Crystal Palace v Everton. The Everton Forum preview

What an afternoon we had at Goodison Park a fortnight ago!

For all the world it looked like it would be yet another defeat, our 6th in a row but, somehow, through a mixture of (mainly) luck and determination, we came away with a victory and 3 much-needed points.

At the time the win seemed like the perfect send-off for caretaker-manager David Unsworth. I thought we would take the momentum of the 3 points, get ourselves an exciting manager over the international break and look to the future, onwards and upwards etc…

Yet, in true Everton style, here we are, 2 weeks later, heading into the busiest phase of the season and still we don’t have a manager – nor do we look close to appointing one.

So next up for (what I assume will be) David Unsworth’s Everton side is Crystal Palace away on Saturday at 3pm.


The Palace

Played 7.
Lost 7.
Scored 0.

There aren’t many teams that started the season worse than us but that from Crystal Palace really was a special effort.

Unfortunately for us however, since then Palace have shown significant signs of revival.

The Palace board wasted no time in binning Frank de Boer for a ‘safe pair of hands’ in Roy Hodgson and whilst he initially started with a string of defeats, the experienced former England boss seems to have got the South London side into some sort of groove.

Everybody thought Chelsea would come to Selhurst Park on October 14th and pile on more misery, but from what seemed like nowhere, Palace picked up a valuable 3 points to finally cheer their supporters.

A week later they were unfortunate to lose a game they largely dominated against Newcastle in the 86th minute and then back at Selhurst Park they rallied late on to secure a dramatic 2-2 draw with West Ham from 2-0 down.

A fortnight ago, they went to Wembley to play Spurs with renewed optimism and put in a good performance, narrowly losing out by a goal to nil (a game they definitely deserved to get something from).

From the outside looking in, the catalyst to the revival seems to be the return to fitness of one key man – Wilfried Zaha.

The Ivorian has become absolutely instrumental to Palace and Roy Hodgson’s decision to play him through the middle as a striker appears to have paid dividends with him scoring twice since his return (both goals coming at Selhurst Park).

In the 4 games since his return, Zaha has been up top with support coming primarily from Andros Townsend. However, this weekend, Palace are boosted by the return of their main centre forward, Christian Benteke.

Should Benteke (who always seems to score against us) be deemed fit to start, it’s likely Zaha will play off him with Townsend potentially moving onto one of the wings.

I’ve got to say, I wish we went in for Benteke in the summer. Ronald Koeman made it abundantly clear he wanted a target man and the Belgian is one of the best in the Premier League. He’s a real handful; big, strong, dominating and very hard to keep in check.

In theory, a partnership between Zaha and Benteke could work a treat for Palace. There’s the quick forward able to latch on to flick-ons or passes in behind and there’s the strong hold up man who can make those flick-ons and offer the aerial threat in the penalty area.

If they start and Palace play it right, they can both hurt us, make no mistake.

Behind the two star forward players, we’ll likely see the typical Roy Hodgson 2 banks of four.

In central midfield, Luka Milivojevic will offer the defensive screen whilst Yohan Cabaye will likely start alongside to provide his usual tenacious and scrappy performance. I must admit, I don’t watch loads of Crystal Palace, but when I do, Milivojevic usually stands out as a canny operator and as much as I just don’t like Yohan Cabaye, I won’t deny he does have possess some class on the ball and from dead balls.

Recently, the en-vogue on-loan Chelsea man Ruben Loftus-Cheek has started from the right in Palace’s midfield 4 but it’s possible he’ll miss out on this one having suffered a back spasm playing for England on Monday night.

If Loftus-Cheek does start, however, he’ll be another threat for us to worry about. He’ll be full of confidence after his strong England performance against Germany and already possesses the qualities required to thrive in the Premier League.

On the left Palace have been going with Jeffrey Schlupp, however it’s plausible he could return to left back which would allow for the inclusion of Benteke (with Townsend coming to the left wing).

Palace’s back 4 under Hodgson tends to include Scott Dann and Mamadou Sakho at it’s heart with Joel Ward one side and Jeffrey Schlupp/Tom Fosu-Mensah on the other, whilst in net Hodgson has turned to Palace stalwart Julian Speroni to a degree of success.

As a defensive unit, I actually don’t think it’s too bad. The keeper could be better but there are 2 solid centre halves and a few decent options at full back.

To me it’s no surprise that a defence-minded manager like Hodgson (or Allardyce before him) has been able to get more of a tune out of that defensive unit to at least keep Palace in games.

Overall, I think we can expect a functional Palace team on Saturday – no nonsense, solid at the back, competitive in midfield with pace and strength going forward.

I’ve got to say, I look at the Palace squad and don’t think it’s THAT bad – certainly not bottom of the league bad, anyway.

The Blues

I don’t really know what to say about Everton at the minute.

I’m not sure what direction we’re going in and sadly, not even half way through the season I’m wondering if it’s just time to write it off until the FA Cup draw comes along.

The board seem to be showing no urgency in bringing in a new manager and the longer it goes on, the more likely I feel it is we’ll just give it to Unsworth in the hope he swims rather than sinks.

