With absolutely everything to play for, Monday evening’s match against Everton promises to be one of the key moments of the season for both clubs. The Foxes and Toffees sit 17th and 18th on the table respectively, and a defeat for either side could turn the spectre of relegation into a full-blown reality.
Trent Nelson of our sister site, Royal Blue Mersey, was kind enough to join us and offer his insights on this fixture and how our opponents this evening wound up in the same position we’re in. I’ll leave it to him as you didn’t click this link to listen to me, or at least, you probably shouldn’t have.
FP: Good morning, and thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. I always look forward to this fixture as an excuse to chat with you. How are the supporters at Goodison feeling these days?
Trent Nelson: Frustrated and upset, but still hopeful. Beating the Foxes would be a massive innovation for us in this relegation race, but the teams around the Blues are doing their best to make us sweat. Leicester has played better recently, Bournemouth and West Ham too. Crystal Palace is no longer in the battle very likely, and so it leaves a battle between Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Leicester and Everton. Who ends up coming up positively in that race is anyone’s guess at this point.
FP: I’ll be honest: I was very jealous of the summer you had, bringing in James Tarkowski, Dwight McNeil, and James Garner. How did you rate your summer spending, and where do you think you might have done better?
TN: It was good business as per how the club is positioned right now. Maxwel Cornet would’ve been positive, but he went elsewhere. For the money it cost and what they can provide us with, they were not bad deals but perhaps were not what this year’s team needed most. Future sides? Absolutely. McNeil and Garner are great talents, and Tarkowski has filled a void well at times.
We needed more creativity in the middle of the park, and we needed someone who could finish and score goals better than Neal Maupay. With Dominic Calvert-Lewin injured so frequently the last two seasons, and Ellis Simms still not at the level he needs to be yet, the side left itself threadbare in attacking players; the ones we have cannot consistently put the ball in the net, and that remains a massive issue for the side right now.
FP: I haven’t seen your answer yet, but I’ll wager the word “goals” figures into it somewhere. What happened to the scoring? Everton have scored the fewest goals of any club in the Premiership. Is it an issue with players, tactics, or just luck?
Luck. Tactics. Injuries. Quality. Pick your rationale and you’re probably not too terribly far off to be fair. Frank Lampard’s era ended in a sort of confused realization; Everton were not able to perform under him without Richarlison as they were with him. Without him and DCL, the goals have simply dried up.
Selling Anthony Gordon would’ve been better if we could’ve nabbed his replacement in January too. He is still very raw - as his time in Newcastle is demonstrating right now - and we could’ve used that money to bring in someone who could finish better. But, thanks to our financial situation, re: FFP investigation and general economic troubles, that money had to be hoarded. The lack of goals and the overall record are all the proof that change is needed; everything else is just icing on the metaphorical cake.
FP: Richarlison to Spurs doesn’t seem to have worked out for anyone, least of all Richarlison. How much did losing him hurt the attack, and is there anyone in the squad who can step up next year and replace him?
To build on the previous question alongside this one, it was a real problem the whole year - and it continues to be right now. There are players who can help the team, like McNeil, Gray, and others, but they’re not going to be at his level until the side has some help on the offensive side. A centre-forward is a must - whether it’s DCL or anyone else - this side cannot continue as it is. Richy was able to play up top and on the wing, so he covered our absences well. He gave us more flexibility and danger.
Spurs don’t know how to use him properly because, well, they’re eternally Spursy, aren’t they? I wrote that it would be a mistake for him to go there instead of Real Madrid, PSG or elsewhere; this has proven accurate. We need some help, but before we can think of that, we need to see where we finish this season. The schematics are probably different if the side goes down than if it can remain; we shall see.
FP: You were difficult to beat until the end of September under Frank Lampard before things went pear-shaped with only one more victory through January. Where did it go wrong for the gaffer, and was replacing him the right call?
Frank Lampard. I was high on him at times. I am an optimist by nature, and so wanted to believe that he could continue doing well enough to help get this team out of the mud. Ultimately, however, as his form at Chelsea has shown, he is simply not imaginative enough at this point in his career to get the most out of the talent he has around him.
Chelsea certainly has spent more than Everton, and yet his results are similar to how they appeared at the end of his tenure up on Merseyside. Injuries didn’t help, and neither did losing Richy, but it was ultimately correct to get him out of the position; whether the side chose the right replacement is, of course, another story.
FP: The results have been somewhat better under Sean Dyche. What has he done to change the plot, and is there confidence that he’s the right man to keep you in the league? Is he your long-term answer, or do you have another name in mind?
I have vacillated back and forth on this entire question to be frank and fair once more. Part of me wants to say that Sean Dyche is actually a very good boss that gets the most out of down-and-out outfits wherever he’s the boss. Yet on the other hand, choosing Roy Hodgson was probably the actually correct choice. Sir Roy knows how to boogie, and he has gotten the most out of Palace in a matter of weeks. Dyche is an option that you look at after the season - whatever its result - alongside any other youngish coaches on the market.
Dyche plays such a particular brand of football, and even though the side has lots of his former players at various positions, he’s the sort of boss who needs a transfer window for himself. He has us better organized, but we are not designed to smash the ball down the pitch and fight for it in the air. Our offense is nonexistent, and while injuries and depth does play their parts, the boss has not innovated in this way much more than the man he succeeded.
Dyche will have a chance to stay on next year I wager - regardless of the results - and that’s probably fine, as he does have Championship experience himself. It maybe just wasn’t the right move during the middle of the season.
FP: Tell us about a player who has stood out for you this year, someone you weren’t expecting to contribute.
How about any disappointments? Alex Iwobi looks a treat, as does Amadou Onana. The passing, the vision, the length and the strength. We love both of them on Merseyside, even if only one is likely to remain with the side going forward. If the team is relegated, it could be neither to be fair, but that is - still - a discussion for another week. Dwight McNeil and Neal Maupay have provided us with less than we needed. Where has the scoring been? The creativity? Hardly visible. And then there’s Conor Coady; he’s also has not maintained the form his showed earlier this season, while DCL is a disappointment only because he is hurt so often. If those four played better, we’d be in a different position.
FP: What do you think the Toffees will be looking to do this summer? Are there any key players who will be leaving, or key positions you’ll be strengthening?
Many will be leaving if the side is relegated. Maybe not enough space here to mention every name, but the side has talent that other sides will be hungry to collect at cut-rate prices. DCL might stay because he’s been so injury-riddled, but he might be out too. The side needs offensive pieces. Creative. Offensive. Pieces. If this side were in the Championship - as currently constructed - I’m not sure how much better they would be than some of the other outfits, and that’s a real problem.
This side should be tough to beat in the Prem as well as in the lower tier, but the side needs to sell the pieces that are excess and invest in some players who can work with the positive pieces we have to score goals and take advantage of the better organization that has been witnessed since Dyche took over.
FP: How do you see your side lining up on Monday? Who’s going to be the danger man for you when you’re facing what has been one of the league’s leakiest defences?
We played a 4-3-3 last time out against Newcastle, and while the side got pummeled, I’m going to say that we should try it again. It’s likely our best starting XI: Pickford; Mykolenko, Tarkowski, Mina, Godfrey; Doucoure, Gueye, Onana; McNeil, Calvert-Lewin, Iwobi
FP: Let’s end this the way we always do: What’s your prediction for the match?
You’ll forgive me for being optimistic despite all the answers I just gave you. 3-1 for the Toffees.
No need to ask forgiveness; we’re in the same boat. As always, thank you Trent and here’s hoping we both somehow both of our clubs are able to claw their way out of the relegation zone.