Ahead of today’s clash against Everton, we sat down with Trent Nelson of Royal Blue Mersey, SB Nation’s site covering Everton. Everton have had a wild season that has now resulted in them sitting just above Newcastle in the standings with a new manager. Like Newcastle, they had a busy window and are excited to see some of their new signings in action in today’s match.
Coming Home Newcastle: So, we love Rafa over here. Please explain what the heck happened with him at Everton! It seemed like a solid move in the beginning that ended really poorly. What all happened during his tenure at Everton?
Royal Blue Mersey: There were rumblings even before Everton gave Rafa Benitez the opportunity as the boss that fans were not thrilled with even the thought of the selection; his history with Liverpool and his statements regarding Everton during that time left deep scars to be sure.
Yet supporters and writers alike, I believe, attempted to buy into the boss and his message, his energy, and his agenda when he was announced as boss, and over the weeks ahead as well. Unfortunately, while things started out well as you noted when the season became more difficult due to injury, poor luck, or shock results, there was no answer from Rafa.
His teams were too rigid tactically speaking, and the selections and formations seemed oftentimes incorrect too. This team was seemingly more afraid to concede goals than to play productive, efficient and entertaining football.
The Toffees never looked so helpless during Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure with the team, and between the months of disappointing, losing football, his excuses, and his row with Lucas Digne, which ended with his sale to Aston Villa, all played a part in souring what had seemed to be at one time, a thoughtful and interesting hire for the Toffees coming off of the departure of our famous Italian ex-boss.
CHN: Post-Rafa how do the supporters feel about ownership?
RBM: There is no love lost between Everton supporters and Farhad Moshiri, this much is clear. Protests were occurring across the days, weeks, and months of the first half of the season, once Everton started upon that slippery slope of draws and defeats that was interrupted only by victories against Arsenal and Hull City.
With the firing of Rafa Benitez and the hiring of Frank Lampard, as well as the winter business that was conducted by this team this season, I think Moshiri, his administration as well as his advisors can regain some trust from fans, but only winning will really get anyone off of their proverbial backs.
This team and its fanbase are trophy starved to be sure, with assistant coach Duncan Ferguson a member of the last team of Toffees to win hardware at all. There have been lots of transfer issues over the years, bosses that were supposed to be the answer, yet either departed or were fired for not being, evidently, the solution any longer.
If Moshiri and company can bring success to Everton, instead of mediocrity and disappointments, they will have the adoration of supporters without question; should the Lampard era go the way of the Benitez era, however, the campaigns to push the current ownership towards selling this club will continue unabated.
CHN: This window was a big one for Everton as well as they brought in two really good players. Could you tell us how adding Donny Van de Beek and Dele Alli will positively impact the team? Does it solve any of the problems Everton have had all season or is there still work to be done?
RBM: Yes, it was an uncharacteristically busy window for Everton, who not only brought in van de Beek and Alli, but also RB Nathan Patterson from Rangers, LB Vitaliy Mykolenko from Dynamo Kyiv, and Anwar El-Ghazi from Aston Villa.
Regarding van de Beek and Alli, they are two really useful players that Frank Lampard evidently wished to have as part of his welcome package. Both players found themselves upon the bench with their respective clubs, be that Manchester United or Tottenham, albeit by different routes.
While Donny couldn’t ever find time on the pitch with the Red Devils, relatively speaking of course, Dele slowly fell out of favor in north London after Mauricio Pochettino’s shock exit just months after he led them to the Champions League final several years ago.
Each player, when invested in the game and the team properly, can offer great creativity and playmaking on the ball. Alli is more a number ten in many ways, but van de Beek can play in a more advanced midfield role, as well as a deeper, more defensive, or holding position too. In this way, the Toffees shored up their offensive creativity and production but also brought in someone who could fill in deeper still if necessary.
The right and left-back that Everton brought in will, hopefully, be staples of this team for many years to come, while El-Ghazi provides better depth at each wing position. Overall, the team was, I think, addressed from top to bottom for the most part; while positive depth behind DCL is still missing, Richarlison might be able to provide that should players like Demarai Gray, Andros Townsend, Anthony Gordon, and Anwar El-Ghazi find themselves able to produce when their chances come.
