PREVIEW | Everton vs Brighton & Hove Albion
Everton received an extended Christmas this year as the Boxing Day game against Burnley and the game against Newcastle were postponed. Brighton & Hove Albion travel to Goodison Park, looking to start this year the way they finished last.
The Blues last game was a 1-1 draw away to Chelsea, a highly unexpected result given the squad that was announced by Rafa Benitez. Youngsters Jonjoe Kenny, Jarrad Branthwaite, Anthony Gordon and Ellis Simms all started for the Toffees. Tyler Onyango and Lewis Dobbin were also brought off the seven-man bench.
And it was defender Branthwaite, making his first appearance of the season, that equalised for Everton in the seventy-fourth minute, earning them a hard-fought point at Stamford Bridge.
Mason Mount had put Chelsea ahead in the seventieth minute after Thomas Tuchel’s side had dominated the entire game but could not find a second and were made to pay. It was a much-needed point for Rafa Benitez’s side after the previous defeat to Crystal Palace.
Brighton on the other hand finished 2021 in good form with only one defeat in their final five games. Their last game was also against Chelsea, and it was also a 1-1 draw. Former Everton striker Romelu Lukaku had given Chelsea the lead, but a ninetieth minute equaliser from Danny Welbeck earned a point for the Seagulls, who actually finished the game a lot better than Chelsea.
The Toffees are still without a number of players who are injured. Richarlison, Andros Townsend, Yerry Mina and Tom Davies are all still out with injuries.
However, there is a massive boost on the injury front for Everton.
Striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin could make his first start since the reverse fixture in August after overcoming a thigh problem. The 24-year-old initially had a broken toe but picked up a thigh injury in his rehabilitation. Whether he starts or makes an appearance off the bench, he will be a huge boost to Everton.
With the signing of Vitaly Mykolenko, it remains to be seen if Lucas Digne will be included in the matchday squad, or whether he will soon be sold by Benitez.
On the other hand, Brighton have no new injury concerns, with only captain Lewis Dunk out with a knee injury and Jürgen Locadia out with illness.
Striker Danny Welbeck, who scored Brighton’s equaliser against Chelsea, is pushing for a start after being out for three months. Leandro Trossard is also looking to return after hamstring tightness forced him off in their last game.
Aaron Connolly is likely to be left out for a third successive game as he nears a loan move to Middlesbrough.
One to Watch – Everton
Anthony Gordon was mightily impressive against Chelsea on 16th December, and it was his free-kick that Branthwaite got on the end of to earn Everton a point.
He has an average rating of 6.38 this season, despite only starting six games. Last time out against Chelsea he was superb, causing them problems when he had the ball, and helping the defence out when he did not.
This is something that WhoScored have noted as a strength, his defensive contribution. Evertonians also love Gordon as he is an Evertonian himself, always gives his all for the shirt and is always trying to drive the Blues forward.
One to Watch – Brighton & Hove Albion
Leandro Trossard has been one of Brighton’s stand-out players this season, with an average rating of 7.01 on WhoScored. The Belgian international has five goal involvements in seventeen games (four goals and one assist) and has been one of Brighton’s most creative players.
The 27-year-olds strengths include his long shots and his dribbling, making him a tricky customer. Whoever is at full back will need to be at the top of their game to stop him.
However, Trossard does have weaknesses, one being his crossing – but this does not mean that Everton should stand off him whenever he has the ball. He can also be caught out defensively, so it is certainly something the Toffees could play on.
The Seagulls sit tenth in the Premier League table, five points and five places above Everton. Graham Potter has made his Brighton side a much tougher outfit to beat this season, only losing four of their eighteen games this season.
They have also only conceded eighteen goals so far this season. Only Wolves, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City have conceded less.
Everton won the reverse fixture in August 0-2, and are looking for a league double over the visitors since the 1980-81 season.
Graham Potter’s side have also never beaten Everton at Goodison in all competitions, losing all four Premier League visits.
The fixture is likely to be a close affair, and despite Brighton scoring goals in the ninetieth minute or later in their last three away games, the return of Dominic Calvert-Lewin is a big boost for the Toffees, and should be enough to earn them a win.