBM: Zouma has been impressive, and certainly an improvement on what we had in central defence. He has formed a solid partnership with Michael Keane, who has improved immeasurably alongside Zouma, too. He is not perfect — I would like to see get more goals from set-pieces, given the chances he has been presented with — but I would say he is probably Everton’s best and most composed defender.
WAGNH: Ross Barkley’s Chelsea career under Maurizio Sarri got off to a flying start after some brilliant performances in the first half of the season; unfortunately, the former Everton man hasn’t been able to hold his form and inconsistency, lack of concentration and detrimental mistakes, as against Manchester City, have led to him being pretty much back to square one. Was this to be expected from an Everton perspective? Do you think Ross will still come good for us?
RBM: I don’t think Barkley’s Chelsea career will have surprised many Evertonians; certainly not myself. For all of his attacking prowess, too often for Everton he was guilty of either making brainless decisions, or over-thinking, in key areas of the pitch.
I think Barkley lacks the mentality to improve much more for Chelsea. He seemed hyper-sensitive to criticism at times while at Everton, and for whatever reason, drifts through too many games. Look at how many players in his position are making more of an impact on games despite starting their Premier League careers later than him — Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, and even James Maddison, for instance.
I don’t think he’s been well-advised in his career, but I also think he is too mentally fragile an individual, even if the talent is definitely there. He is in for a horrible reception on Sunday after the disappointing fashion of his departure to Chelsea, so I will be interested to see how he copes with that.
WAGNH: What can we expect from Marco Silva on Sunday; will he go all out against us or play as defensively compact as Wolves did, a method that seems to work wonders against Chelsea?
RBM: He will want Everton to take the game to Chelsea, without throwing too much caution to the wind. He tried that against Tottenham at Goodison Park in December and we were comprehensively and deservedly beaten 6-2.
But Everton are the home team, so we have to force the issue to some extent. We won’t be as defensively compact as Wolves were, but hopefully put in a similar performance to that against Liverpool a fortnight ago. Though I would argue Chelsea are the most beatable side of the top six at the moment, so perhaps a little more ambition than against the Reds.
WAGNH: Who should we be particularly wary of on Sunday?
RBM: Lucas Digne is an excellent full-back whose understanding down the left flank with Bernard improves game by game. The Brazilian can also cause problems with his pace and trickery, as can Richarlison, providing he doesn’t allow himself to get sidetracked by personal battles with Chelsea players.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is adding more goals to his game, too, and is perhaps Everton’s most dangerous aerial threat, despite his finishing still leaving a lot to be desired at times.
WAGNH: Lastly, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s clash between Everton and Chelsea?
RBM: 1-1. I can’t back Everton against a top six team, and as an outsider, Chelsea seem to have turned a corner lately after the 6-0 defeat at Manchester City and the FA Cup exit to Manchester United. The fans could play a huge part if the generate the same raucous atmosphere as they did for the derby, and as I said before, we have to look prey on any potential fatigue in Chelsea’s side.
I’m looking forward to it, though, and I’ve rarely looked forward to an Everton game since December.
A big thank you to Matthew for once again taking the time to sit down and answer my pressing questions!