Time is running out for Ronald Koeman. His detached style, bungled signings and woeful results mean a defeat against Arsenal on Sunday will surely spell the end of his tenure. It should have been a different story on Merseyside. The captures of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Davy Klaassen and the prodigal Wayne Rooney meant an assault on the top six was a legitimate expectation.
The warning signs were there from the start, though. After Arsène Wenger put the kibosh on a move for Olivier Giroud, Everton found themselves painfully short up front. Sandro Ramírez has disappointed, but the negligence to sign a back-up now looks criminal.
Arsene Wenger, after emerging unscathed from a difficult game in Belgrade, will allow himself a small purr of contentment. Goodison Park has long represented a bête noir of sorts, but circumstances could hardly be more conducive to an away victory than they are right now. The victory over Red Star has abated some of the harsher criticism from last week’s collapse against Watford, but Wenger will want to suppress that narrative altogether by gaining the three points in Liverpool.
Here are the three key battles that will decide the result either way.
Ashley Williams vs Himself
In a parallel universe, the Wales captain would have been an Arsenal player. Williams’ dominant form for Swansea meant that his signing for Everton had been judged a canny piece of business. But it was he who started the fracas on Thursday night, his sideswipe at Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes sparking an unseemly melee between fans and players. It is the nadir of a dreadful few months for the defender, whose hapless form has hurt both club and country.
As John Stones showed last year, however, the well can be climbed. Williams remains an exceptional presence in the defence and a solid ninety minutes could do his employers – and himself – a world of good.
Idrissa Gueye vs Granit Xhaka
Idrissa Gueye doesn’t like attention. Rumours linking him with a move to Arsenal were quietly quashed in the Summer. But there’s a reason the top clubs are circling around the 28-year-old Senegalese international. Gueye made more tackles and interceptions than N’Golo Kanté last year. Even with his side floundering this season, he’s still in the top 5 for the former.
Gueye will be all over Granit Xhaka on Sunday. Nobody should pretend it was anything other than a difficult year in North London for the Swiss defensive midfielder. This season he has shown glimpses of improvement, even if he continues to lack concentration in the defensive phase. If he has time to feather passes from deep, Everton will pay the price.
Leighton Baines vs Hector Bellerin
Few players in the Premier League are as consistent as the Everton left-back. Even he has found it tough this year though. At 33, he’s perhaps played more extensively than Ronald Koeman would have liked but a dearth of alternatives means the former Wigan man remains the only viable option. Given the opportunity, his deliveries and set-pieces could be terminal for the visitors.
Hector Bellerin, meanwhile, should observe his counterpart closely this weekend. The top-knotted 22-year-old will have noted Mathieu Debuchy’s performance on Thursday with alarm. The Frenchman might have been injured for the best part of two years but he remains a better defensive choice than the speedy Spaniard. Doubts about his ability will linger until he can pair positional nous with his trademark pace.
Disagree with our suggestions? Then get involved by commenting below
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?