Tottenham Hotspur host Everton on Sunday in what is suddenly an important match for both sides. While Spurs currently sit second on the table at 53 points, only five points separate them from sixth place Manchester United. Just a few points back of United are the suddenly barnstorming Toffees, sitting in seventh on 44 points. It’s not crazy to think that Everton can at least nip a Europa League spot, though a lot has to happen that includes one of the top six clubs to go into a tailspin. Ahead of Sunday’s match, I sat down with Chris from our SBN Everton site, Royal Blue Mersey, to talk about the first season under Koeman, if Lukaku is off to sunnier skies this summer, and if Harry Potter spells can be used to clear up the Toffees midfield.
CFC: Everton are currently on a fantastic run of form, racking up 21 out of a possible 27 points in the last nine league fixtures, including that 4-0 destruction of Manchester City. Has anything changed since that 1-0 loss to Liverpool back in December?
RBM: Ronald Koeman has settled on his best formation, and the team hasn't looked back. There was a time this season when Everton were running a formation somewhat similar to what Spurs are using now. Problem is, Everton don't have three good center backs to use in a back 3, and Schneiderlin was not available to help shield deficiencies when players like Mason Holgate were exposed. Koeman took a defender off the line (Holgate) and added a man to midfield (star youngster Tom Davies), and it's clicked.
What's your feeling on Koeman now that you've had some time with him?
Generally positive. Koeman has afforded playing time to talented youngsters that they likely would not have gotten under Roberto Martinez, and it's paid off handsomely. Ademola Lookman has made an impact in his short time with the squad, and everyone knows about Tom Davies' ascent to the first team.
Koeman has shown an ability to adjust tactically in-game, which as simple as that may sound, was not always a luxury Everton fans enjoyed during the previous manager's tenure. The team's also found a certain measure of consistency they long had trouble with under Martinez.
The jury's still out on the Dutchman, but early returns are very encouraging.
China is the likely destination, but there has been some talk of Wayne Rooney heading back to Everton. It's probably a long shot, but do you feel there's any truth to the rumor and what would the reception be for Rooney to return to Goodison Park?
The odds of that return happening are shortening every day, it seems, and I'm not sure Everton fans entirely know how to react. From a sentimental perspective, Rooney would be welcomed back to the club with open arms. However, the prospect of paying a big fee and footing Rooney's wage bill at his age and ability is nerve wracking. The club need additional cover and creativity in the forward ranks, but in general, I think fans acknowledge that it would be a poor at best business decision.
Do you think Everton dodged a bullet with Moussa Sissoko, given how his time in Tottenham has gone, or do you think it may have been a different story had he ended up on Merseyside? Honestly, if you guys want him this summer, we'll trade you for Barkley just to end those rumors...
In short, yes. Koeman is not a reclamation project type manager with players who have perceived (fair or not) attitude problems, with Gerard Deulofeu's exile to Milan being a good example. Sissoko would be completely blocked in central midfield at Everton, and is not a clear fit for the nominal wide positions that the Blues employ. Between the big transfer fee and no way to predict Yannick Bolasie's devastating knee injury, missing out on Sissoko has been for the best.
I could list off all the players who have taken part in Everton's central midfield but we should probably keep this short. Let's say, for argument's sake, I give you a magic wand. Waving this wand and yelling out "EVANASCO!" (or if you're more sadistic, Expulso works too!) will allow you to make whoever you want disappear from the central midfield forever. Who's gone?
Yeah, that would take all day. The obvious answer for who to eject from the midfield depth chart would seem to be Gareth Barry, but given his leadership role and ability to distribute the ball if Schneiderlin is unavailable, I'll say James McCarthy should get the boot. He's not a clear fit for any of the three midfield roles Everton use, and is still worth a little something on the market to a team like Newcastle or Swansea. I reserve the right to change my answer to Mo Besic when he returns from his injury, though.
I don't want to be negative or anything....but Lukaku. He's killing it. You know what happens when strikers kill it: They get linked to any/all of the superpowers in Europe. You think Everton manages to hang onto him after this summer or does the Belgian move on for the GDP of a small nation?
Lukaku's an odd case. By all accounts, he's happy at Everton and ready to extend his contract, but it's clear at some point he is going to insist on playing Champions League football. You can hardly blame a player for that, but there are very few big clubs with an obvious opening at the starting 9 position, and so the rumors have dried up. Wherever he ended up, Lukaku would likely deserve to start, but he wouldn't displace a Cavani, Lewandowski, Costa, etc. For that reason, I think he stays this summer.
The obvious team to watch down the road is Chelsea, but I think Manchester United is the wild card. They're going to need a big time striker badly when (if???) Zlatan hangs them up.
What's your expected Starting XI for Everton on Sunday?
If it ain't broke...
What do the Toffees need to do in order to get a result against Spurs?
Put literal shackles on Harry Kane and Dele Alli.
Aside from that, the central midfield battle will be fascinating. If both teams line up as expected, Everton will have the numbers advantage, but Dembele and Wanyama are fantastic. If Schneiderlin and Gana win that matchup, I think Everton can steal a point or three.
How about a prediction?
I'll say 1-1. Everton are in tremendous form, particularly Lukaku and the midfield, but keeping Spurs' attack under wraps for 90 minutes at WHL is probably a non-starter.
I’d like to thank Chris over at Royal Blue Mersey for taking some time out and chatting with me. I did the same for him over at RBM, so check it out here when you get a chance!