Brighton v Everton. The Everton Forum Preview

Before I crack on with a few words to preview Brighton away, a quick apology to any regular readers for the lack of an Everton forum Burnley match preview – I was on holiday and frankly unwilling to interrupt my little bit of happy time to type a preview about this season’s Everton (I’m sure you understand).

Had I previewed that match, I would’ve demanded that the blues bounce back from the dismal Apollon Limassol result with 3 points. So, of course, in true Everton of 2017/18 style, they did nothing of the sort and were soundly turned over, showing barely a whimper’s resistance after we went behind.

I could go on-and-on about my feelings on the manager (and I’ve tried to be rational on the subject, calling for patience etc) but I think there comes a time when questions of his future must be asked and, for me, the Burnley result felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back in that regard.

Anyway, the international break that has followed the Burnley defeat felt like it came at a good time for us. It’s a sad indictment of where we are, because I always like to see us play and win games to build momentum but if we continued in the same vain we played our last two matches, I struggle to see how things would’ve improved.

So whilst it stinks of clutching at straws, I’d like to think that the week or so away from Everton has cleared some heads, meaning hopefully we can finally kick-start our season, starting on the South coast this Sunday lunchtime.


Brighton and Hove Albion

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know an awful lot about Brighton and Hove Albion, so doing a little write up on them won’t necessarily be my most accurate of the season. There will be the typical ‘newly-promoted team, their first time in the Premier League’ stereotypes so my apologies to any Brighton fans who stumble across this expecting anything more.

Sunday will be Everton’s first visit to the Amex Stadium.

I haven’t been, but having seen it on TV, it looks like to be a nice little ground and certainly one that’s at least 100x better than the Withdean Stadium that the Brighton fans were subjected to for 12 years prior to it’s completion.

Looking at their results so far, I’d say Brighton have made an okay start to life in the Premier League.

As I write this on Friday, Brighton sit 14th in the table with 7 points, achieved by attaining 2 wins, 1 draw and 4 defeats. They haven’t flown out of the traps like some newly-promoted sides do (only to drastically fall away later) but perhaps more encouragingly for their fans, they’ve steadily improved in the 7 matches they’ve played.

If their season so far is broken down into 2 month-long segments, separated by the first international break, I think the Brighton improvement is illustrated quite nicely:

August – played 3 – won 0, lost 2, drawn 1, scored 0 – 1 point.
September – played 4 – won 2, drawn 0, lost 2, scored 5 – 6 points.

So whilst Brighton won’t be threatening the Champions League with this sort of form, they’ll more than likely do enough to stay up if they continue like this, which is surely Brighton’s primary objective for this season.

As is the norm with any promoted side, the majority of Brighton’s points have come on their own patch, with 2 of their 3 home matches yielding 3 points (West Brom, 3-1 and Newcastle, 1-0) – leaving Man City as the only visiting side to leave the Amex with 3 points so far.

We can expect the Seagulls to be physical, hard working and well-organised. Their starting 11 won’t have loads of quality from top-to-bottom but Brighton manager Chris Hughton and an excitable home crowd will make sure the Brighton players make up for it with hard work.

Our hosts won’t be shy of mixing their style of play on Sunday. They can go direct from back to front (proven by the fact they’ve played the 3rd most long balls so far this season) but they’ll also try to get the ball down to their hard-working, lively midfielders who are capable of causing problems on the deck around the opposition penalty area.

If I were looking for a glaring weakness, I’d say Brighton’s main problem is scoring goals. They rank around 18th on shooting statistics (9.1 shots per game, 2.6 shots on target per game) and have only managed to score 5 goals (that’s still 1 more than us, mind).

Looking at the individual Brighton players that I’d expect to start on Sunday, the danger man so far this season has been attacking midfielder Pascal Groß.

The German has had a direct hand in 80% of Brighton’s goals, scoring and assisting twice. Groß usually operates off a lone ‘target man’ striker, typically Tomer Hemed, however, this weekend with the Israeli suspended, it seems likely the veteran Glenn Murray will lead the line for the seagulls.

In the couple of Brighton games that I have seen this season, I’ve been impressed with Brighton’s tenaciousness in midfield. Obviously, you come to expect the hard work from a newly-promoted side but the likes of Solly March, Davy Propper and Dale Stephens have stood out as hard workers who also possess some ability on the ball as well.

Behind them, Brighton have a settled back four of Bruno, Duffy, Dunk and Suttner. If I was to pick out a weakness there, I’d possibly look at the full backs, but the unit serves it’s purpose and in both centre halves Brighton have two really good targets for crossed set plays (wouldn’t it just be Everton if former blue, Shane Duffy scored against us).

Finally, in the Brighton goal I’d expect to see the Aussie Matt Ryan, despite the considerable air miles he racked up playing for internationally Australia last week.

One player I haven’t mentioned is Anthony Knockhaert. Even though he’s yet to do a lot in the Premier League, the Frenchman has been a player I’ve enjoyed watching in the Championship in the last few years and one who I’ve thought deserves his crack at the Premier League. He possesses goal threat as well as some pace any trickery.

