Everton v West Bromwich Albion. The Everton Forum Preview feat. added Sam Allardyce, Gareth Barry, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon

After the decent start the blues enjoyed to life under Sam Allardyce (in terms of results, anyway), I think it’s fair to say, the honeymoon period is now well and truly over.

Everton’s dismal second-half capitulation at Wembley last Saturday saw us fall to our 4th consecutive defeat and honestly, with the way we’re playing, I’m wondering if we’ve even hit the bottom of this particular downturn.

The defensive stability that we thought we had found under Allardyce has suddenly vanished and worryingly, that’s despite the ‘protect the clean sheet’, Sam Alladryce #101 mantra.

I’m sure some will point towards the tricky fixtures we’ve had in 2018 so far (Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham) as the reason we’ve suffered poor results, however, judging by our performance levels in the last 6 weeks or so and especially the lack of goal scoring opportunities we’ve created, I’m not that convinced things will suddenly click when the opposition turns a bit weaker.

The Baggies

Saturday’s guests arrive at Goodison Park ahead of a 3pm kick off in 19th place, however Alan Pardew’s men are sure to be buoyed by their long-overdue victory last weekend.

That victory, a 2-0 home success against Brighton & Hove Albion, was West Brom’s first win since August (20 odd league games) and as such, the first for baggies manager Alan Pardew since his appointment in November.

In something of an ironic ode to Pardew’s dismissed predecessor, Tony Pulis, both of West Brom’s goals against Brighton were scored by defenders up from the back to attack corners.

Whilst you wouldn’t necessarily say that Alan Pardew’s teams usually thrive on goals scored from dead ball situations, this is still a West Brom squad that has years of Tony Pulis setplay routines drilled into them. The likes of; Evans, Hegazi and Dawson are a menace when they come forward and in other options like; Rondon, Rodriguez, Barry, McAuley, Livermore, Robson-Kanu and Krychowiak, they a plethora of other physical targets to worry any opponent.

Given the strength this Albion side have in the air, I think we can expect to see lots of crosses into the Everton penalty area from open-play (reflected by the fact 80% of West Brom’s attacks come from wide) with the likes of Brunt, Barry and Phillips all capable of decent delivery.

Looking back to the drab Boxing day encounter we ‘enjoyed’ at the Hawthorns (a 0-0 if you’ve forgotten already), it wasn’t really a match that we learned a great deal from; West Brom crossed a lot to mixed results, Gareth Barry ran the show, Everton struggled to keep the football and in the end, it was just two poor teams cancelling each other out.

I mentioned him there, but I thought the old pro Gareth Barry was the best player on the pitch when the sides met at the Hawthornes.

Whilst I wasn’t overtly bothered to see him go at the time, the more I think about it, the more I feel it was a bad decision by Ronald Koeman to sanction his summer 2017 move for a curly wurley and a twirl.

Looking at our squad on paper, you’d think we’re stocked up for central midfielders, so getting a player of his age out of the door shouldn’t be a huge loss, however Barry’s ability to control possession as well as his defensive know-how off the ball have been missed this season.

I think it’s a testament to the old stager’s abilities that he’s played virtually every game since his move to the black country, despite competition from England regular Jake Livermore and baggies headline-grabging loan signing Grzegorz Krychowiak.

Anyway, I’m sure the model professional ‘GazBaz’ will get a deserved warm reception from the Goodison faithful upon his return.

In terms of how West Brom will line up, I think we can expect Pardew to play as much of the side who finally broke the duck last weekend as he can.

If he does pick a similar team to that which defeated Brighton, West Brom will line up in 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 with Jay Rodriguez playing off the physical Venezuelan target man, Solomon Rondon.

The West Brom midfield will likely consist of 2 of Barry, Livermore and Krychowiak with Chris ‘great left peg’ Brunt and the sometimes dangerous Matty Phillips playing on the wings.

At the back, the West Brom defence usually stays the same, with Gibbs, Evans, Hegazi and Dawson in front of goalie Ben Foster – however, with continuing speculation about Evans West Brom future and injury doubts lingering over Hegazi and Dawson, it’s possible we could see changes – meaning the likes of McAuley and Nyom could be given an opportunity.

Whatever the baggies team, I think we can expect West Brom to be physical and to specifically target the Everton full backs. I’ll touch upon those 2 in more detail later on, but I’d be staggered if Alan Pardew hasn’t watched the footage of Everton’s defeat against Spurs and noted that the amount of joy Tottenham’s wide men got down the Everton flanks.

As a positive for the blues in an otherwise fairly downbeat preview, I’ll end the West Brom segment by revealing the poor statistics behind West Brom’s away form… they’ve managed 6 goals in 11 matches, 6 points from 33 available and haven’t won away in their last 10.

So surely, with Everton not being complete toss at Goodison, they can win this one, right?

The Blues

At half-time against Spurs and 1-0 down, I thought to myself ‘Okay, we’re 1 down, but these haven’t really gotten going here. If we hang in this for 25/30 minutes at 1-0, they might get nervous and we could easily get something today’.

