Everton face resurgent Leeds in massive early season match

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: Alex Iwobi of Everton in action with Leo Fuhr Hjelde of Leeds United during the Premier League match between Everton and Leeds United at Goodison Park on February 12, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: Alex Iwobi of Everton in action with Leo Fuhr Hjelde of Leeds United during the Premier League match between Everton and Leeds United at Goodison Park on February 12, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images) /

Tomorrow evening Everton take on Leeds United in a game that feels as though it has already become a must-win match for the Blues.

Everton blew the chance to claim their first win and three points of the season when they conceded a late equaliser at Brentford on Saturday.

Had they held onto that slender lead given to them by Anthony Gordon’s first half goal, then that would have taken the pressure off tomorrow’s game.

As it is, I feel that the Toffees’ now need all three points against Leeds at Elland Road (a very big ask) or else the season is already beginning to look like a long struggle to avoid another relegation battle.

Personally, I’m not sure I can stomach another campaign like that, as I’ve been through it with this club too many times over the last twenty-five years.

After this match tomorrow comes a very early Merseyside derby next Saturday lunchtime.

And, while Liverpool didn’t start the season particularly well, of course, they’ve found their best form just in time for that game with last weekend’s nine nil thrashing of Bournemouth.

Then, Everton take on Arsenal, a team they almost never beat anyway and who are enjoying a great start to the season, which has seen them become the early Premier League leaders.

So, unless they beat Leeds it’s conceivable the Blues’ will still only have the two points they have gained so far, at the end of this run of fixtures.

Two points from seven games would be a dreadful tally and quite possibly irrecoverable in terms of trying to turn the season around.

The main reason why the Toffees’ find themselves in such a difficult position so early on is not very hard to discern as they’ve actually played some decent football and looked a more cohesive unit so far.

It is of course the lack of goalscoring threat and options in the team. In both the Chelsea match and against Aston Villa, as well as last Saturday, had they had some genuine firepower up front the Blues’ might have won at least one of those games, possibly two.

Yes doing deals for players is complicated at times and often drawn out, especially these days it seems. And yes, finding reliable and consistent goalscorers is the hardest thing of all in football, it always has been.

However, Everton sold Richarlison – their leading scorer last season – at the end of June and it’s now the end of August with only one new forward, Neal Maupay, added just this past Friday.

Five other players have been signed in the transfer window with three defenders and two midfielders added to the squad.

There was certainly a need to strengthen in these areas, the whole squad needs quality additions.

In truth though, while Amadou Onana is a real talent, he’s young and still finding his feet in English football while Dwight McNeil hasn’t added much at all to the team. Meanwhile time to add forwards has slipped away.

The overriding priority at the beginning of the month has been to get a forward in, preferably two, before the season kicked off, or as soon as possible afterwards.

That was made even more pressing with the predictably inevitable injury to Dominic Calvert-Lewin just days before the curtain raiser against Chelsea.

It felt as though Frank Lampard was putting all his eggs in one basket hoping the fragile former England forward would stay healthy all through the season. That was always I think, a forlorn hope.

And, the deal for Maupay wasn’t concluded in time for him to play on Saturday – why was that? Surely this move must have been in the pipeline for a while so why couldn’t it have been done in time for him to be registered?

Had he been in the team on Saturday he might well have taken that chance Demrai Gray fluffed, which could have given the Blues’ all three points.

Anyway, Maupay is available for Leeds and presumably will come straight into the squad. I’d be amazed if he didn’t play tomorrow night.

I would play Salomon Rondon as well giving the team a physical presence and focul point in attack and allowing Maupay to play off him wide, which I think is his best position.

This means, assuming Lampard persists with his back three or five, one of Gordon or Gray drops out and I think obviously it has to be Gray.

It remains to be seen if Lampard will still be able to play three central defenders as he’s lost yet another one to injury with Mason Holgate, who had been playing well recently, going off at Brentford.

I don’t know the extent of his problem but unless he plays Seamus Coleman as a third centre-back, a posiiton the Irishman has operated in before, then Lampard may have to revert to two.

I personally think in the long run, that’s the best formation because it gives the manager the option of three in midfield and attack, or two in the middle and four forwards.

It doesn’t look as though the deal for Idrissa Gueye will ever get done and so with Abdoulaye Doucoure presumably still out, Lampard will probably opt for Onana and Alex Iwobi in the centre of the pitch again. To be honest he hasn’t got much alternative.

Well, it is still early in a long season and so we shouldn’t overly panic immediately as there is time to turn things around, even after a bad start.

Having said that, I do feel tomorrow is already one of those ‘big games’ that this team have played so often recently, not for trophies of course, but simply to steady the ship or survive.

Defeat would be seriously worrying, the very bare minimum must be a point. But, in truth that’s not really enough for Everton now.