Tottenham Hotspur’s first English Premier League match under Antonio Conte comes to us later today from Goodison Park. An international break looms right after and both Spurs and Everton are in need of a result to give a boost for the next couple of weeks. Everton have been hit hard by the injury bug and also have a new manager in Rafa Benitez. Ahead of the match, I sat down with Trent from our SBN sister site Royal Blue Mersey to talk about the changes Benitez has made, what’s going on with the new stadium, and if given the opportunity: Who would he fire out of a cannon?
CFC: Everton took a bit of a blow when Carlo Ancelotti left Merseyside for the sunny skies of Madrid. That being said, landing Rafa Benitez isn’t a bad consolation prize. What’s the feeling about Benitez’s job so far?
RBM: I think that there was some skepticism and cynicism regarding Rafa Benitez at first, and that minority still remains. Rafa has helped the club take some positive steps forward, but injuries have hurt these efforts in ways that Carlo Ancelotti did not have to deal with until later last season.Players are expressing themselves more on the pitch, the team is generally deeper and more effective too. If Everton can weather the injuries and emotional letdowns (like against Watford), they will finish higher than they did last season, but that remains a big if.
CFC: Who have been the stand out players so far this season for the Toffees?
RBM: Andros Townsend has been a revelation since he was signed without a transfer fee, and Demarai Gray has also been really impressive at points, especially earlier on this season. Abdoulaye Doucoure was continuing to demonstrate what makes him so crucial next to Allan in the middle of the pitch before a foot injury sidelined him and hurt the club in the process. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was off to a flying start before injuries took him out of the lineup too. For a relatively small Blues squad, missing so many key players at points has hamstrung any efforts to retain a top six position.
CFC: Hypothetically speaking, let’s say I have a huge cannon with enough firepower to send one player on the squad into orbit. Who are you picking?
RBM: Fabian Delph is, hypothetically speaking, taking a trip then. I have nothing against him personally of course, yet he has not provided much of the leadership, veteran nous and stability that he ws brought in for from Manchester City several years back. Getting him off of the books would help the team improve and would allow them to sign someone that could really contribute to the movement that this team is collectively undertaking. Of course, this sentiment is a little ironic considering he’s coming off the best half of football he’s ever played for the Toffees.
CFC: January transfer windows usually don’t have much action but if you could get the right deal, what position needs the most help?
RBM: There is a lot of talk about strikers, but I believe that creative imagination and ambition is still required for this Everton side to challenge the top six; depth at either the left or right back positions also wouldn’t hurt, to be sure.The Toffees with Marcel Brands aren’t incredibly enthusiastic movers and shakers during the January window, yet someone like Matheus Nunes of Sporting CP or Jonathan Ikone of Lille could really make a major difference for the rest of this season.
CFC: Where is the club at with the new stadium? Did the pandemic cause major issues with the timetable for it?
RBM: There is real excitement for this project from supporters and the government alike; UNESCO has been less excited as they have removed the ‘world heritage site’ billing from the docks, but the locals are well aware that the millions the stadium will bring in for revenue as well as the jobs it will create are a bigger boost for the region than the empty moniker. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused problems for everything, as we all know; but the draining and infilling of the basin where the stadium’s foundation will lie is on course, even as the bureaucratic work has taken such time. The best laid plans do take time to develop, after all.
CFC: How do the Toffees line up on Sunday?
RBM: It will either be the preferred 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. With no Calvert-Levin, Doucoure or Yerry Mina, there will be less room to maneuver for Benitez than if the entire squad was available. With that all said, it will likely be Pickford; Digne, Godfrey, Keane, Coleman; Allan, Delph; Gordon, Gray, Townsend; Richarlison
CFC: How about a prediction for the match?
RBM: I think that both teams understand the significance of winning this match before they enter the third international break of the season. I want to say that Everton will find a way to win, but I suspect that the Antonio Conte effect will continue to be witnessed and felt. The last time the Blues beat Spurs at Goodison Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend were on the away side’s bench, so I would say 3-2 Spurs.