Yet, in true Everton-style, we conceded within about 90 seconds of the restart and collectively, you could see every blue head drop. So, within 5 minutes of drinking my half time pint at Wembley, thinking a result could well be on the cards, suddenly it was just a question of how many we’d lose by.

There were a number of things that bugged me about that second half, but what I’d like to pick up on is the manager’s general attitude and his subs.

Allardyce took off 3 players, solely with the purpose of protecting them with the rest of the season in mind. Bolasie and McCarthy, both back from injury lay-offs and the new signing Cenk Tosun, were all wrapped-up in cotton wool – and I’m sure people will say that’s fine and understandable, but what I’ll say to that is; Okay, but why was every change just a like-for-like?

Stop me if this sounds mad, but when we’re losing anyway, why not just have a go with 2 up top? Instruct them to go long and see what we can do from the second balls?

I remember the Watford game earlier this season. Okay, they’re not as good as Spurs and we were at home, but they were in a great run of form and 2-0 up against us an Everton side totally lacking in confidene. David Unsworth (who, let’s be honest, is no tactical genius) out of sheer desperation, went 2 up front and guess what? We won the match 3-2.

We might have still lost against Spurs if the manager rolled the dice. In fact, we probably would’ve still lost against Spurs. But at least as fans, we’d walk away at the end knowing we at least tried to get back into it. On Saturday there was none of that and it was very frustrating to see a defeat accepted after 47 minutes.

Sam Allardyce needs to understand that Evertonians don’t do ‘taking our 2-0 defeat medicine and onto the next one’, just like we don’t accept a relegation dogfight attitude from a manager when £280m has been spent on this squad in the last 2 years.

As I watched the game in the away end at Wembley, it struck me that so many Evertonians are either ready to, or have already, drawn the curtain on this shocker of a season that once promised so much. You might think the fans might get up for a ‘big Wembley day out’ but there was zero enthusiasm, hardly any chants and just nothing there – which in mid-January, for a passionate fan base like ours is just quite sad really, and the second the 3rd Spurs goal went in after an hour, I’d say a third of the away section was getting away to beat the traffic.

If Sam Allardyce is serious about ‘more boring’ when we’ve had 4 shots on target in our last 450 league minutes, his relations with the Evertonians will only get worse. He must learn and learn quickly, that this is not a fan base that is happy with relegation fodder attitude – on and off the pitch.

Anyway, before I get back onto West Brom on Saturday, I need to quickly touch on the positive Everton news story of the week – the arrival of Theo Walcott!

The flying winger, 28 arrives at Goodison for a fee of £20m after 12 years with Arsenal.

I won’t go on and on (or I’ll try not to) about the signing, but I definitely think he brings two qualities that we desperately need; pace and goals.

Although you can never be too surprised what some people say on social media, I’ve been amused to see blues turn their noses up at Walcott. The ‘football manager sell-on value’ crew point towards his ‘old’ age (lads, he’s 28!), whilst others say he’s too injury prone (maybe they’ve a point on that one, but let’s see).

Personally, I see us signing a player in his prime, with a point to prove and masses of experience in English, Continental and International football. A player who gives us a different dimension (i.e. somebody who wants the ball in behind) and one whose pace should prevent teams from taking liberties with a high defensive line.

Of course, no signing is totally risk-free, but for the money paid and what we already know about Theo Walcott, I think he’s a good signing for Everton and we’re a good club for him.

I watched Theo’s initial interview and his press conference on Friday morning and must admit, I was impressed by the way he speaks, he seems to have a head on his shoulders and despite his lack of training with the team – I hope he starts on Saturday.

I’d like to see Everton start with a front four of Walcott, Bolasie, Sigurdsson and Cenk Tosun for this match.

I know he didn’t have lots of service at Wembley, but still, I was impressed with what I saw from Cenk Tosun. He showed tenacity, he looked tidy on the ball, he was happy to make lots of runs, happy to compete physically and looked decent in the air.

You’d think that a home debut against the team 19th in the league, who also happen to be dreadful away from home, would be a great opportunity for Cenk to open his Everton account, so hopefully he doesn’t disappoint.

In Bolasie and Walcott, I think we’ve got 2 wingers who are both quick, but equally both different in their playing style and how they utilise their pace; Yannick likes to get the ball to feet so he can run at his man, whereas Theo will pop it off to a player and look to run in behind his defender to get through on goal.

Personally, I prefer the simplicity of Walcott’s game, even if Bolasie will occasionally make his defender look like a muppet.

Gylfi Sigurdsson should start behind Cenk Tuson. As well as the Icelander did on the left for a period of time before Christmas, he is largely wasted out there and needs to be central where he can make things happen and make 2nd man runs to get into goal scoring positions.

However, the problem with Gylfi playing in the middle is that it means the manager will have to relegate three of the popular (or expensive) central midfielders to the bench or even out of the matchday squad.

