15:00 GMT, Saturday 10th March, Goodison Park (Liverpool, England)
Following his November appointment with the Merseyside club, Sam Allardyce’s main objective was to lead the Toffees to safety.
With nine games remaining in the season, Everton are close, having gathered 34 points to put themselves seven points ahead of Crystal Palace who currently reside in 18th.
Allardyce’s secondary mission was to restore the style of football Everton were once famed for. On this account, he’s decidedly less close. A major stumble in form has also put question marks over his first task, two wins and a draw being a measly return from their last 10 matches.
While the promised style is still noticeably absent, there may be good cause for Allardyce to go back to basics this weekend.
Brighton’s fortunes paint a much more positive narrative to this season’s Premier League story. Given little hope by many and no chance from a few regarding their chances of survival, the Seagulls have gone on to be the most successful of the newly-promoted sides.
Last weekend’s win not only put them ahead of Everton in the table, it also brought them a 3rd successive home victory and leaves them unbeaten in 7 games from all competitions.
If they can add to their single league win against the Toffees on Saturday, they will have a good chance of beating their previous highest finish of 13th position in the top-flight.
Last Time Out
Burnley 2-1 Everton (Premier League)
Another dull performance from the Toffees again left them empty-handed as they let a lead slip during a tepid second half.
While Burnley were the most adventurous of the two sides during the opening 45 minutes, Everton looked a little more threatening than they have recently with Cenk Tosun scoring his first goal for the club.
It was Gylfi Sigurðsson who was their main inspiration in attack, providing the creative nous after being restored to his favoured “number 10” position.
The biggest problem facing Allardyce remains with his defence though. While Jordan Pickford made a series of impressive saves to keep his side in the match, the defenders in front of him were the main reason the Toffees lost.
Seamus Coleman did well in only his second game since returning from injury, including providing the assist for Tosun, but the other three defenders were well off the pace and unable to with Burnley’s forwards.
Ashley Williams added a final indignity to his afternoon with a foolish red card, however, the main damage had already been done by that point.
Brighton 2-1 Arsenal (Premier League)
The Seagulls recorded a historic win as they beat the Gunners through merit rather than default. Arsenal’s troubles have been hard to miss in recent weeks but they started this match like a team looking to prove a point.
Lewis Dunk produced a seventh-minute header which tripped the Gunners and set the home side on their way to a classy first-half display.
Having doubled the advantage for Chris Hughton’s side in the 26th minute, Glenn Murray scored his 5th successive goal for Brighton and put the home team firmly in the driving seat.
While Arsenal shaded possession in the first half, it was Brighton who looked most likely to cause their opponents damage until the final 5 minutes which saw Arsenal score and then hit the woodwork.
The second half began with a crunching tackle by Sead Kolasinac on Ezequiel Schelotto which resulted in the Brighton man leaving the pitch injured but surprisingly no punishment for the Arsenal defender.
As the game wore on it was Brighton on the defensive, however, they successfully kept the Gunners from creating too many opportunities and professionally secured a significant scalp.
Ashley Williams serves the first of his three-game suspension this weekend while Eliaquim Mangala and James McCarthy are both still injured with leg injuries.
The return to fitness of both Phil Jagielka and Ramiro Funes Mori could see a new centre-back pairing for the Toffees, with Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines potentially ready to flank them in the fullback positions.
With Izzy Brown (knee) and Steve Sidwell (back) still unavailable and Ezequiel Schelotto having recovered from the injury which forced him out of the Arsenal game early, Hughton has no new injury problems to deal this weekend.
This should see an unchanged team after last weekend’s impressive performance.
Key Battle: Seamus Coleman (Everton) vs José Izquierdo (Brighton)
While Jonjo Kenny has played well this season, the return of Coleman to the team is a welcome upgrade for Big Sam.
While the Irish right-back will provide some much-needed defensive quality, it is the attacking threat he provides which will be the biggest benefit to the Toffees. His raids up the wing add an extra body to the attacks but most of all, his pin-point crossing has seen him produce plenty of assists during his time on Merseyside.
With Tosun now off the mark in the scoring stakes, the extra ammunition from Coleman could be just what’s needed to keep his goals flowing.
With much of Brighton’s attacking quality coming from their wingers, Coleman will need to be wary of his direct opponent. Izquierdo may only have four goals and three assists to show from his 28 league appearances this season. However, the Columbian has scored twice and made one assist in the Seagulls previous three matches.
A left winger, whose name translates from Spanish as Joe Left, Izquierdo has adapted to the physical nature of the English game and looks set to terrorise defences for many more games to come.
A time to judge?
While admitting that he can’t afford Everton to continue losing matches, Allardyce has claimed that he wants to sign an extension to his contract amidst rumours he’s been holding talks with Farhad Moshiri regarding Everton’s future.
As the third-worst club in the Premier League over the past ten matches and a figure roundly unloved by the club’s fans, it’s certainly an odd time for Allardyce to be asking for an improved contract.
Considering too that he is currently only three months into an 18-month contract, such talk of an extension should surely be best approached in the summer months. Although Everton are far from being a much-improved side since Allardyce took charge last December, he has not yet had enough time for this team to be fully considered his own.
Despite the initial direction looking unfavourable, Allardyce is still working largely with Koeman’s tools. Perhaps he would be better served sharpening what’s at hand rather than talking about what could be.
Manager of February?
On the current short-list for the manager of the month award, Chris Hughton’s recent achievements should see him pick up a new award.
While the win over Arsenal fell on the wrong page of the calendar to contribute to his case, he produced 3 wins and a draw from the Seagulls 4 games which included leading them into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
After being made a freeman of the city in Brighton following his exploits in getting them promoted last season, it’s unclear what else the city could award him with if he secures Brighton’s highest-ever league finish as looks increasingly probable.
Prediction: Everton 2-1 Brighton
While Brighton undoubtedly have the better form ahead of this fixture, Brighton have not won away in the league since travelling to Swansea at the beginning of November.
Sam Allardyce’s teams have a habit of winning against the odds and any over-confidence by the Seagulls could be punished this weekend.
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