Before Maurizio Sarri’s new Chelsea take on Marco Silva’s new Everton on Sunday, I sat down for a quick chat with Matthew Chandler from the Everton blog “Royal Blue Mersey” to talk about the beginning of a new era for both clubs this season. Be sure to check out the reverse edition on RBM as I give my take on Chelsea’s new look, title aspirations, Eden Hazard, Ross Barkley and quite a bit more!
WAGNH: How has new coach Marco Silva fared so far? What are the main differences between the current Everton manager and the ones from last season? Do you already miss Sam Allardyce?
RBM: Marco Silva has made a big impression on most Evertonians so far. Last season, Ronald Koeman appeared not to know how best to use his players, playing signings like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney out of position, whereas Silva seems to have a much clearer idea of what his best team is. His summer signings, such as Richarlison, Lucas Digne and André Gomes, were a vast improvement on the arrivals before last campaign, too.
We are a far more attractive side to watch now than we were under Sam Allardyce, Koeman’s replacement – and although that’s probably not saying much, we have genuinely played some great football at times, not least last Saturday in the win over Brighton & Hove Albion.
WAGNH: Macro Silva is known to rapidly move between clubs; malicious gossip has it he may be using Everton as a further stepping stone. Does this concern you?
RBM: Not particularly. Koeman had the same criticism thrown at him, but whereas he would flirt with clubs like Barcelona while at Everton, or decorate his Christmas tree in red (much to many Evertonians’ annoyance), Silva seems more in for the long haul at Everton.
If he leaves for a bigger club, it will mean he has succeeded at Everton, so should he depart having ended our 23-year trophy drought, for example, I’m sure most fans, myself included, would wish him well.
WAGNH: Everton have truly splashed the cash in recent transfer windows, yet haven’t been able to achieve the results the club probably will have wanted/expected; will they continue to go down this route until they finally find themselves in the top 6? What are your realistic expectations for the current season and the future?
RBM: We haven’t achieved the desired results in recent seasons because we had a partnership between Koeman and former director of football Steve Walsh which was completely dysfunctional. The pair reportedly didn’t get on, and above all else, Walsh was the wrong man for the job. He was a scout at Leicester City, in which time he helped bring players like Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté, but he was clearly ill-suited to the role of director of football.
Walsh was replaced in May with former PSV director of football Marcel Brands, who has vast experience of this job and whose relationship with the manager appears far stronger. The two appear on the same page, and it shows with their excellent summer signings.
I think we probably will continue to spend money to break the top six, but more out of necessity. It costs a fortune to compete with the elite, so we have no real choice.
In terms of this season, I still think we’re some way off the top six even if we’re making great strides. Seventh place would be a good first season for Silva; seventh and the FA Cup would be a fantastic debut campaign for him. Long-term, his aim must be to break into the top six at the absolute minimum.
WAGNH: Richarlison has been on fire and arguably your best player hitherto; what can we expect of him for the remainder of the season? Are you scared that the big guns like Chelsea, who’ve actually been linked to him on several occasions in the past, may come knocking soon if the Brazilian continues to excel and improve?
RBM: Like I said about Silva leaving, if Richarlison were to depart for a team like Chelsea, it would mean he’s served us well; similar to Romelu Lukaku when he left for Manchester United last summer. The difference, though, is that under Walsh and Koeman, we never replaced Lukaku’s goals with a striker of similar quality. Should Richarlison leave, I would have much more faith in Brands and Silva to replace him appropriately.
Things can change quickly, but he seems to enjoy being at the club, has already struck up a rapport with the fans and clearly has a strong bond with Silva. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
WAGNH: Similar to Chelsea, Everton have several exciting prospects among their ranks such as Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ademola Lookman and Jonjoe Kenny — how much time and confidence are they being given by Marco Silva? Lookman’s future, especially, wasn’t looking too bright at the club; has his situation improved?
RBM: Silva clearly has a great deal of faith in our youngsters; Tom Davies, 20, was handed the captain’s armband by the manager for the first time earlier this season, and has led the side out on numerous occasions since. Calvert-Lewin, Lookman and Kenny have also enjoyed a fair amount of game time, too, which is pleasing to see.
Lookman’s future looks a little brighter than at the start of the season, when he was reportedly pushing for a return to RB Leipzig, where he spent the second half of last campaign on loan. But Silva has managed him far better than Koeman or Allardyce, who both ostracised him; he has called him “our present and our future” and is giving him increasingly more game time lately.
Given Theo Walcott is in poor form, it might not be long before Lookman receives his first league start of the season. But Everton were linked with a swap deal with Crystal Palace involving Lookman and their full-back, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, this week, so a move away may still be on the cards.
