Tottenham Hotspur and Everton face off today in what is a defacto elimination match for UEFA Champions League qualification. Spurs are six points out of fourth while Everton are nipping at their heels. Europa League or Conference League are still well in consideration for both sides but that’s not what either manager are telling their teams today. Joining me for a preview from the opposite touch line is Matthew Chandler from our SBN sister site, Royal Blue Mersey. We talk about Everton’s season overall, who the standouts have been, and what that new stadium means to the Toffee faithful.
CFC: We’re in the home stretch and this is a pivotal match in the race for Europe. While both clubs aren’t in great positioning for the top four, Europa is still very much alive. How are you feeling about it?
RBM: Can’t wait for the season to end, to be honest. Our squad is so depleted through injuries - we named only eight of nine substitutes at Brighton on Monday, two of them were rookie goalkeepers and the only senior player of them was a toiling Alex Iwobi. We’ve made great strides this season but don’t look ready for Europe. And given the detrimental effect that the Europa League can have on league form, I’m not sure I even want it yet.
CFC: Who has been the standouts in the lineup for the Toffees? Any unsung heroes that don’t really get enough credit? Who has disappointed?
RBM: Ben Godfrey has stood out since joining from Norwich in October. He’s fantastic. He’s played at both full-back positions and in his more recognised centre-back role and excelled in all of them. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has tailed off a little since the start of the season but has improved again this term, while Michael Keane, Lucas Digne, James Rodriguez and Abdoulaye Doucouré have also impressed.
Richarlison has been a little disappointing, albeit has found better form since moving from a wide position to striker in February. I expected better from some of our fringe players this season - André Gomes, Iwobi and Bernard have underwhelmed. Also, Joshua King has barely played and sadly made no impact since signing until the end of the season in February.
CFC: Carlo Ancelotti seems more than happy on Merseyside. While I know he’s signed until 2024, is there talk of giving him a bump or is it waiting to see if the Toffees get into Europe?
RBM: Ancelotti has done a great job with a really horrible hand, chiefly the problems COVID has thrown up and the fact that he is still having to work with a bloated squad compiled by about four of his predecessors. He’s made mistakes and isn’t above criticism, but I don’t think any reasonable Evertonian would attribute much blame to Ancelotti for the way our season has fizzled out somewhat. There are so many mitigating factors. Above all else, we are better now than when he arrived in December 2019. That, to me, is good enough.
Also, unless things go absolutely catastrophically wrong, I’d rather just stick with Ancelotti for at least the next three seasons, I think. I’ve grown very tired of the constant false dawns and chopping and changing, and who would we get that’s better than Ancelotti if he left? I want to see what he can do with a few years to build his own squad. That excites me more than any new manager could.
CFC: Let’s talk about the new stadium that’s slated to open for the 24-25 Premier League season. Assuming that the designs are followed to a T, what do you love and what don’t you love about it?
RBM: I love the design and the location on Liverpool’s waterfront, and the fact it will boost the economy in one of the city’s more barren areas. The area Goodison Park is situated in will also be redeveloped into housing, office spaces and more in what’s called a ‘legacy project,’ which is great.
I don’t love having to leave Goodison. Just because I’m a miserable bastard who likes his seat on the halfway line and can’t be bothered with the change. But hey ho - it’s a very first world problem, I suppose.
CFC: Silly Season is right around the corner so here’s three questions for you in one: Who earned a new contract, who do you want sold, and who is a target you think Everton can get that helps?
RBM: Digne certainly earned his new contract he signed recently. Even as a left-back, he’s so important to our attacking play, and is just one of our most indispensable players.
I wouldn’t bother offering King a new deal beyond this season, while I think some of those aforementioned fringe players’ races are run at Goodison (Fabian Delph, Iwobi, Bernard, Gomes, etc.).
Everton have been linked with Norwich right-back Max Aarons, who will probably cost a bomb but looks like the outstanding talent in a position Everton desperately need to upgrade, so I’ll go for him as a target.
CFC: How do the Toffees line up on Friday?
RBM: (5-2-1-2) Pickford; Digne, Keane, Holgate, Godfrey, Coleman; Davies, Gomes; Sigurdsson; Rodriguez, Richarlison.
CFC: What’s your prediction for the match?
RBM: That it will be the worst game of football of all time? Both teams look like they’re limping to the finish line, so if there is a winner, I think it’ll be the least-worst side on the night. 0-0.
A huge thank you goes out to Matthew and RBM. I sat down with them for their own interview to talk about Spurs and our club’s own issues. You can check it out as part of the pre-match routine here.