By Matt Jones
Football on a Friday night, then. What do we reckon?
While Everton’s showdown with Watford won’t be given the full Sky Sports “FRIDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL” treatment this week with Chelsea’s potential coronation as champions taking the spotlight, the prospect of the match at the end of the working week is still splitting opinion at the end of 2016-17.
I don’t mind it. Granted, for Watford fans making the trip north who don’t have intentions of sticking around in Liverpool for the evening, it’s not an ideal arrangement.
Still, it’s a fixture under the floodlights, it’s a fine appetiser for the weekend and for a sport that can fall into a monotonous pattern, invention should always be welcome. Sky Sports seem to be hesitant to fully commit to the slot, though, with Tottenham’s visit to West Ham last weekend the first Friday night fixture of 2017.
Doing anything to stop talking about the actual football here, aren’t I?
The loss to Swansea City was grim for Everton. A defeat was anticipated by plenty, but few would have envisaged a showing so lifeless. The January win over Crystal Palace, the team’s last away from home, feels a long time ago now.
While that’s an issue that must be addressed, in the short-term Everton will hope to wrap up a strong home campaign with victory over a Watford side that are fighting with the Toffees for the best sunbeds on the beach based on recent displays. Mind that hot sand, lads.
Don’t let this campaign, one of evident progression and burgeoning positivity, flounder in the final stages Everton.
If the Toffees were unable to snatch a victory at Goodison Park on Friday, that’s how it would feel. The team has failed to score for three games in succession and while there was an intensity from those in blue for long spells against Chelsea, the decisiveness and determination that’s epitomised Ronald Koeman’s version of Everton was absent against the Hammers and Swans.
It must come back against Watford. And you sense it will. There’s always a buzz in the stands for the final home game of the season; Everton should feed off that.
In addition to more tenacity, the Toffees need to show more conviction too. Without Morgan Schneiderlin at the hub of the side, Everton have been all-but lobotomised. Their construction of attacks is clumsy, movement in the final third is ponderous and, Tom Davies aside, there’s a worrying unwillingness to take the ball in tight spaces.
The Frenchman will be back at the base of midfield on Friday to piece together Everton’s attacking forays. And while it’s a credit to his talent that the team struggles to function without him, it’s something that must be a concern the manager is considering addressing
The lap of appreciation is always an intriguing occasion as well. Expect the body language of Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley to be analysed in great detail, in particular.
“Was that wave a wave goodbye?” “Why did Lukaku wait until last to come out of the tunnel?” “Was Barkley’s applauding enthusiastic enough?” It’ll be great.
Of all 20 Premier League teams, Watford are the side I’ve seen the least of. Indeed, even when watching them in the flesh at Vicarage Road earlier in the campaign against Everton, it was tough to concentrate on anything other than the abject efforts from those in blue in the 3-2 loss.
It was staggering to see that the Hornets would have moved up to ninth had they beaten Liverpool on Monday night a few weeks ago. That surprise was enhanced by their poor display that evening and further after they were easily brushed aside by Leicester City 3-0 in their previous outing.
They’re a club for whom inconsistency has become a constant. The cast of players changes season after season, while there’s speculation that a new manager may be on his way into the club for yet another summer. So it’s tough to get a handle on the Hornets, even at the end of the term.
But from the outside looking in, this season has been one of consolidation. Watford have ensured they will take part in the Premier League for a third campaign in a row, after all. It’s a position from which the supporters will hope to see them kick on from, whether that be with Walter Mazzarri at the helm or not.
Focusing on Friday’s game, Watford, like the Toffees have been toothless in front of goal as of late, failing to score in their last three games. Additionally, they’ll be without Tom Cleverley, who has impressed since making his loan move down south.
Still, they were comfortably better than Everton in that match at Vicarage. There are players capable of causing problems available to Mazzarri too, with attackers M’Baye Niang, Troy Deeney and Nordin Amarabat all capable of unsettling any defence.
Nullify them and this should be another comprehensive home win for Koeman’s men.
Everton Team to Beat Watford…
The frustrating team news from a Toffees perspective is the absence of some promising youngsters, who would have surely featured in this one had they not been called up to the England Under-20 squad. Jonjoe Kenny, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ademola Lookman, Kieran Dowell and Callum Connolly will miss this one.
There’s positivity elsewhere, as it’s been said Schneiderlin will be back in midfield and should give the Toffees some trademark impetus. Koeman confirmed Maarten Stekelenburg is injured too, meaning Joel Robles will step in between the sticks again, you’d think.
Another boost comes in the form of Mo Besic, who is back in the squad after a season on the sidelines with a serious injury. It’ll be fascinating to see what kind of shape he’s in and whether he’ll feature in Koeman’s plans moving forward. Hopefully he gets a few minutes to show what he’s all about.