WAGNH: Everton surprised many in the summer by securing the services of multiple Barcelona players, including André Gomes, Yerry Mina and Lucas Digne. While that may sound like some brilliant business at first, these players actually had a tough time in Spain and were ultimately not able to succeed in Barcelona — have they been a hit or miss for Everton this season? Could they cause Chelsea any problems on Sunday?
RBM: Lucas Digne has been a categoric success. The left-back has taken the reins from Leighton Baines admirably; his delivery is superb, he has bags of energy and looks an astute defender, which is becoming increasingly rare among modern-day full-backs.
Gomes has only played the last three games due to injury but has already made a huge impression in central midfield. His range of passing is superb, and allows the criminally underrated Idrissa Gueye to concentrate on his defensive work; Gomes looks a far better partner for Gueye than Morgan Schneiderlin or Tom Davies, for example.
Mina, again due to injury, has only been involved in the final minutes against Brighton on Saturday, but played the entirety of Tuesday’s friendly against Gor Mahia. It’s too soon to say whether he has been a hit or a miss, but given Chelsea loanee Kurt Zouma is ineligible to face his parent club on Sunday, he will almost certainly make his full Everton debut at Stamford Bridge.
Mina, a 6ft4 centre-half, certainly has the physicality to cause Chelsea problems from set-pieces, and while Digne and Gomes have yet to score for Everton, they definitely could create chances for players like Gylfi Sigurdsson or Richarlison, our joint-top scorers this season.
WAGNH: Another new face is of course centre-back Kurt Zouma; how has the Chelsea loanee fared so far? Has he been able to build up some form and work on his defensive game? If so, are you hoping that Chelsea may deem the defender superfluous and could aim to sell as we did with Lukaku (sigh)?
RBM: Zouma has been excellent and has helped rejuvenate Michael Keane, who had a torrid first season on Merseyside last year. He is an imposing and confident defender, and his distribution from the back has also been impressive. The two have struck up an excellent understanding in defence, and most, if not all, Evertonians would love to see him make his loan move permanent next summer.
If I were to nit-pick, I would say Zouma, like Keane, should have more goals to their name given the amount of opportunities the two have had from set-pieces. But this is a minor complaint, and undoubtedly a nice problem to have than last season, when we had two over-the-hill defenders in Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams, and another dreadfully out of form in Keane.
WAGNH: A player who’s been excelling at Chelsea after a rather bumpy start is former Evertonian Ross Barkley, going from strength to strength and (arguably) finally fulfilling his full potential. What have you made of his rise to the top this season? Do Everton supporters still hold a grudge against him after a somewhat unceremonious departure?
RBM: Ross Barkley, I have no doubt, will get a terrible reception from Evertonians. He went for a medical at Chelsea last August ahead of a £35 million move, only to seemingly change his mind and stay at Everton, despite being injured. Then, in January, with Everton needing to sell since his contract would have expired in the summer, he joins Chelsea for about £15 million.
To many fans, it seems Barkley cost the club £20 million, plus whatever he earned in wages in the time in-between. He has lost a lot of, if not all, good will from our supporters, but it is undeniable that he could be a danger on Sunday, given his recent form. I still have doubts about whether he is mentally tough enough to be a mainstay in Chelsea’s midfield, and if his end product is good enough, but time will tell.
WAGNH: How do you expect Everton to set up on Sunday? Will you try to play to Chelsea’s majestic “Sarri-ball”?
RBM: Marco Silva has named the same line-up for the past three league matches, and with Everton having won four of the last five, I expect the only change at Chelsea to be the enforced replacement of the ineligible Zouma, with Mina coming in.
We were disappointingly blunt in attack in the away defeat to Manchester United a fortnight ago, so it would be encouraging to see Everton take the game more to Chelsea on Sunday. That said, a point away to a side unbeaten in the league this season would obviously be an excellent result, so while I don’t expect Silva to sit back and contain as Allardyce might have, I wouldn’t mind if we’re also a bit more pragmatic than our usual, expansive selves.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne; Gueye, Gomes; Bernard, Sigurdsson, Walcott; Richarlison.
WAGNH: Which of your players can cause the most damage to Chelsea? Who should we be wary of?
RBM: Richarlison and Sigurdsson are the obvious choices given their excellent recent form. The pace and trickery of Bernard on the left flank could also prove difficult for Chelsea to deal with, and as I alluded to earlier, potentially the heads of Keane or Mina from corners and free-kicks.
WAGNH: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
RBM: A narrow Chelsea win. I think we will score, because only Arsenal have kept a clean sheet against us this season, so I’ll say 2-1 to Chelsea.
A big thank you to Matthew for taking the time to sit down and answer my long list of questions. May the better side win (ed.note: as long as that’s Chelsea)!