Tomorrow Everton host West Ham United in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup. Can the Blues keep their winning start to the season going and reach the quarter-finals?
This is on paper, the most important match of the season so far for Everton. Success tomorrow night will mean the Toffees are two rounds away from Wembley and the chance of claiming some long overdue silverware.
The EFL or League Cup has had a bewildering different number of names, but whoever currently sponsors it and whatever it’s called, it is a trophy the Blues have never won. The last time Everton even reached the final was way back in 1984, when they lost 1-0 after a replay to Liverpool. A return to the final of this competition would seem well overdue.
Our opponents have also never won it and like the Blues have lost two finals. Again weirdly, their last appearance in the final was also back in the eighties when they too lost to Liverpool, after a replay, in 1981.
In truth this always looked the most likely route to a trophy for the Toffees this season. These days though many of the ‘top’ clubs don’t field a first team in the EFL Cup and so it leaves the way open for some occasionally less expected winners of this tournament.
Recent winners have included Swansea City and Birmingham City, while teams like Sunderland and Southampton have reached the final.
Back to tomorrow and I would imagine Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti has a little bit of a selection dilemma. He wants success and this competition would be the easiest route to that end, but he also doesn’t want to jepardise the great start to the Premier League campaign by picking up any injuries to his key players.
So while playing his strongest side, more or less, would seem the obvious and optimum decision, he might be concerned that an injury to one of his new signings could have major repercussions for the rest of the season.
The impact of those three new players has been so transforming, that to lose any of them for any length of time, would be a big blow to Everton’s chances of securing European football, or even dare I whisper it, a Champions League place.
In the end though it’s a trophy and winning it would mean Europe, of sorts and Everton would become one of the small number of English clubs to have claimed all three domestic titles.
So despite these risks, I would expect Ancelotti to pick a strong team with most of his starting eleven, but perhaps only one of Allan or Abdolaye Doucoure coming into the midfield, alongside maybe James Rodriguez too.
As for the Hammers, they are confident and coming off a surprisingly resounding win over Wolves last Sunday. Their manager David Moyes will also be eager to get one over on his former employers, who he left under a cloud in 2013.
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West Ham, are a team who play with plenty of width and get the ball forward quickly. They also seem to have a pretty good conversion rate in terms of scoring from the chances they create.
And they will try and target the Toffee’s greatest weakness, defending set-plays, which is perhaps the major defensive fallibility Everton have.
I think the Blues will have to be right on their metal and both Yerry Mina and Micheal Keane need to perform to their best, as the Hammers have plenty of height and strength in the air.
They will also have to avoid giving away too many set-pieces, something that is creating unnecessary opportunities for opponents to strike.
However, if Everton can reproduce the kind of attacking flair and resolve they have shown so far this season, then I would in the end expect a comfortable win for the home team.