If it were up to me, for West Brom at home, the three who’d miss out would be Davies, Gana and McCarthy.

I’m sure other plenty of people will suggest a midfield duo including two of those players, but I think the passing ability and eye for goal of Rooney (despite his poor recent form) combined with the discipline and physique of Schneiderlin (against a physical opposition – who he scored his only Everton goal against) would be the best midfield blend for this match.

Moving backwards, I’d like to see a defensive shake up with a return for Ashley Williams and the long-lost man, Luke Garbutt. However, it’s very difficult to say with a degree of certainty what will be selected, particularly with the return of Michael Keane.

So whilst I’d have Kenny, Williams, Holgate and Garbutt across the back (obviously with Pickford in goal) if it were upto me, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Allardyce spring a surprise – especially given that he went with a back 5 against this opposition at the Hawthorns and spoke about us needing to be ‘more boring’ after Spurs.

Regardless of the team Allardyce picks, what we do need to do is; a) use the left-hand side of the pitch and b) defend the right-hand side of the pitch.

Both flanks were awful at Wembley. We all know Martina is poor, but Jonjoe Kenny was given an absolutely torrid time by Son Heung-Min and what made things worse was the total lack of cover he received until Aaron Lennon entered the fray at 3-0.

The thing is, everybody knows Kenny is a youngster finding his way in the game and good as he’s been, he does need a helping hand against the best players. Whether that help comes from the winger working back or a defensive midfield player coming across – we can’t be hanging youngsters out to dry like he was against Spurs for too long.

As far as Martina is concerned, he simply shouldn’t be playing. I’m fairly confident Luke Garbutt isn’t going to come in and be spectacular and maybe he won’t even be good enough, but we’ve seen over weeks and weeks, Martina just isn’t good enough – so why carry on with it? Every single team is looking to exploit him.

I really don’t see what’s to lose by not giving a natural left back a go. A left back in Garbutt, who, let’s not forget, was given a 5-year contract amid interest from other Premier League clubs. All he’s doing by not playing is decreasing in value, so even if the intention is to get rid of him in the summer, just get him out there proving he can do a job, if only to protect his value.

What absolutely has not helped the Martina situation is the fact we don’t have a left winger operating down that flank. Sigurdsson has done some good things and will always work hard, but it’s just not his natural game to track back – we saw that as far back as Southampton away and as far attacking down the left goes – neither Martina or Sigurdsson want to even touch the ball with their left foot so getting to the byline on that side simply doesn’t happen.

Hopefully, lessons have been learned about our flanks and now we do have good wing options, at least we might be able to attack down them with some potency!

I’m not going to do a predicted team this week because I just can’t call how the manager will react to the heavy defeat at Spurs (you’d think there’d be some changes, wouldn’t you?) however, this is the team I’d like to see –

With a nice variety on the bench including; Davies, Calvert-Lewin, Lookman, Vlasic and Niasse among others (I’ve given up including Klaassen and Sandro – I’d personally be surprised if they both lasted the month at the club).

However all that being said, I really wouldn’t be surprised if we still see a starting line-up including Martina, McCarthy, Gana and Walcott on the subs bench.

One man who probably won’t be on the bench for this one is Aaron Lennon, who looks likely to move to Burnley.

There has been talk of him leaving for a couple of weeks now and in a strange way, I felt at the time his introduction at Spurs was probably a sentimental goodbye appearance as much as anything – given the strife he’s had off the pitch and the brilliant reception he’ll always get from the Spurs supporters. If that was to be the last time we see Aaron in a blue shirt, of course it’s a shame about the result on the day, but from his point of view, it was probably a nice game to be his last.

Like most blues, I’ll wish Lennon the very best at Burnley and I’m sure he’ll always receive a warm welcome back at Goodison. Many players leave under a cloud (see Lukaku and the 2 we’ve already let go this month) but not Lennon – a bit like Gareth Barry, who’ll face us tomorrow, he seemed a consummate pro, always gave his best and never hid on the football pitch.

So, good luck Aaron and thanks for the memories!

Anyway, given that we are fairly strong at home (averaging 1.73 points per match – still somehow 7th best at home in the league) this is a game we should really be filing in the ‘home banker’ category, but with our current form, it’s hard to be ultra-confident.

What I will say though, if we lose to these at Goodison, I will be worried about this slump and Allardyce’s (already low) approval rating will continue to drop like a stone.

The referee for this one is Stuart Attwell. His first time officiating for both sides this term, but maybe a positive omen in the fact he took charge of blues fixtures twice last year, with the toffees taking 6 points without conceding a goal.

4 wins until we can get the flip flops out! Let’s tick one of those off here, COYB!!!

Come join the Everton Forum! It’s quick, easy and there’s plenty to talk about from the match, to Everton, to footy, to sports, to gambling… you name it! Here’s the link – http://www.theevertonforum.co.uk/forum/forums

You can also get me on twitter @GigHaWatt – always happy to talk rubbish about the blues!

 

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