Swansea City v Everton. The Everton Forum Preview
When I previewed the Chelsea game I started off by being dismissive of the West Ham performance that went before it.
Being back at home, I thought we’d have a good go at Chelsea; we’d nothing to lose, we’d won 8 in a row at Goodison Park and we’d averaged over 3 goals scored each game in doing so.
It didn’t work out that way though and Everton were poor again.
Granted, we were ‘in the game’ for an hour, but once Chelsea opened the scoring you could just sense there was no way back for us.
It was the second of two back-to-back no shows from the blues and with little to play for, I fear we may be in for more of the same from here on out.
The first of our 3 remaining matches this season is on Saturday evening at Swansea.
I don’t know why but this seems to be one of those odd Everton fixtures that’s nearly always broadcast on UK television. Saturday is no exception, with the 5.30pm kick off set to be aired live on BT Sport.
Unlike their visitors, Swansea have everything to play for coming into this match. The Welshmen sit 2 points adrift of Premier League safety with just 3 matches left to play.
What’s more, with Hull City (placed directly above Swansea) due to play already relegated Sunderland in Hull at 3pm on Saturday, there’s a considerable chance that Swansea’s gap to safety could be 5 points by the time Swansea kick off.
If that were to happen, a defeat to Everton with only 6 points available after this match would all but seal the Swans relegation to the Championship.
Looking at their form, I think it would be fair to say that they’ve been up and down under their current manager, Paul Clement.
Initially it looked like the former Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Real Madrid assistant manager had turned things around; Swansea picked up four good wins against Liverpool, Southampton, Leicester and Burnley to climb out of the relegation zone.
Yet, just when it looked like they’d turned the corner, Swansea badly lost their way again. A run of 6 matches without a win (including a home draw against a woeful Boro team) caused the Swans to plummet back down the table, at the wrong time.
However, a vital home win against Stoke a fortnight ago, followed by a valiant point at Manchester United last Sunday (when they were the better team) has put Swansea back within touching distance of Hull and potentially even Crystal Palace (seeing as they have to play Man City and Man Utd, both away, in their final 3 matches).
Ultimately though, the question for Swansea will be, is it too little too late?
Their remaining fixtures are; Everton at home, Sunderland away and West Brom at home. Although they’re all matches against teams who have nothing to play for, matches of football don’t win themselves at this level.
Swansea will need their big players to drag them through and fortunately for them, they have one of the best players not currently in the top 7 to call upon, Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The Icelander is excellent and (aside from searing pace) has just about everything you’d want from an attacking midfield player (excellent eye for a pass, great technique, accurate long range shooting, dead ball ability etc).
There are 3 Swansea players who attack Sigurdsson’s dead ball delivery better than most; Alfie Mawson, Leroy Fer and Fernando Llorente. All 3 are really good in the air (they win over 50% of aerial challenges) and will represent a significant Swansea goal threat from dead ball situations.
Former Sevilla and Juventus striker Llorente is likely to lead the line for Swansea on Saturday. He’s not the most agile of centre forwards but still possesses the killer instinct to score goals. Alongside Sigurdsson, Llorente been at the heart of most of Swansea’s good results since Paul Clement arrived.
As well as Sigurdsson and Llorente, Paul Clement is likely to deploy Tom Carroll and Jordan Ayew in advanced areas. Although neither name is likely to strike fear into Evertonians when they see the team sheet, both come into the game with confidence having positively impacted the last two Swansea matches (goals or assists).
In deep midfield areas we’re likely to see two from Ki Seung-Yung, Leroy Fer and Leon Britton. The Swansea stalwart hadn’t seen much action this season until the recent mini-upturn in form so I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul Clement sought to choose him again here.
Swansea’s big weakness this season has undoubtedly been in defence. They’ve conceded by far the most goals (69) of all the 20 teams in the division.
Various defenders have been tried this season but it seems they’ve recently settled on a back four of Kingsley, Mawson, Fernandez and Naughton with ever-present Fabianski in net.
Overall, it’s clearly not a fantastic Swansea side but it’s one that is capable of causing problems for any visiting team.
I’ll confess, as an Evertonian, seeing what i’ve seen from us in the last two matches, I find it hard to come into this game with much optimism.
Often when 1 team has a lot to play for and the other has little or nothing, it’s the team that needs the result that comes through. That happened against Chelsea and could easily happen here.
Furthermore, there’s also the fact this match is played away from Goodison Park and we’ve been mediocre at best on our travels all season.
Our away record currently stands at: played 17, won 4, drawn 6, lost 7 = 18 points.
To put that into perspective, Crystal Palace have won 21 points on the road in 17 away matches.
Talking of Palace, they were the last team Everton beat on the road, 3 and a half months ago. Since then we’ve played 6 away matches, taking a mere 4 points.
I could write a whole piece on our away form and I’m sure somebody will if it carries on, but for me, we simply lack intent when we’re not on our home patch.
Players who often make winning contributions at home go missing away from home and too often we’re just too timid in our general play.
You only need to look at Romelu Lukaku’s recent away form versus his home form to see what I mean about lesser away contributions from our home match winners. At home the big man has been sensational, netting 12 times in 2017. Away from home in 2017 he’s scored just 1.
And whilst it’s easy to look at the main man, Lukaku isn’t alone; Ross Barkley is dissapointing away from home far too often, Kevin Mirallas goes awol and more often than not Lookman, Calvert-Lewin and Valencia struggle to make the impact we’d like.
It’s definitely something Koeman needs to think about for next season. He’s got the home form sorted this season, but now he needs to find a way of taking that success and emulating it on the road.
Looking back at this match specifically, Everton will be without Morgan Schneiderlin and as ever, he’ll be a big miss.
The experiment of playing Ross Barkley in a deeper role against Chelsea failed so i’d expect Gareth Barry to start at the base of our midfield on Saturday. Presuming he does, the legs of Davies and Gana Gueye around him will be important for us against a team who retain possession nicely.
The attack, as usual, will be led by Lukaku and the role of supplying him will probably fall to Ross Barkley. The other player who supports Lukaku will either be Enner Valencia, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Kevin Mirallas or Ademola Lookman.
Although I think Mirallas is by far the best footballer of the 4, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the youngsters given a crack here. My choice would be Lookman but I think (at this moment) Koeman prefers Calvert-Lewin.
At the back Swansea club legend Ashley Williams should receive a great reception back at his old club. I think he’ll enjoy a tussle with Llorente, as will Phil Jagielka.
Obviously Leighton Baines and Mason Holgate will continue in their full back roles which leaves just 1 position to mention, the goalkeeper.
Ronald Koeman might as well toss a coin over who he has in goal at the moment. In my opinion, Joel Robles is considerably better than Maarten Stekelenberg but ultimately neither are of sufficient quality to be Everton number 1.
What concerns me ahead of this one is Stekelenberg’s ability when it comes to dealing with crosses. He’s just too weak, so given that Swansea have an excellent set piece taker, don’t be surprised to see our goalkeeper targeted.
Overall, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the home team. Some teams can thrive on it, some teams can panic in it.
Had we not looked disinterested in our last two games, I’d have been confident we could use Swansea’s pressure to our advantage but our recent lethargy combined with poor away form leads me to think we could struggle in this match.
Obviously, I hope i’m wrong. There are 9 points left available to us and I want every single one. COYB!
Finally, I wanted to touch on Aaron Lennon. An honest professional who has always given his best, whatever job he’s asked to do.
It was really horrible to hear of his struggles this week. I know the club will give him the attention he deserves and I think i’m with all Evertonians in wishing him a speedy recovery.
Get well soon Azza!