The FourFourTwo Preview: West Brom vs Everton
Battle of two teams with two points from three games and a goal difference of -3.
WEST BROM FORM
- Swansea 3-0 WBA (Prem)
- WBA p1-1 Oxford (LC)
- So’ton 0-0 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 2-2 S’land (Prem)
- WBA 1-3 Porto (F)
- Everton 3-6 Chelsea (Prem)
- Everton 2-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Leicester 2-2 Everton (Prem)
- Paderborn 3-1 Everton (F)
- Everton 1-3 Celta Vigo (F)
‘Draw, draw, defeat’ reads West Bromwich Albion’s start to the season, which has suggested as difficult a campaign ahead as many have predicted. You know there’s not much to shout about when the club’s social media team use the word “triumph” to describe a sudden-death penalty shootout win at home in the League Cup to a team in League Two’s relegation zone.
It seems to be taking the Baggies’ squad some time to reach full fitness. Alan Irvine had to field a number of senior players in a midweek match against Hull that was supposed to be for under-21s – played behind closed doors, of course, to stop the potential crush of neutrals gathering to watch a youth team friendly between West Bromwich Albion and Hull.
Irvine will be particularly piqued that Georgios Samaras played only 45 minutes for Greece over the international break, instead of getting match fit with his new club. At last, though, Albion are close to having a squad ready to pick up points.
‘Draw, draw, defeat’ reads Everton’s start to the season, too. Actually, the Toffees haven’t won a game since May: pre-season saw them draw two and lose three. Coincidentally, FFT interviewed Roberto Martinez on the club’s first day back at training. Black widows, us.
Martinez is always of a sunny disposition but what will worry him is the manner in which his team have failed to win their opening games.
Last year, dropping points in August (specificially, drawing with Norwich, Cardiff and this weekend’s opponents) ended up costing them a sustained run at a Champions League place.
This time around, they may have been eventually outgunned by Chelsea in that ludicrous 6-3 but Everton have nobody but themselves to blame for throwing away leads in the closing minutes of games against Leicester and Arsenal, the latter a potentially decisive three-point swing in the battle for the top four.
There’s been no shortage of entertainment – Everton have scored seven, conceded 10 – but really, they’re already playing catch-up.
Still, win here and things will be looking up. However, Everton’s recent record against Albion isn’t fantastic: they’ve won as many as they’ve lost since the Baggies’ most recent return to the top flight in 2010.
Romelu Lukaku is likely, if not guaranteed, to return from his toe injury but Everton are missing several key men, and several less key men, in their search for a win. Ross Barkley is still out (though his recovery is going well), Leon Osman and Samuel Eto’o are both having calf knocks assessed, Steven Pienaar’s pelvis is also facing a race against time and Bryan Oviedo is still on the side of milk cartons. Arouna Kone has a knee injury, but he’s probably just saying that to get attention.
The Throstles have a number of players hoping to make debuts. Joleon Lescott should be fit to make his Baggies bow against his old club, having “come through” that midweek tie (as if death was the only alternative). New boys Cristian Gamboa and Sebastian Blanco also played in that game.
Youssouf Mulumbu is undergoing tests on the hamstring injury he picked up on international duty, and there are a half a dozen more in recovery who face late fitness tests, namely – deep breath – Ben Foster (thumb), Graham Dorrans (heel), Victor Anichebe (groin), Sebastien Pocognoli (thigh), Gareth McAuley (ankle) and Georgios Samaras (hair). Frankly, anyone could play.
Player to watch: Steven Naismith (Everton)
The Scot wasn’t exactly a marquee signing back in the summer of 2012 – in fact, some Everton fans were annoyed that David Moyes brought in an apparent makeweight from Rangers instead of promoting a youth prospect such as Barkley. And at first, Naismith made little impact: in each of his first two seasons, 18 of his 31 league appearances came from the subs’ bench.
But he’s started this campaign well, scoring three goals in three games from his central attacking position vacated by the injured Barkley. The 27-year-old has spoken recently of feeling as if he “belongs” at Everton now, after initially worrying he was “inferior”, and his confidence is flowing and showing on the pitch.
While often going unnoticed – which makes him more dangerous – Naismith buzzes around the pitch, winning the ball in the opposition half, creating chances and displaying a clinical finish (his 3 goals have come from 3 shots on target, and just 7 in total).
Arsene Wenger’s players were sufficiently worried that they felt the need to foul him on no fewer than 6 occasions in that 2-2 draw. Only Erik Lamela has been fouled more times in a single game, winning 7 free-kicks against Liverpool. Plus, it’s Naismith’s birthday on Sunday. Happy birthday, Steven!
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- WBA 1-1 Everton (PL, Jan 14)
- Everton 0-0 WBA (PL, Aug 13)
- Everton 2-1 WBA (PL, Jan 13)
- WBA 2-0 Everton (PL, Sep 12)
- Everton 2-0 WBA (PL, Mar 12)
Irvine returns to face Everton having left them in the summer after several years with the Toffees’ youth academy, where he was credited in part with Barkley’s rise to the first team. He’s chums with Martinez, too. “It will be nice to see Alan,” said the Spaniard. “He did a terrific job at our club and we wish him the very best of luck in his new project – just not this weekend.” B*st*rd.
Facts and figures
- Everton have only managed 1 clean sheet in 8 previous Premier League trips to The Hawthorns.
- The Toffees have equalled the Premier League record for most goals conceded after three games (10, last equalled by Arsenal in 2011/12).
- New Baggies' signing Georgios Samaras scored his last 2 Premier League goals against Everton, while playing for Man City on New Year's Day 2007.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Everton to get their season going. 2-0 away win.
Back 0-2 at 11/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication