West Ham v Everton. The Everton Forum Preview
After back-to-back home wins against Leicester and Burnley that continued the blues impressive home winning streak, this Saturday sees the blues make their first trip to the London Olympic Stadium to play West Ham.
Whereas Everton have been fantastic at Goodison Park this season and are second to only Tottenham in terms of home points won (40pts in 17 games), the blue’s away form is probably what’s going to cost them a higher finish this campaign.
More on this later, but in 16 matches away from home so far this season, Everton have achieved 17 points (4 wins, 5 draws and 7 defeats) which, in relative terms, puts us only 8th in the Premier League’s ‘away table’.
Having turned our home form around brilliantly after the tripe offered up at Goodison last season, next season blues boss Ronald Koeman will need to get us firing away from home if we’re serious about achieving our aims of a top 4 finish.
In the meantime though, there’s still three away games (2 very winnable ones) to improve our mediocre away record this season, with the first of which on Saturday against West Ham.
This really hasn’t been the season West Ham fans were hoping for.
Last season everything seemed to be so positive; they were doing well in the league, winning lots of games, beating good teams, moving to a new stadium and ultimately qualifying for Europe.
Fast forward a year or so and a lot of what was going so right last season has gone so wrong.
It’s all been quite well documented but for me there are two overriding factors that have contributed to the Hammers slump:
1. The new stadium.
2. The failure to make quality additions to the squad last summer.
This isn’t to say there haven’t been other things at play having a negative impact but for me, those 2 things have been completely detrimental to West Ham.
The Olympic stadium is clearly a nice new stadium and i’m looking forward to my first trip there, but it just doesn’t look like a football stadium and nor does it seem as though big efforts have been made to convert it into a football stadium.
Everybody speaks about the stadium being the total opposite to The Boleyn Ground. The pitch looks much bigger, the fans are miles from the pitch and as a result, the intimidation factor has gone from playing away at West Ham, to the point it just seems like a bit of a jolly day trip for away fans.
Boisterous West Ham fans who used to pack the 30,000 seater Boleyn Ground and make a good, sometimes intimidating atmosphere are probably still there but they’re now diluted by 25,000 other new season ticket holders, who, let’s face it, wouldn’t have bought the tickets if West Ham stayed or, expanded the old Boleyn Ground.
What’s more is the fact it was the big centrepiece stadium of the 2012 London Olympics. As such, for the first visit, it’s got that type of ‘cup final’ feel that almost makes every away team raise their game when they go there.
Looking at West Ham transfers, the big story was undoubtedly that of last season’s star man, Dmitri Payet who left the club in January. However, I think the more pertinent point is that West Ham didn’t buy players of adequate quality last summer to ease the burden on Payet’s shoulders and propel them into another positive season.
A large number of players were bought to West Ham and just about all have had opportunities but with this comes risk.
When the majority of players bought in are foreign as was the case at West Ham last summer, it’s natural that they take time to; get to know each other, the environment, the language and how the manager wants them to play. What’s more, in bringing a large number of players in, any club runs the risk of annoying the players who were at the club, as they’re still looking back on how well they did last season and wondering why this new guy coming in from nowhere and taking their shirt.
Whilst I can’t say with too much confidence exactly what’s gone on at West Ham, it’s clear the summer signings haven’t had the impact they should’ve and from the outside looking in, it doesn’t seem like it’s always been a happy camp.
Looking towards Saturday’s match, the Hammers come into it having just secured 4 precious points against Swansea and Sunderland which are likely to have secured their Premier League survival for the season. As was the case with Burnley last week, I think they’d probably want 1 more win before getting their flip flops on, but survival hopes are looking much stronger than they did a fortnight ago.
The blues roll in with West Ham having a number of absentees. According to the Premier League Fantasy Football site; Angelo Ogbonna, Sam Byram, Michail Antonio, Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang, Gokhan Tore and Andy Carroll are all unavailable for this match.
The one name that leaps off that list as a bonus is Andy Carroll. Like or loathe him, the big striker is one of the hardest to deal with in the Premier League when he’s on his game so seeing him not on the team sheet would be a big boost for Phil Jageilka and Ashley Williams.
I’d expect West Ham to line up something like this; Randolph, Nordtveidt, Reid, Fonte, Creswell, Fernandes, Kouyate, Lanzini, Snodgrass, Feghouli, Ayew.
