Ahead of Chelsea’s clash with Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday, I sat down for a quick chat with Matthew Chandler from SB Nation’s Everton blog, Royal Blue Mersey to talk about how the Toffees’ season has been going since our last chat (yikes!). Be sure to check out the reverse edition on RBM as I give my take on Chelsea’s first season under Frank Lampard, our talented academy, former Everton loanee Kurt Zouma, and much more!
WAGNH: Firstly, how would you describe Everton’s season thus far? That you expected better seems a given, but how on Earth did it come to you sitting in the relegation zone (!) of the Premier League?
RBM: We have been utter rubbish. We can’t defend, we’re a soft touch in midfield, and the few chances that we make for our invariably lone striker, we rarely take.
There are countless other reasons why we’re in the bottom three. An underwhelming transfer window left us with just three centre-backs after hanging our hat all summer on re-signing Kurt Zouma permanently. Idrissa Gueye, our best player, left and his replacement, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, has been injured since the third game. Moise Kean has great potential at 19, but we desperately needed a proven, experienced striker.
Marco Silva, while evidently a nice, likable man, who I don’t believe the players gave up on, just wasn’t up to the job. But he’s gone now and our season starts in earnest with Chelsea on Saturday.
WAGNH: Marco Silva seemed like the perfect fit and was at the top of the candidates which Everton fans and their board favoured to succeed Ronald Koeman. Last season was widely seen as his year to form the squad and instill them with his way of football. This year, however, it seems as if the team has regressed; what’s gone wrong? Is it all down to Silva or have the players been primarily to blame?
RBM: I don’t think it’s ever all down to the manager. Like I said, he wasn’t backed as much as he probably hoped, and injuries to key players like André Gomes, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, and Bernard have been a hindrance, too.
That said, Everton never won a single league game under Silva that saw us go behind. He had no plan B, he could not find different ways of winning games, which particularly showed when teams came to Goodison and put the bunkers up, and he made bizarre substitutions. Putting on a right-back in Seamus Coleman when losing at home to Norwich, or putting on Morgan Schneiderlin, one of the slowest and defensively-minded Everton midfielders I’ve seen, when 4-2 down at Anfield baffled many people.
Players have to take their fair share of blame, too, though. Gylfi Sigurdsson, our record signing, has been appalling all season, as has Seamus Coleman. Michael Keane has regressed and looks lost without Zouma next to him. Jordan Pickford is conceding too many goals from shots he should be saving and his distribution is letting him down. It will be interesting to see if Silva’s departure sparks any of them into life.
WAGNH: Despite your league position, Everton made some huge signings over the summer and was even able to secure the services of one of Europe’s most exciting talents at centre-forward in form of Moise Kean. All these reinforcements haven’t really seemed to have been able to make an impact, however. Why do you think that is?
RBM: I think that’s a bit unfair. Gbamin, as I said, has been sidelined since August, so that can’t be helped. Gomes was having a solid season before his horrific injury against Tottenham. Djibril Sidibé, though a modern-day full-back in every sense given his apparent aversion to defending, is undoubtedly a great upgrade on Coleman (even if that isn’t saying much) and didn’t deserve the ignominy of being hooked before half-time by Silva on Wednesday at Anfield.
As for Kean, it’s disappointing that he hasn’t scored yet, but he’s only 19, so even with his hefty price tag (which isn’t his fault, obviously), patience is crucial. Look at Tammy Abraham; he didn’t pull up many trees during his Premier League loan spell at Swansea two years ago, but now at 22, he is flying for Chelsea. Kean, similarly, will take time. He hasn’t made much of an impact, that’s fair, but I don’t really know what or how much of an impact Evertonians should have expected from him so far, to be fair.
WAGNH: Former Everton midfielder Ross Barkley hasn’t really been able to make an impact this season as already during the last one, and Lampard criticised his lack of professionalism recently after being picture shirtless in a nightclub. What do you make of Barkley’s time at Chelsea? Has it been different to his at Everton? As someone on the outside of the situation, do you see him having a future at Stamford Bridge?
RBM: Ross Barkley will probably never regain the adulation of Evertonians that he once had after seemingly stitching us up by putting off that summer move to Chelsea to go for a cut-price fee in January, taking Everton’s wages in the intervening period without kicking a ball.
It doesn’t surprise me that Barkley seems to have stalled at Chelsea because I’m not sure he has the same hunger that players like Mason Mount or Abraham, for example, seem to have. I don’t think he’s been particularly well-advised by people around him in his career, but even though he undoubtedly has a great deal of talent, I don’t think he takes responsibility for himself enough.
WAGNH: Even if there is a reaction from Everton following Silva’s sacking, how confident are you that the Toffees are capable of beating this exciting and in-form Chelsea side?
RBM: With Duncan Ferguson in charge instead of Silva, quite confident. Chelsea are certainly strong but not unbeatable, as their home defeat to West Ham last week showed. There is a way to stop them, and I certainly believe Everton have enough individual talent to do so.
Goodison would have likely been a nasty, toxic place to be had Silva remained; now we have one of the most beloved players in our recent history in charge who, let’s face it, could probably scare you into doing what he wants from you if all else fails. If Everton play at their best — as they often haven’t this season — we can win this.
WAGNH: How do you expect Everton to set up on Saturday?
RBM: This would have been so easy to answer were Silva still around because he stuck religiously to a flawed and dysfunctional 4-2-3-1 system at Everton, often keeping faith with players who had too often let him down. Until right at the end of his tenure when he changed to an even more disastrous 3-5-2, that is.
Instead, I have no idea how Ferguson will set us up on Saturday, but I would say he could do far worse than changing the formation, starting Kean and dropping Sigurdsson and Keane. I also think dropping Pickford isn’t a bad shout; he is in dreadful form at the moment and was particularly bad at Anfield on Wednesday.
I’d like to see: (4-3-3) Lossl; Digne, Mina, Holgate, Sidibé; Schneiderlin, Davies, Iwobi; Bernard, Kean, Richarlison.
WAGNH: Who do you think could cause Chelsea the most problems?
RBM: Richarlison has probably been our only consistently good attacking player this season and has three goals in his last four games, so I’ll go for him.
Bernard also brings great quality on the other wing and an unpredictability which Everton sorely miss when he’s not playing. Even Kean, despite not scoring, has looked more lively as a substitute than Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Cenk Tosun lately.
WAGNH: Lastly, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
RBM: 2-1 to Everton. I know Chelsea are clearly the better team, but I just really see Goodison and Ferguson being right up for this one; then, so should the players. That might be enough to help us get it over the line in this one. We won’t be as bad as we’ve been for the most part this season, anyway.
A big thank you to Matthew for once again taking the time to sit down and answer my pressing questions!