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Season Preview: Can Silva ‘fix’ Everton?

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Everton at a glance

Premier League titles: 0 (English First Division titles – 9)

FA Cups: 5 (1906, 1933, 1966, 1984, 1995)

League Cups: 2 (1977, 1984)

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For the better part of the last 15 years, Everton have attempted — every which way imaginable — to burst through the glass ceiling that is the Premier League’s top-six (previously the top-four before Tottenham Hotspur’s rise to stability and Liverpool’s return to elite status). At first, they simply outworked their opponents (while spending next to nothing) under David Moyes; Roberto Martinez was supposed to bring about a free-flowing, attacking revolution (on a slightly larger budget); 12 months ago, Ronald Koeman was supposed to meld the two philosophies together (after spending spending more than $200 million in the transfer market).

Ultimately, all three came up short, each one failing more spectacularly than his predecessor. You can’t say, however, that the Toffees haven’t gone for it, that they’ve been happy to sit idly by and live a comfortable, unambitious life as a perennial top-half side in the PL. Of course, it’s where they’ve most commonly finished over the last decade and a half, but it hasn’t been without aiming higher.

In 2018-19, under the leadership of new manager Marco Silva (he’s more Martinez than Moyes, but with less PL experience than Koeman), the goal remains the same, but just as difficult — and unlikely — to achieve. Farhad Moshiri has owned the club for two and a half years now, and despite pumping nine figures into it (via transfer fees alone, not even including his investment as the club moves toward building a new stadium), the ceiling appears more opaque than ever before.


Everton could push for top-six because… Silva has shown (in a half-season at Watford, albeit) that he’s tactically astute and can piece together a formidable attacking unit. The jury is still out on whether or not he can set up a defense, but that’s where much of Everton’s experience lies, so the idea appears to be to rely upon them outperforming expectations and finishing bang in the middle of the goals-conceded column, at which point a positive goal differential is actually possible (-14 last season).

Everton will fall out of the top-half because…. all of the fancy, expensive pieces just don’t fit together/are redundant. Alongside Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson is arguably the most talented player on the roster (he should be, considering he cost $52 million last summer), but for the last few seasons he’s been the common denominator in a number of teams without any semblance of midfield balance. Richarlison and Theo Walcott aren’t going to cover up his defensive deficiencies out wide, at which point you’re asking an awful lot (read: absolutely everything) of Idrissa Gueye, who’s very good, but only about 75 percent of N'Golo Kante.

Best possible XI:

Pickford

Martina — Keane — Jagielka — Digne

Sigurdsson — Gueye — Davies

Walcott — Niasse — Richarlison

Transfers In: Richarlison ($45 million, Watford), Lucas Digne ($23 million, Barcelona)

Transfers Out: Wayne Rooney (free), Ramiro Funes Mori (undisclosed, Villarreal), Joel Robles (free), Davy Klaassen (undisclosed)

Ranking their offseason: B-

After lighting $225 million on fire last summer, one would imagine there wasn’t a ton of money to be spent this time around — nor was it needed — though Silva clearly earmarked Richarlison as a must-have marquee signing. Lucas Digne was tabbed to become one of the world’s best left backs as recently as three years ago, but it hasn’t quite happened for him at Paris Saint-Germain or Barcelona. 

Star player: Richarlison was the PL’s “Wait, who’s he?” breakout star during Silva’s six months at Watford. Equally adept at winning the ball in the air and dribbling past defenders, the 21-year-old possesses an especially unique blend of skills that Silva clearly values and knows how to maximize. 

Coach’s Corner: If not for Ronald Koeman’s untimely departure last October, Silva might still be the manager at Watford. Silva didn’t make any bones about wanting the Everton job, though, which ultimately led to his dismissal by a quick trigger finger a couple months later. The squad, as it exists now, plays perfectly to Silva’s strengths and ideas as a manager, but we already knew he could set a team out to attack and entertain. It’s the other part — the defending — that he struggles with, and that Everton struggled with last season (58 goals conceded, 7th-most, even after six months under Sam Allardyce).

PST Predicts: They have the seventh-best squad in the PL, and they’re so predictably — and boringly — likely to finish with the seventh-most points in the PL this season. Outside of the “big six” finishing 1-6, Everton finishing 7th is the safest bet one could make.

