And just like that, we’ve got another Premier League fixture on our hands. This time, Fulham will be traveling to Goodison Park to take on an Everton side that does look quite vulnerable. Sure, they have Marco Silva as their new manager, but the pieces of this side just don’t fit at all.
Richarlison will at least be fun. But what about an aging Gylfi Sigurdsson and Theo Walcott? Are we sure Cenk Tosun is any good for this league, let alone good enough to guide Everton to another seventh place finish? Are we sure Lucas Digne is better than Leighton Baines? Lastly, are Mason Holgate, Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin good enough to become the core group of players for the club for the next 5-10 years?
There’s just way too many questions revolving around the Blue side of Mersyside for them to be able to answer in order to become a consistent challenger to the top six at the moment. That being said, these questions don’t pertain to whether or not Fulham can beat them. They have their own problems to deal with.
On the injury front, Tim Ream returned to play an hour’s worth of gametime against Millwall in the Carabao Cup while Tom Cairney has returned to training. Meanwhile, Alfie Mawson is now under evaluation due to a back injury. If he does not start, that will be the fourth different center back partnership as the odds on favorites there will be Denis Odoi and Calum Chambers.
However, we may not know what system Fulham could play in as well. In the span of four halves, Slavisa Jokanovic has tried three different formations from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 to even a 3-4-3. All of this is in the name of being the most complete unit while Cairney is on the shelf and as long as the defensive cohesion is not in sync. So even my prediction for the center back partnership could be wrong for the sake of a center back trio. It’s all unpredictable here in Southwest London, and who knows if Fulham will come out with all guns blazing and full of confidence come Saturday. Either way, this is a very important game for both sides and we’ll know a whole lot more about where they stand afterwards.
On that note, let’s take a look at three of Everton’s most important players.
When such a famed journalist like Tim Vickery is even wondering where your development came from, you know your breakout to the upper echelons of world football coming out of South America has been quite startling. But that’s where Richarlison is now heading into his age-21 season. After one season at Watford, the Brazilian International thought it would be best to be joint at the hip with Silva and move to Everton this past summer.
So far this early in the campaign, Richarlison’s shot rate (2.67 per 90 minutes) is almost identical to his career rate since the 2016 Brazilian Championship (2.62 per 90 minutes). However, his shots-on-target ratio and his goal conversion rate have skyrocketed so much that his actual goals (three) is much higher than his expected output (1.33 according to Understat). This is the complete opposite from his struggles back at Vicarage Road where his expected goal count (10.66) dwarfed his actual account (five).
Either way, Richarlison is a massive component to an Everton side that are struggling to create good chances. They only sit 14th in the Premier League in shots (11.2 per contest) and 15th in expected goals (6.16). So any production out of their raw or aging attacking players will be critical for them to meeting any of their targets this season.
Next up is one of the few Everton players that has genuinely looked better from last season. Beforehand, Keane looked like he went from future World Cup squad member for England to complete transfer bust. However, the 25-year old dusted himself off and has gotten off to a brilliant start this campaign.
With a goal and an assist to his name, Keane already has surpassed his combined offensive output from last season and is currently setting career high rates in passing and headers won. Along with that, he has become a more veteran presence for an Everton side that has made plenty of adjustments along the back four over the past couple of seasons. Gone are the likes of Ashley Williams, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka being regulars and in are newer renditions in Mason Holgate and Lucas Digne. On the whole, Everton’s defense has been quite solid based off of shot quality (a 10th best total of 8.13 expected goals) and Keane will be the focal point as to whether or not Fulham’s attack will be able to take control of Saturday’s fixture.
Lastly, we take a look at one of the veterans of the club in defensive midfield. While Tom Davies and Morgan Schneiderlin are battling for the other spot in the double pivot of Silva’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Gueye is still in the starting XI amidst all the chaos. And like any other season, the Senegal International is the center of attention to Everton’s pressing game thanks to his club leading production in tackles (27) and interceptions (11). But like all 29-year olds, the other portions of his game are beginning to fade out, so Everton will need to be prepared to find his replacement sooner or later.
On the whole, Everton’s press has been good thanks to a fifth best passes allowed per defensive action rate of 9.35 per contest. However, that level of aggression has led to being exposed to a 14th best total of passes completed within 20-yards from goal with 45. The cohesion between midfield and defense has not been fluid this season at Goodison Park, just like it hasn’t been for Fulham as well. Whoever can settle their nerves the best could genuinely have the upper hand in today’s contest.