Here we go again as Everton take on Fulham this Saturday afternoon, the latest ‘must-win’ game in their relentless relegation fight.
The Toffees’ slumped to a depressingly familiar and so-often predictable defeat at Manchester United last Saturday lunchtime.
Although I foolishly hoped for better, Everton reverted to type at Old Trafford and seemed to have forgotten all the lessons that Sean Dyche seemed to have been successsfully installing since he took over as manger at the end of January.
In particular, the much-improved resiliance and fight we have witnessed in recent matches, especially the draws at Chelsea and against Spurs, was entirely absent.
Dyche’s tactical switch to a 4-4-2 after losing Abdoulaye Doucoure following his red card against Tottenham, also I think contributed to the defeat.
Without that extra man in midfield the Blues’ conceded the competiveness in the middle of the park that they had shown in the last few weeks and months.
That then also left their less than watertight defence much more exposed against United and in particular full-backs Seamus Coleman and Ben Godfrey had a torrid time dealing with United’s pacey forwards.
So, after all that I expect Dyche will probably go back to a five-man midfield against Fulham as it’s worked well overall including at home. If he does, the question is who should come into the side in place of Doucoure?
My first choice would be James Garner alongside Idrissa Gueye and Amadou Onana.
The former Manchester United man hasn’t got a great deal of Premier League experience but he has been starring for the England Under-21’s and has impressed in brief cameos when coming on as a substitute recently for Everton.
He offers energy, excellent passing ability and a potential goal threat from midfield. I think he would represent a better bet than the other obvious alternative; Tom Davies.
There is another option of course, to bring Alex Iwobi back into the centre of midfield as Frank Lampard did successfully earlier in the season.
The other selection issues focus on the full-backs. After Coleman and especially Godfrey’s awful afternoon at Old Trafford, I would expect changes there too.
The Irishman came off late with an injury problem and Dyche confirmed in his pre-match presser that as a result he will miss out on Saturday.
So, there is the option of Nathan Patterson returning at right-back, where he had excelled from the start of the campaign before injury again interrupted his progress as an Everton player.
Alternatively, the manager might play Godfrey there and bring Vitalii Mykolenko in at left-back.
As for the constant elephant in the room, Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s fitness, again there was no real clarity on where he is with his recovery.
And, despite recent images showing him back in training at Finch Farm, it seems highly unlikely he will return against Fulham.
Make that highly unlikely he will ever return this season for me, as I frankly don’t expect to see him back from his now almost mythical injury problems before the conclusion of this campaign.
The Toffees’ opponents at the weekend also have their own selection headaches to overcome.
Those are largely a result of that extraordinary FA Cup quarter-final game at Manchester United when despite leading and playing very well, the Cottagers’ suddenly imploded in the second half, saw manager Marco Silva and two of his players red-carded, and lost 3-1.
The biggest consequence from that mad afternoon is Aleksandr Mitrovic’s ban. The Serbian striker – a critical factor in Fulham’s excellent season so far – is suspended for eight matches after pushing the referee and so will obviously be absent against Everton.
A ban of that lengh might be controversial, but for the Blues’ it is a huge boost as Mitrovic has been amongst the best goalscorers in the Premier League this season.
As for who plays up front for the Toffees’, Dyche has three options none of whom are adequate.
Put together in one player, Demarai Gray, Ellis Simms and maybe even Neal Maupay might make one decent all-round centre-forward, but individually they all lack qualities and offer only very limited solutions.
Well, someone has to start, assuming Dyche does revert back to a 4-5-1, and given recent form and selection, that will probably be Gray.
After Fulham then comes a rejuvinated Newcastle United and then Manchester City at Goodison with their goalscoring machine Erling Haaland pursuing all sorts of records, although Everton great Dixie Dean’s record 60 league goals in a season still seems safe from the Norwiegan.
That means whatever Blues’ starting eleven takes the field at the Grand Old Lady on Saturday, surely this is a match that somehow they simply have to win.