Only Everton could go from an assault on the top 6 and the Europa League to a season write-off and faith in a rookie manager by November.

Of course, none of this general moan is a dig at David Unsworth, I’d love for him to do well because I know he loves the club, but the board putting faith in a man with 3 Premier League games managed under his belt doesn’t seem like the signal of intent we’ve come to expect.

I see a squad that needs investment in January and what players of the ilk we need are going to want to play for David Unsworth when he might be competing against big name managers?

Anyway, back to Palace away…

I’ll start with 2 positive omens –

1. Our last away victory came at Selhurst Park in January.

2. I believe we need to go an hour on Saturday without conceding at Selhurst Park to break a long-standing record of not conceding at an away ground.

Shockingly enough, the current record which we could beat on Saturday is held at Anfield, where we went 500 minutes without conceding a goal sometime between the 2 World Wars. These days we’re lucky if we go 20 minutes not conceding there (but that’s for next month).

Looking at the game itself, the defence that will be looking to keep that clean sheet seems likely to be that which started against Watford; Kenny, Jagielka, Keane and Baines.

Whilst I thought both centre halves were shaky and made mistakes for the Watford goals, I thought Jonjoe Kenny had his best game in a while against Watford. If we were being very picky, we could say he shouldn’t get attracted to the ball for Watford’s first goal however, he’s having to play the role of 2 men following Michael Keane’s poor decision to break the line in the first place.

Aside from that, the young full back (who seems to love Everton, which helps) was pretty good and tackled Watford’s go-to man, Richarlison a number of times. Kenny showed aggression, hard work and didn’t shy away, so for a young lad finding his way, you can’t really ask for much more.

Leighton Baines, much-maligned and quite under par this season (in my opinion, mainly due to the sheer volume of games he’s had to play) allegedly went to Dubai over the international break for a well deserved holiday.

Whilst Banes isn’t the ‘naughtiest left back in tha werld’ like he was once was, he’s had far too much of a workload this season thanks to Everton’s bizarre choice not to buy an understudy or at least register Luke Garbutt to a squad.

There is the potential for Unsworth to pick Ashley Williams on Saturday and (dare I say) maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing, as Williams thrives against the physical opponents (such as Benteke) however, I think the temporary boss will be looking for some consistency in his team selections after plenty of chopping and changing so far.

Moving into the defensive midfield area, I’d expect Idrissa Gana Gueye to continue alongside the returning Morgan Schneiderlin.

Hopefully Gana will return with a spring in his step after he helped Senegal to qualify for World Cup 2018. I’ve been quite disappointed with Gana after a decent first few games this season so it’d be sound if he could find the level of consistency we need.

Talking of consistency, Morgan Schneiderlin hasn’t been great whatsoever this season (understatement) and blues might prefer to see Beni Baningime continue. Personally, whilst I agree Beni has outshone most since he came onto the scene, I think we need to find a way of getting the most out of our best all-round central midfielder (which is Schneiderlin, in my opinion).

I suspect we’ll see Tom Davies continue as part of a 3 alongside Gana and Schneiderlin. Davies is another who’s been fairly poor this season but given that Ross Barkley is still injured and David Unsworth refuses to play Klaassen or Vlasic, the young scouser seems to be the only progressive central midfield option we have.

Who Unsworth chooses in the attacking positions is anybodies guess. Personally, I’d like to see Sandro Ramirez given an opportunity from the start but I don’t see Unsworth going down that route on Saturday (although expect to see him start v Atalanta next week).

Considering Lookman, Lennon and Calvert-Lewin all had a positive impact from the bench against Watford, it’s possible all 3 will start, however it’s hard to see Unsworth leaving out our hero and saviour, Oumar Niasse (plus favourites Rooney and Sigurdsson).

If I had a gun to my head and had to guess, I think Unsworth will pick Rooney, Sigurdsson and Niasse meaning we’d shape up in a 4-3-3 system with Sigurdsson on the left and Rooney playing wherever he fancies (yep, no width, again).

So my predicted Everton 11 is –

My fear for Saturday is we’re not very good at the back and the likes of Zaha and Benteke could cause our fragile back 4 all manner of problems. Then you consider we’re abysmal away from home and don’t play very well with the ball either, it doesn’t make for an appetising prospect (but what match is right now?).

The hope is we’ve turned the corner confidence-wise after the Watford win to arrest the slump. Ideally, the older lads (Jagielka and Baines) have had a good rest the past fortnight and the international players have gained a pep in their step whilst away (Pickford, Gana etc) so we can mesh it all together to thrash out another win.

But am I confident? Not really. Hopefully they prove me wrong though, If we can get that win here, it’s 2 in a row and with a nice little run of fixtures coming (the derby aside) you’d like to think we can start looking up the table rather than down.

Lose here and well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Prediction: 1-1

The referee is Anthony Taylor. I don’t like to pass too much comment on them anymore because generally they’re all woeful, however I will say Taylor has yet to brandish a red card this season (he averages around 4 yellows per game).

COYB!!!

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