Everton vs Watford preview: Welcome cup distraction for early strugglers
Photo by Getty Images/Tony McArdle - Everton FC

A place in the quarter-final beckons at Goodison Park: that should be sufficient motivation for these two sides who, if their respective league exertions are anything to go by, are in notable need of tonics to invigorate their seasons.

Last time out, hosts Everton lost in a dramatic clash on the south coast against Brighton & Hove Albion. It was yet another game in which VAR etched its way to the forefront of debate after a contentious penalty was awarded against the Toffees in the second half, but the inadequacies of Marco Silva's reign were nonetheless highlighted further as his side carelessly threw valuable points away again.

That result leaves them 16th in the Premier League after the opening ten weekends, and the Carabao Cup has been something of a pleasant diversion thus far. Everton defeated Lincoln City and Sheffield Wednesday to reach the Last 16 and will be hoping to use Goodison Park to their advantage in their bid to see their name cast into the hat for the quarter-final draw.

But for all of Everton's qualms, those of their opponents, Watford, are considerably greater. Languishing at the top flight's very foot and winless in the league this season, their recent goalless draw with AFC Bournemouth underlined both the marked improvement in certain aspects of performance since Quique Sánchez Flores took over and the worrying void which is emerging between the Hornets and their rivals to survive the drop.

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Again, England's secondary cup competition has been a modest source of optimism in Hertfordshire — victories over Coventry City and Swansea City on evenings at Vicarage Road have raised the possibility of a second major final for the club in as many years, though their first away game of the tournament, and a visit to fellow Premier League opposition, will perhaps provide a more challenging hurdle on their route to progression.

It's worth noting that the history of Everton manager Silva has given something of an edge to this fixture in recent times — interest from the Toffees while he was managing Watford was the latter's excuse for their nosedive in form prior to his eventual sacking in January 2018, half a year before the Portuguese would embark on a new journey at Goodison Park.

Previous meetings

These two have already met this season — an uninspiring affair on Merseyside in August was settled by an early goal from Bernard, giving Everton their first victory of the campaign and consigning Watford to their second consecutive defeat.

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That was a surprisingly low-scoring afternoon for this fixture — since the Hornets were promoted in 2015, the five meetings in the north west have seen an average of three goals per game.

In the League Cup, there have only ever been two meetings, and they both fell in the same year — a double-header in Round Two of the 1991/92 season saw Everton achieve a 3-1 aggregate win over the then-Second Division outfit, though they would only progress as far as the Fourth Round before losing to Leeds United.

Team news

Joint-top goalscorer Bernard sustained a knee injury at the weekend and will not feature here. He joins Jean-Philipe Gbamin on Everton's list of long-term absentees, while Yerry Mina and Cenk Tosun are also doubtful.

Club captain Séamus Coleman could come back into the fold after losing his league place to Djibril Sidibé in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, Sánchez Flores has a lengthy injury list to contend with — he will be without Tom Cleverley, Étienne Capoue, Isaac Success, Ismaïla Sarr, Danny Welbeck and skipper Troy Deeney for the trip to the north west.

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However, full-back José Holebas has served his one-game suspension and may return to the starting eleven.

Predicted XIs

Everton — Pickford; Coleman, Keane, Holgate, Digne; Davies, Delph; Walcott, Sigurdsson, Richarlison; Calvert-Lewin.

Watford — Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl, Cathcart; Femenía, Hughes, Chalobah, Quina, Holebas; Gray, Deulofeu.