13:30 KO (BST); Sunday 15th October; Falmer Stadium (Brighton, England)
Although many people expected Brighton to struggle in making the jump from the Championship to the Premiership, nobody expected they would be level on points with Everton when the eighth fixture in the schedule brings them both together. Both of Brighton’s wins so far have come on home soil and they could well look to Burnley’s season last year for inspiration in how to survive at this level. With a defensive mindset and a lack of fire-power, Chris Hughton will also need to be mindful of the lesson which Middlesbrough provided the Premiership with after a similarly good start this time last year.
While Ronald Koeman’s team have been laid wide open recently, this fixture offers them a chance to turn their season around. Games against Lyon and Arsenal follow their trip to Brighton of which the Europa League game especially will be a high-pressure test for the Toffees. The good news for Everton fans is that they beat Brighton 1-2 when the teams last met. The bad news, though, is that encounter was in 1983.
Arsenal 2 – 0 BRIGHTON (Premiership)
Chris Hughton once again set his side up to contain the opposition with a backs-to-the-wall approach but Arsenal proved capable of breaking the Seagulls resistance. With Tomer Hemed suspended, Hughton decided to use Izzy Brown as a makeshift striker for the Seagulls rather than play Glenn Murray. This decision backfired though and, at times during the game, Brown was well inside his team’s own half to help defend leaving them with no real outlet to break forwards through.
Jose Izquierdo was also given his first start in the Premiership after two prior fleeting appearances as a substitute. The Columbian winger failed to impress though, giving the ball away cheaply more often than Hughton would’ve liked and without any end product of note. One change that did work was his preference to play Gaetan Bong in place of new signing Markus Suttner at left-back. It certainly provides another option for Brighton in the coming games although their fans will be hoping a more positive approach is taken when Everton come to town on Sunday.
Everton 0 – 1 BURNLEY (Premiership)
The Toffees poor start to the season continued as they fell to a largely unimpressive Burnley side, leaving the pitch to a loud chorus of boos from the home crowd. With Wayne Rooney dropped to the bench for this game, Everton started with real purpose in an extremely lively and entertaining match. An early chance for Gylfi Sigurðsson should have ended in the net but the Icelandic star shaped poorly and shot wide.
While many of the Everton players made improved contributions than they have in recent games, Oumar Niasse was perhaps the most industrious player in a blue shirt. With only one of his four shots on target and creating only one chance which was wasted by Idrissa Gueye, he may need more time to become as efficient from the start as he is from the bench.
Tomer Hemed (suspended), Beram Kayal (leg), Steve Sidwell (back) and Sam Baldock (calf) all remain unavailable for the Seagulls. Davy Propper also missed the second Dutch international due to a knock he picked up in their first game. Nevertheless, the Dutchman is expected to be fit for the clash against Everton. This gives Chris Hughton the same pool of players to choose from as he had in the previous game against Arsenal. However, he may be tempted to field a team resembling the side who finished the game rather than the team he started with last time out.
Fortunately for Ronald Koeman, there were no further injuries picked up over the international break. However, Phil Jagielka (hamstring), Seamus Coleman (leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (leg). Yannick Bolasie (knee). Ross Barkley (hamstring) and James McCarthy (knee) are all still out of action for the Toffees.
Key Battle: Chris Hughton vs Ronald Koeman
Chris Hughton is of the nicest people in football right now but there is a steely resolve which lurks under the surface. The former defender has stamped his managerial philosophies with the experience that he gained on the pitch, imprinting a no-nonsense, basic approach to the game on the teams he’s managed. While Brighton were unable to find the funds in the summer to bring a new striker into the fold, Hughton ensured that his midfield is littered with creative talent. With these players playing from a solid defensive base, Brighton to have a steely resolve hidden within the teamsheet.
Having suffered a similar start to the season at Southampton two years ago and Everton last year, Koeman will still strongly believe that his team are on the right path with history and experience backing up his thoughts. While he was recently seeing his name linked to the vacant position in Barcelona, it’s also worth noting that the bigger the club, the shorter the period of time he’ll be afforded to improve the situation and this fixture represents a step closer to the line in the sand.
Many of the best teams in Premier League history have all had one thing in common, a strong defence from which to build from. For every big win achieved by a team on the way towards a title, there’s often a sprinkling of gritty 1-0 wins which commentators claim to be the stuff which champions are made from. Chris Hughton has taken this approach in constructing his squad, ensuring that he has enough strength at the back of the pitch to provide his team a platform and a fighting chance of staying in the game.
With strength in depth, Hughton acquired two new goalkeepers and two more wing-backs this summer but three of his regular back-four are familiar faces to the Seagulls fans. While he needs to ensure he doesn’t become to obsessed with keeping clean sheets, he certainly has a solid enough squad to give Brighton a fighting chance this season.
A Very Slippery Slope
For all of the playing problems that Koeman has had to deal with so far this season, the form of Ashley Williams is perhaps the most alarming. Everton knew that the 33-year-old would have a relatively short shelf-life when they signed him from Swansea for £12m last summer but nobody could have predicted the speed of his decline. His pace, mobility and agility have all dropped in the last six months resulting in Williams being poor during every game so far this season.
Koeman has so far tried to use Williams in a standard back-four and with two other central defenders around him, however, his positional play has been too deep and when the ball does fall near him he’s not quick enough to react to deal with many situations. His performances for Wales have been equally haphazard recently, falling a long way short of the towering displays he made in the Euro 2016 tournament last summer. With Funes Mori missing most, if not all of this season with the knee injury he suffered towards the end of last season whilst playing for Argentina, Koeman could very well be in the market for a new centre back in the new year.
PREDICTION: Brighton 0 – 1 Everton
The curse of the Europa League has seemingly bitten again as the English team sent through the qualifying rounds have suffered a poor start in the league. Ronald Koeman’s biggest challenge will be to get his squad playing in harmony with each other rather than looking like the newly assembled collection of individuals who currently take the field. Brighton will be a tough team to crack for a side short in confidence but if Chris Hughton plays a defensive style again this weekend, it could be a decision which haunts him at the final whistle.
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