Usually the first international break of the season would be greeted with disdain and annoyance, we suffer a long arduous summer then squeeze in just four Premier League games, plus a Carabao Cup tie, before we pause but maybe this time the feeling is different.
Although the season is a mere five games old, it seems to have taken its toll on the squad. The excitement of a mouthwatering transfer deadline day has now simmered somewhat, largely owing to a crippling and growing injury list. It felt like, by full time of the draw with Huddersfield, we needed the break for a chance to get bodies back into the squad, an opportunity to regroup, rest some legs and prepare for the visit of West Ham but instead the list of injuries has grown and it feels like we’ve lost rather than gained, injuries to Seamus Coleman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin adding to Theo Walcott’s injury against Huddersfield and the suspended Richarlison, meaning the squad is starting to become stretched.
The break also gives a chance to assess the early season games, which currently sees Everton unbeaten, it has been good and encouraging without being exceptional. An unbeaten start is very pleasing, dropping points from a match winning position against Bournemouth and failing to break down a resolute Huddersfield defence have been the major frustrations, so far, but we have to see the positives and there have been plenty to savour. The emergence of summer signing Richarlison, heavily criticised for the hefty £35m transfer fee paid, the young Brazilian has raised many an eyebrow with his eye catching form, Paul Merson claimed Everton had broken the transfer window with the signing, which seems a remarkably flawed statement considering the fees paid by Liverpool and Chelsea for goalkeepers, yet two weeks into the season, in his Sky Sports predictions column, Merson claimed ‘if Richarlison is fit Everton will win’ a bit fickle, Merse.
Lucas Digne has proved he’s more than capable of replacing Leighton Baines immediately, not just in the long term, assists against Rotherham and Huddersfield adding to some excellent performances down the left hand side has cast doubt over the future of Baines as a regular starter. Kurt Zouma has been impressive at the heart of the defence alongside the ever improving Mason Holgate.
In many respects one of the worst performances against Huddersfield was from the stands, groany Goodison was at its worst, especially in the second half. Any misplaced pass or any tackle by a visiting player was greeted with collective sighs from the sides, boos even greeted substitutions and the final whistle, it beggars belief at times. There is no given right to beat any side, Huddersfield came with a game plan, spoilers no doubt, but they stuck to it and got their point. The time wasted at throw ins, goals kicks and substitutions was not reflected by the officials in the added time allocated but on the day we didn’t have the creative nouse or the quality to break down the stubborn, yet determined Terriers defence. This is something we have to expect as Silva, admittedly, wants to play open expansive attacking football so naturally teams will come to Goodison to sit in, play deep and time waste. It’s hugely frustrating as a spectacle but understandable.
The break should also give us time to reflect, it is all very subjective, of course, however, if we roll back to the summer of 2017, the Koeman and Walsh debacle had left us in a huge mess, a bloated squad recklessly built with millions upon millions squandered on below average players.
At this point, it is worth reminding ourselves, of the job that faced Marcel Brands and Marco Silva. Not only did Brands have to reduce the wage bill and the squad size but also improve on what we had before, a monumental job that simply cannot be concluded in one summer transfer window, given the fact it was shortened by the early closure and a World Cup summer makes the task even tougher. Clearly unfazed Brands got to work, shipping out the dead wood one by one, salvaging what was left of a disastrous spending spree last summer. On the other hand improvements were a must, if any Evertonian had been asked to draw up a shopping list you’d pretty much have heard the same answer which would’ve consisted of centre backs, two please, a left back, better quality on the wings and improvements in the central midfield – Brands clearly had the same idea and delivered with Mina, Zouma and Digne coming in to bolster the defence, Richarlison arrived to play wide or even as a central forward, the much coveted Bernard was a late coup on a free transfer and Andre Gomes followed Digne and Mina by making a loan move from Barcelona, the incoming and outgoings much needed, Brands deserves a lot of credit but it isn’t the end of the job, nor should it be. It’ll take time, hard work and several more transfers windows before we can be clear of the Koeman era, so for now we have to make do with what have and square pegs will have to, at times, fill the round holes, we will find it difficult to break teams down we won’t always get the result we think we should, players will pick up injuries and suspensions the manager will have to sacrifice one player for another to push for a result, players will underperform and it will be as frustrating as it could be exciting throughout the campaign but we cannot, from the stands, allow the constant negativity to slip in. Goodison Park can be an intimidating place for the visitors but it can be hellish for our own players, also. The scrutiny is on, week upon week, it’s a tough crowd to please and criticism can often be justified but it shouldn’t be forgotten the majority of this team hasn’t been bought by Silva or Brands, in parts it simply isn’t good enough, but it’s what we have and we have to support it.
Next up the hapless Hammers roll into town, they finally spent the money the protesters craved but they wont be the Everton of last season, they said, and they aren’t – Everton of 2017 had 4 points by now, they could even forgive their drubbing on the opening weekend because ‘our season starts at home to Bournemouth’ they said, but Bournemouth won, even Wolves turned up to the Olympic Stadium and took three points. A big game for both sides but this is one that we need the points to keep the home momentum going and leave West Ham point less.