Whether Brighton will have enough to stay up this season, I don’t know, I guess they’ll reassess in January, however they’ll view their home games as absolutely vital to their survival.

The Blues

This match kicks off at 1.30pm on Sunday afternoon – not because it’s on Sky or BT Sports in the UK, but so an Indian broadcaster can show it at tea time in India.

Usually, you accept these matches being moved for TV purposes but in this case, with such an early, long and awkward trip for Evertonians in the offing, it doesn’t sit right with me, considering the blues who can’t travel down for this rescheduled kick off won’t even be able to watch it on TV (legally, anyway).

Evertonians who work hard all week will have to sacrifice a precious lie-in on a Sunday morning to hit the road at the crack of dawn just to make the kick off. Public transport simply isn’t an option because of Sunday services, so a 550-mile round trip on the motorways is the only way – barring an overnight stay in Brighton at considerable cost (even if there are worse English towns to go to overnight).

Then there’s the fact this is the first of 8 matches Everton have in the next 4 weeks up until the next international break – Surely, anyone in their right mind would think Everton could do without silly delays like this to bunch games together? Clearly not.

Anyway, it is what it is – The fans lose sleep (literally) to make a very long trip on a Sunday morning and the players lose precious time for rest ahead of big upcoming games (I notice Lyon, who we host on Thursday play Monaco on Friday night, so have nearly a week to prepare for us).

After our last match against Burnley, Everton majority shareholder Farhard Moshiri took to his favourite PR mouthpiece, Jim White to release a comment in support of his manager, Ronald Koeman. Whilst I guess his backing was to be expected, given that he’s publicly gushed over Koeman a few times, the words Moshiri used didn’t fill blues with a great deal optimism.

The Iranian referred to Burnley, our 7th match of the season and already our 4th defeat, being ‘the only unexpected loss’ we’ve had this season, which naturally prompted Evertonians to question why a club like us should ‘expect’ to lose football matches to anyone (Nil Satis Nisi Optimium, or what?).

Whilst Moshiri was clearly looking to use the difficulty of Everton’s opening set of fixtures as a reason to say the manager should be afforded more time, his choice of words definitely left a sour taste in Evertonian mouths.

If Moshiri does somehow believe Everton should ‘expect a loss’ against the likes of Spurs, United, City and Chelsea – surely Brighton don’t make his expected defeat list.

With the greatest of respect to Sunday’s hosts, we should be beating them, forget about all the ‘expected losses’ nonsense – Everton should be beating Brighton and that’s that. I look at the sides we often compare ourselves to (basically last season’s top 6) and I can’t see any of them not leaving the Amex with a victory.

That being said, with things the way they are for us at this moment, it won’t be easy and make no mistake about it, Brighton will definitely fancy their chances of beating us. They’ll know that we’re atrocious away from home under Koeman, having won just 4 away matches in his reign (0 since January of this year) and right now, they’ll probably see us as a wounded animal that represents something of a scalp.

How Koeman sets his team up for this match is anybodies guess, he’s tried many different combinations so far this campaign and nothing has really worked, so there’s every chance he’ll continue to experiment to try and stumble across the right formula.

For what it’s worth, although many have cried out for the inclusion of a few of our ‘fearless’ youngsters to get us out of this mess, in his time of need, away from home, I think Koeman will look primarily to his more experienced players to find a way of winning. So with that in mind (gulp), I wouldn’t be surprised to see the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ashley Williams, start on Sunday.

Personally, I don’t think Williams should be anywhere near our team if Jagielka is available, but I have a nasty feeling the manager will stand by him for a reason that genuinely escapes me.

If he does select Williams, I think we’ll see Michael Keane partner him whilst Cuco Martina (another gulp) and Leighton Baines will continue at full backs.

In midfield, I reckon Koeman’s preferred partnership of Schneiderlin and Gueye will continue (despite understandable calls for a more attacking option among the duo) with a trio of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney and potentially Nikola Vlasic in support of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

So this is the 11 I suspect Koeman might start with –

If it were up to me, I’d make a few alterations to that team, with Phil Jagielka, Jonjo Kenny, Ademola Lookman and Oumar Niasse getting a game in a 4-4-2 system (with Gylfi Sigurdsson given a go in central midfield) but I don’t see Koeman being so bold in a match that feels so important to his tenure at Everton.

In terms of how I think this result will go, it’s sadly a tricky one to predict. Looking at the two sets of players, it should be an away win, but with the pressure Everton are under, our poor form and dreadful away record, I really wouldn’t be surprised if we dropped points here.

What does seem likely is a drab football match – neither side have attacked efficiently this season; Brighton have scored 5 league goals whilst Everton have scored just 4.

It certainly doesn’t strike me as a game worthy of a 5/6am alarm on a Sunday morning so props to the travelling blues, I hope they enjoy the seaside and the team reward them with a much-needed 3 points.

Referee – Michael Oliver. Usually one of the better ones.

My prediction – 1-2 Everton (Murray, Rooney, Niasse)

COYB!

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