When Ronald Koeman was spending the summer splashing the cash afforded to him by a generous Everton board after the Romelu Lukaku transfer, this game would have been considered as a home win by many fans and pundits across the country.
Yet contrasting starts to the campaign have given Burnley real hope of stealing not just one point but possibly all three when they visit a beleaguered Goodison Park on Sunday afternoon.
Lack of width and attacking targets leave Everton looking one-dimensional
Sean Dyche’s side picked up just seven points on the road throughout 2016-17 but are already just two shy of that shallow contribution this campaign. In comparison, Everton have won just two of their six top-flight games despite previously being considered as possible top-four hopefuls.
Whilst Dyche spent wisely with a limited budget to help strengthen his squad, Koeman was intent on bringing in big names. Yet he has left himself with several number tens but no prolific strikers and limited options in wide areas.
Such a problem has allowed Everton’s opponents to play a high line in defence with no fear of anyone running into the space left behind. It has caused the Merseyside outfit headaches when looking to play out from the back, leaving deeper players requiring pinpoint passes to find their marked attacking outlets.
Oumar Niasse came out of the wilderness to save Everton against Bournemouth last weekend with a crucial double, leaving some to mark him as Koeman’s “saviour”. Yet the powerful striker is unlikely to prolific as was proved during his short loan spell with Hull City last season. However, he will at least provide Burnley’s Ben Mee and James Tarkowski with something different to think about as he will look to stretch the line.
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Energetic Burnley attack look to test a nervy home defence
Bar one disappointing performance against Leeds United in the Carabao Cup, Tarkowski has been a revelation since replacing Michael Keane after he left Turf Moor for Goodison Park. In contrast, the England central defender has struggled to settle on Merseyside and may not even feature against his former club.
Whoever is tasked with sticking a leaky Everton defence together will have to be prepared for physical and energetic battles. Dyche has the luxury of selecting partnerships that compliment each other, with the strength and aerial prowess of Chris Wood and Sam Vokes the perfect foil for the graft and enthusiasm of Ashley Barnes and Scott Arfield.
Burnley will attack from wide positions, an area that has been fruitful for them in the opening weeks of the campaign. Stephen Ward has been particularly impressive, whilst Everton have lacked any sort of width all season, thus leading to a lot of one-dimensional football.
Morale could be an issue for one side but certainly not the other
Another problem for Everton will be the morale around the dressing room. They should be on a high after their late comeback last weekend but a disappointing draw at home to Limassol in the week will undoubtedly leave the squad flat and disheartened. Koeman’s comments about his side being “scared to play forward” are also unlikely to create the spark Everton are in desperate need of.
Combined with issues off the pitch such as Wayne Rooney’s well-documented driving ban and the exclusion of Ross Barkley, Everton will need to ensure they get off to a good start. However, they face one of the most energetic and positive sides in the league who make up for any lack of quality with sheer graft and determination.
An away win would not be a surprise in front of the Sky Sports cameras.