CHN: Everton also brought in a new manager in Frank Lampard. What does Lampard bring to the table that will hopefully improve the team? Do you think it was the right hire for Everton?
RBM: At first, I was a bit taken back by his name, but after some consideration, I did not mind the thought or the eventual appointment. Chelsea is an unfair environment to coach in unless you have lots and lots of experience in that role - and sometimes not even then.
Frank Lampard’s organization and strategic sense, his experience as a high-quality player, the lessons he learned from his time as boss in London, and his enthusiasm are those qualities which I believe he’s already brought along with him, and that could pay dividends in the years to come should he do well and stay.
The phrase that was captured at his first training session with Everton I think expresses it all; “enjoy the ball.” During the Benitez era, it felt as though everything was wound so tightly that, indeed, the players were finding no joy in the game, and were simply going through the motions, whatever those might be.
Now, so much could change of course, as Everton are known for starting well under a new boss. Yet the energy and enthusiasm that the new boss showed upon the sidelines was impressive. He led the pregame exercises and drills and seems entirely enveloped by his return to the Premier League with the Toffees.
This Everton team has talent across the board to be sure, and I think the new boss knows that full and well. If the Blues have as much fun playing in the rest of the matches this season as they did against Brentford, then they will be a more difficult matchup than they’ve been for long stretches of this season
CHN: Everton are certainly having a less than stellar season, can this season be salvaged with a top 10 finish, or is the aim simply to not get dragged into a relegation battle?
RBM: I am usually an optimist until math tells me otherwise, and while Everton are not in a brilliant position at 16th on the league table, there are still many games to go, and with the talent this team has, it only takes a good run of matches with high confidence for things to change.
This team, essentially this same team with minor tweaks and innovations, has challenged with former boss Carlo Ancelotti just last season; while injuries and poor form have hobbled this team this season, that does not mean that a different boss like Frank could not recapture the form that we have seen relatively recently from this team when everyone is healthy and happy once more.
CHN: Where has this team struggled and suffered this season, regardless of the man in charge? Furthermore, what characteristics or innovations are fans hoping the new additions, as well as further time with the new manager, will endow this team with?
RBM: There has been a real lack of creativity from the midfield, especially in instances where Abdoulaye Doucoure hasn’t been available. His defensive abilities, as well as those offensive abilities that he keeps improving upon, have made him a really useful piece to this Goodison Park puzzle since his arrival to the team two summers ago.
Furthermore, the coaching has lacked a certain spirit, and the morale of this club seemed to be falling by the week under the last regime. Unfortunate formation choices, lack of communication, unsure players, and unlucky injuries conspired to leave the Toffees in their current position and state, but in just this January alone many of those issues have been addressed one way or another.
Frank Lampard will rejuvenate and reorganize this team, coaching them up where he sees fit and working to implement a smoother, more enticing, and exciting brand of football as was witnessed in the Brentford affair just the other day. Meanwhile, the midfield acquisitions should help to connect better the back of this team to the front of it, which should relieve some pressure that the backline has felt for great swaths of this season and parts of last.
CHN: How do you expect Everton to set up on Tuesday, and which of Everton’s players do you think can cause Newcastle the most problems in the match?
RBM: Everton played a 3-4-3 days ago against Brentford, but a 4-3-3 is possible so as to accommodate Donny van de Beek in the middle of the pitch too. While Ben Godfrey will be out until March-ish with a hamstring tear, and Abdoulaye Doucoure remains out with an injury himself, Dominic Calvert-Lewin may or may not return to the starting lineup, but will likely be on the bench regardless.
Should DCL not be able to start, then Richy will likely slide into the number nine and allow Demarai Gray another opportunity out wide on the left side.
I’m going to say that the team sets up in a 4-2-1-3, or some other variation of a 4-3-3 however, and that we see one of our newest signings just days into February.
Pickford; Mykolenko, Mina, Holgate, Coleman; Allan, van de Beek, Gomes; Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin, Gordon
CHN: Alright, lay it on us. What’s your prediction for Tuesday’s match?
RBM: I think that the Toffees will produce a good showing against Newcastle, despite that team’s rebuilt and reimagined squad led by Eddie Howe. Frank Lampard wants this team to enjoy the ball, and I think we will continue to do that in this potentially high-scoring match.
3-2 Everton get the three points, and the Magpie ascension will have to start in the next match