Top Premier League storylines: Matchweek 16

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Matchweek 16 is upon us.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

Here’s what we’ll be keeping an eye on when this weekend’s fixtures kick off Saturday morning…


Manchester derby, perhaps you’ve heard of it 

Manchester City might not take home their third straight PL title, given Liverpool’s 11-point lead after 15 games, but they can still maintain their superiority in Manchester. They’re well on their way to doing so in the table, now they can get (another0 one over the Red Devils on Saturday. At what point do they take over the title of “bigger club?” Asking for a friend…


The start of something big for Chelsea?

Marco Silva is gone with Everton siting 18th in the table. Chelsea’s transfer ban has been cut in half with the Blues sitting fourth. Could this week get any worse? for Everton? Could it get any better for Chelsea?


Desperation time for Arsenal

Unai Emery was fired, which was supposedly to magically fix all of the problems at Arsenal. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right? Well, we’re two games into the Freddie Ljungberg (interim) era, and the Gunners have just one point to show for their efforts, and they had to come back from a goal down (twice) against 19th-place Norwich City to get it. Every trip to West Ham is a tricky one for Arsenal, and that’s doubly true given their current form (winless in their last nine games – all competitions).


Does Liverpool’s lead grow? Shrink? Hold steady?

From now until the end of the season, it’s Liverpool’s title to lose. No matter how you look at it, it’s theirs to either win or lose. Therefore, every time out presents a chance to grow their lead, or the risk of seeing it shrink should the drop points and one of the chasing sides to take all three. The math behind it is a bit boring, but if they don’t drop more than 10 points the rest of the season, they’ll win the title. Of course, their margin for error is likely to grow with Leicester and City eventually failing to win. Simply put, Liverpool are sitting comfortably.


Good times roll for Newcastle?

Don’t look now, but Newcastle have won three of their last five games and reached mid-table. Steve Bruce‘s side currently sits 11th after wins over West Ham, Bournemouth and Sheffield United in recent weeks. Welcomeing relegation-threatened Southampton to St. James’ Park could very well spell another three points for the Magpies.

Serie A: Leaders Inter Milan open door for Juve by drawing Roma

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MILAN (AP) Italian league leader Inter Milan was held by Roma to 0-0 on Friday, giving second-placed Juventus a chance to return to the top.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

The home draw left Inter only two points ahead of Juventus, which can regain the lead when it visits third-placed Lazio on Saturday.The result also wasn’t good for Roma, which moved from fifth to fourth place in the standings but remained nine points off the lead after 15 matches.

Inter forward Lautaro Martinez had one of the game’s best chances when he got past a defender and entered the area in the 68th minute, but his shot was blocked at the last minute. He called for a handball by the defender but the referee let play continue.

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester ]

Inter was coming off five straight wins in the league, with its last setback in all competitions last month against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Its last league loss was against Juventus in October, nine matches ago.

Roma was seeking its third straight league win. It had won five of its last six matches since last month.

Inter visits Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Premier League Preview: Man City v. Man United

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  • Man City (3rd) trail Liverpool by 11 points
  • Man United (6th) eight points out of 4th
  • Last meeting: Man United 0-2 Man City

For the first time in recent memory, Manchester City and Manchester United each find themselves failing to meet expectations — by their own respective standards, at least — as they prepare to meet at the Etihad Stadium in the 179th Manchester derby on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Man City, the two-time defending Premier League champions, are looking increasingly unlikely to retain their crown for a third straight season but look a surefire bet to finish in the top-four, which is a place for which Man United would bite your hand off as they currently trail leaders Liverpool by more points (22) than they have points of their own (21).

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

The struggles for United have been all about consistency as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side hasn’t won back-to-back games all season. The Red Devils haven’t won two in a row in the PL since March. On the bright side, United turned in one of their complete performances of the season on Wednesday, spoiling Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford and beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. Marcus Rashford scored both goals and Solskjaer couldn’t rave enough about his 22-year-old forward after the game. From start to finish, United were the better team and looked in majority control, which isn’t something they’ve been able to say often in 2019.

As for City, they’ve simply been “not good enough” without ever actually being “bad” this season, given Liverpool’s scintillating form (14W-1D-0L thus far). Realistically, City likely need to pick up all 69 remaining points this season, and even then they might still come up short.

Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT – Sergio Aguero (thigh), Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee), Oleksandr Zinchenko (knee)

Man United: OUT – Anthony Martial (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Paul Pogba (ankle), Nemanja Matic (groin), Diogo Dalot (groin)


Projected lineups

Man City: Ederson — Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Angeliño — Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva — Bernardo, Jesus, Sterling

Man United: De Gea — Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Young — Fred, McTominay, James, Mata, Lingard — Rashford


What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola, on the derby: “It’s Man United. I respect what they’ve done for English football, European, and world football. United have huge history and their quality is always there but we must try to beat them. We play against a good team, try to follow the performances we’ve put in and try to win the game. You know my opinion on the title race.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on his derby memories: “It took many years before I played a Manchester derby myself. Of course, Man City are a better team now than when I was playing. … Confidence is a strange thing in football; you can get performances and results like Wednesday night and it boosts it so much. And I know our boys will be up for it. 24 hours less recovery time [than City] shouldn’t matter, you go on adrenaline.”


Prediction

The win over Tottenham was impressive, no doubt about it, but City remain a challenge of an entirely different class, no matter what their points total says. If the title is well and truly gone for Guardiola’s side, then retaining superiority in Manchester will have to suffice. City 3-1 United.

Premier League Preview: Everton v. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea sit 4th, with 29 points
  • Everton sit 18th, with 11 points
  • Last meeting: Everton 2-0 Chelsea

Everton’s start to the 2019-20 Premier League season has been beyond woeful (4W-2D-9L in 15 games) for any club, let alone one that had dreams of breaking into the top-six this season, resulting in manager Marco Silva losing his job on Thursday. Now, fewer than 48 hours later, the Toffees have to pick themselves back up and face a top-four side for the third straight game when Chelsea visit Goodison Park on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Having lost three straight PL games, including defeats to second-place Leicester City and leaders Liverpool this week alone, the next few weeks will go a long way toward seeing Everton leave the relegation zone in the rearview mirror or sink deeper and deeper into the muck of a season-long relegation battle. A piece of potentially positive news for Everton ahead of Saturday’s game: they are currently three games unbeaten against Chelsea (1W-2D-0L).

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As for the Blues, this could turn out to be a decisive week in their season. After losing to West Ham United last weekend, Frank Lampard‘s side bounced back with a win over Aston Villa on Wednesday. Then came the best news of all on Friday: Chelsea’s transfer ban has been cut in half and they will be able to sign players in January, meaning their young, thin squad can be bolstered as the look to solidify their Champions League place for next season.

With a floundering side like Everton next up on the fixtures list, the chance to move further clear of the Champions League chasing pack is perfectly ripe. Tammy Abraham (hip) returned for the game against Villa and scored the opening goal to take is season’s tally to 11 (second, behind Jamie Vardy). The 22-year-old has benefited more than anyone from what turned out to be Chelsea’s one-window transfer ban, doing more than enough to secure his place for the second half of the season, no matter what business they do in January.

Injuries/suspensions

Everton: OUT – Andre Gomes (ankle), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh), Fabian Delph (hamstring), Cuco Martina (knee)

Chelsea: OUT – Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles), Antonio Rudiger (groin)


Projected lineups

Everton: Pickford — Sidibe, Keane, Mina, Digne — Schneiderlin, Davies, Sigurdsson — Iwobi, Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison

Chelsea: Kepa — James, Christensen, Zouma, Azpilicueta — Kante, Kovacic, Willian, Mount, Pulisic — Abraham


What they’re saying

Interim Everton boss Duncan Ferguson: “I’m a coach at the moment so I don’t think that is something I am considering at this time. It is my dream to be Everton manager but I am also realistic. Who wouldn’t want to be manager of Everton? There will be many top managers who want this job.”

Frank Lampard, on the new-manager bounce: “[Marco] Silva tried everything for the club and I’m sure that he will go on to manage well elsewhere. They might have an extra energy tomorrow as they rally.”


Prediction

Chelsea have far too much balance between defense and attack to hand Everton the glaring opportunities they will need to beat a genuine top-four side. That said, there’s far too much talent in that squad to continue to get beaten every time out, and perhaps seeing someone else take the blame will lift the burden off them and allow them to perform. Everton 2-2 Chelsea.