After a depressing and frustrating 2022 Everton play their first Premier League match of the New Year tomorrow evening when they host Brighton and Hove Albion at Goodison Park.
Last year was one to forget for Everton supporters. It began with yet another new manager installed as Frank Lampard succeded Rafa Benitez in January and then saw the club locked in a desperate relegation battle that the Blues’ only just survived.
The first few months of the current season haven’t in the end been much better (despite a reasonably solid start) with the Toffees’ now sitting in sixteenth place and again only a few points above that dreaded drop-zone.
However, at least Everton managed to finish the calendar year with an unexpected and hard fought point at Manchester City on Saturday.
As the transfer window opens this month, Lampard has to make the right moves in the market and secure at least two new forwards who can tackle the team’s chronic problem scoring goals.
But, until those moves can be concluded, the Blues’ have to rely on the strikers they currently have to score the goals needed.
At least Dominic Calvert-Lewin is fit again (although of course who knows for how long!) and the former England centre-forward started against City although he came off after seventy minutes.
He was replaced by Neal Maupay the only other recognised senior striker in the squad. The Toffees’ have though recalled Ellis Simms from his loan at Sunderland and have Under-21’s star Tom Cannon as well in reserve. It’s hardly an attack to frighten their rivals though.
One of them, Brighton, are the first opponents in 2023 and come to Goodison Park having enjoyed a fine start to this campaign.
The Seagulls are currently sitting comfortably in ninth place having been inside the top four at one point earlier in the season.
They are a solid and well-balanced side who have had no trouble scoring goals despite selling one of their former leading scorers, Maupay, to the Blues’ in the summer.
And, they’ve managed this despite losing manager Graham Potter, so instramental in the team’s recent rise, when he moved to Chelsea.
So far this campaign the Seagulls have beaten Chelsea and league leaders Arsenal and have a good record away from home too.
Brighton’s stand-out individual performer has been the Argentine midfielder Alexis MacAllister who has of course also just won the World Cup with his country.
Therefore they represent a tough task and Everton will have to reproduce the sort of committed and well-organised display they gave us at the Etihad Stadium.
All this makes it a very difficult game to call as while Brighton are not invulnerable, they are a good side that will not lie down and offer a real challenge, especially to a team so short of confidence.
If the Toffees’ give us another amenic effort at home like the one against Wolves, they will almost certainly lose again. At least there are no new injury problems, although Amadou Onana is absent through suspension.
Manager Lampard needs a good result as well, because although he took some pressure off himself with that draw at City, another poor effort and result in front of the Goodison faithfull (who he has criticised recently) will surely put the pressue back on him.