However Bilic could easily go with a natural right back in Arbeloa over Nordtveit, Collins over the returning Reid or an orthodox centre forward in Sakho over Fedhouli, forcing Ayew out wide.
When you look at the Premier League table, there are 6 good teams above us and as much as you want to win every game, you’d probably say 1 or 2 away wins against those would be fine, providing we avoid defeat more often than not.
Then, if you look below us in the table there are 12 teams who we should be looking to beat whether it’s home or away. Obviously it’s unrealistic to think we’ll win every game against those sides, but if we were to aim for 8 wins from those 12 away games next season, we won’t be far away from top 4 – providing we maintain our strong home form.
This season, in my opinion, the big difference to our form home and our away form has been the purposefulness of our play.
At home in the last few months we’ve looked a side who want to get on top and impose ourselves on the opposition. We’ve got a great goal scorer, we’ve been strong and snappy in the middle of the pitch and whilst our defence isn’t always the best, it hasn’t needed to be.
We’ve put teams to the sword at home at times. The team go out confident in the knowledge that they’ll score at least 2 goals and in recent weeks, whilst we’ve been on the run of 8 wins in a row, we average over 3 goals scored a game at Goodison.
Yet, when we go away from home, we don’t impose ourselves on games in the same way, or we go into our shell. We’ve lost away from home 7 times this season and 3 of those are against mediocre teams; Burnley, Bournemouth and Watford. I know we had a new manager and a new style to get to grips with when we played those games, but what disappoints me looking back is we were mainly outfought in all 3.
Draws at Hull, Stoke and Boro are three other, more recent, matches I reflect on where we’ve not shown the same purpose, we’ve started slowly, we’ve been timid and we’ve too often settled for a point (Boro especially).
That’s 6 games I’ve mentioned there against average to poor opposition where we’ve picked up just 3 points. When it comes to the final shake up in mid-May, a win or two from those 6 matches could’ve made all the difference.
Three away fixtures remain for us now; this one against West Ham, Swansea in a fortnight and on the last day against Arsenal.
West Ham has, in recent years, been a good away trip for Everton.
The blues haven’t lost to West Ham away since April 2007 (not including the penalty shoot out FA Cup defeat in 2015) and have a great record of 6 wins, 2 draws, 0 defeats since that league defeat 10 years ago.
On top of that impressive record is another. This time it’s the individual record of Romelu Lukaku against West Ham. Lukaku has remarkably scored in 9 consecutive fixtures against the hammers which I believe to be the longest active scoring stint in the league.
With the return from injury of golden boot rival-in-chief, Harry Kane, our Rom is likely to fancy another goal or two on Saturday against his favourite opposition. It’s been noticeable how confident Rom is when he lines up against West Ham, so hopefully from an Everton perspective that carries on this weekend.
In support of Lukaku is likely to be Belgian compatriot, Kevin Mirallas and in-form Evertonian Ross Barkley. I’ve written about the supplementary blend of these two players on earlier previews so I won’t dwell but I think both are really playing well at the moment.
Mirallas took some stick for being wasteful against Burnley but he showed a good appetite for the match which is always encouraging with Kevin. He was getting himself into good positions and on another day would’ve scored at least once from those opportunities.
Barkley, who did score on Saturday (screw off, FA) is just playing like a man who knows his game more than he ever has. I’m trying not to get too excited, given the lack of a new contract and how often i’ve praised his potential before but right now, he’s playing well.
Both Barkley and Mirallas are creatures of confidence, so to have both looking confident at once is something that’s great to see and also bringing the best out of Lukaku.
Our combative midfield 3 of Schneiderlin, Gana and Davies should remain in place for this match. I think there’s a really nice blend of hard work and steel between the three of them so personally i’d start them every game from now on so they can carry on getting used to each other.
The back four of Holgate, Jagielka, Williams and Baines practically picks itself at the moment so is certain to continue. The only question mark over defensive selections is in goal. We’re starting to see a bit of a slump from Joel Robles, mistakes are creeping into his game (I still can’t fathom what he’s thinking for the Burnley penalty) so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Maarten Stekelenberg might be given another chance.
Overall, it’s a match that I feel Everton should win. We’re playing a side who aren’t good at home this season, have some key absentees and don’t have all that much to play for.