Everton will look to make amends on home soil with a presentable opportunity against Premier League strugglers Watford.
Rafael Benitez was clinging to a 100% home record since the start of his Everton reign until last weekend. In the second half, Angelo Ogbonna’s solitary headed strike ended that run to give West Ham United a victory over the Toffees.
With only a single win in their last four games, Benitez would be keen to rally his team and take advantage of a presentable opportunity against struggling Watford. The defeat against the Hammers pins the Toffees in the eighth spot on the table. A win that day might have taken them up to fifth. They face some task to gather around momentum and get back into European position then protect it from thereon.
An unfortunate defeat against Watford would not only hurt their prospects this season but drain out morale of the team. A rather worrying statistic for Everton suggests they have lost their last eight home meetings with newly-promoted sides, although Benitez will be keen to change that record.
Watford, under new manager Claudio Ranieri are already in a difficult spot. With uncertainty already surrounding the side following the sacking of Xisco, the pressure now falls on the experienced Italian manager. The London side sit just above the relegation zone in the 16th spot but may find themselves closer to the red line with a defeat this weekend.
Ranieri did not hope to start his return to English football in the manner that transpired last weekend against Liverpool. A Roberto Firmino hat-trick was overshadowed by a masterclass performance from the in-form Mohamed Salah, who scored and assisted in the game.
Against Everton, Watford have a task at hand to get a positive result. The Hornets have generally struggled away from home, losing three games and winning their one clash to Norwich City. Ranieri will be optimistic ahead of the match, although Benitez would be ready and waiting to collect three points at Goodison Park.
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The big blow for Benitez entering into this weekend would be the injury to Abdoulaye Doucoure, who is sidelined with a foot problem. The midfielder joins a host of other first-team stars, such as Fabian Delph and Yerry Mina. Primary forward players Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are still doubtful despite recovering significantly from their recent problems.
Rafael Benitez might not risk them as yet and continue with Salomon Rondon upfront. Calvert-Lewin, in particular, has been reported to have suffered a setback with his thigh injury, which should keep him out for another few weeks.
Those injuries have severely disrupted Benitez’s plans for the season, especially after starting so brightly with his available stars. With midfield and attacking options depleted, the manager will be keeping his faith in existing starters.
Tom Davies will be eager to take up Doucoure’s midfield position, as Benitez might prefer him to partner Allan in the central zone. One player who is at risk of losing his place is Alex Iwobi. The Nigerian has struggled for form, missing two good chances against West Ham. Those misfortunes might reflect on Benitez before selecting him against Watford and choosing Anthony Gordon in his place.
Probable Lineup (4-4-1-1): Pickford; Coleman, Godfrey, Keane, Digne; Townsend, Davies, Allan, Gordon; Gray; Rondon
There are four or five Watford players who could miss the Everton trip. Peter Etebo, Francisco Sierralta, Christian Kabasele are reportedly out of the clash altogether, while Nicolas Nkoulou could be deemed unfit after recent issues. Joshua King is also a big doubt to face his old club.
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Ranieri could be in line to change his system altogether after starting a rather conservative 5-4-1 against Liverpool. He could revert to a 4-2-3-1 and emphasise attacking football, particularly keeping Ismaila Sarr in mind.
The manager could bring back Tom Cleverley in the side and field him in an advanced position to improve the attack. Meanwhile, Juraj Kucka and Moussa Sissoko will likely be the starting midfielders, while Emmanuel Dennis could lead the front line in a lone role.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Foster; Femenia, Cathcart, Troost-Ekong, Rose; Kucka, Sissoko; Sarr, Cleverley, Hernandez; Dennis
- Everton have won their last three matches against Watford.
- Everton have won three of their last four homes games in the Premier League.
- Everton have lost their last eight games at home against newly-promoted Premier League sides.
- Watford have lost nine of their last ten away games in the Premier League.
- Watford have failed to score in five of their last seven matches in the Premier League.
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Gray, already considered the bargain signing of this season, started well for Everton, but his form has tailed off a bit in recent games. While the attacker remains a credible threat, creating space for himself more often in games.
With Benitez set to miss attacking options such as Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin in the short term future, Gray will have to take the chance to cement a place in this side. Not that his position is under threat, but like at Leicester, he might find it difficult to nail down a role if other attackers perform well. Against a struggling Watford side, it might be a good time to start firing again.
Everton 2-0 Watford
Although Liverpool gave them no time and room to create their own game, the Hornets were disorganised in the last round. They might struggle again against Everton as Benitez will have rallied his side to get a result against the Premier League strugglers.
Expect a Toffees win to heap more misery on Watford. Ranieri still has the ability to spring up a surprise with a positive result in his second game in charge. However, Everton, despite missing a host of first-team starters, particularly in attack, will prove too strong for the Hornets.