One match in, and it is already Plan B in the midfield for Marco Silva as Everton likely will make do without a pair of midfielders Saturday in their home lid-lifter versus a Watford side licking their wounds from a chastening home loss.
(Potential Starting XIs)
The Toffees began the season with a credible 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace, finishing with 10 men after Morgan Schneiderlin was sent off for his second booking on 76 minutes. Andre Gomes had already been forced off with an ankle injury, and that could be a bigger long-term worry for Silva – the Portugal international is a match-time decision.
Summer signing Jean-Philippe Gbamin made his debut just before halftime replacing Gomes, but Silva may be forced to opt out of his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation into a 4-3-3 in which the Ivory Coast international plays in a deeper-lying role going forward. Gbamin played a similar role in Mainz before his arrival at Goodison Park, playing at the bottom of the German side’s diamond midfield.
“I have no choice but to learn quickly about Everton’s playing style,” Gbamin told Evertontv. “I came at the end of the market, so I will try to learn fast and keep going and work hard. I enjoy the challenge, it is good to accept any challenge you face.
“This is the best league in the world, so I will embrace this.”
Schneiderlin’s forced absence could mean a starting spot for Tom Davies, who entered late at Selhurst Park when Silva sacrificed Gylfi Sigurdsson to secure the road point. Fabian Delph has been ruled out for a second straight match as he recovers from a groin injury suffered in Everton’s final preseason match.
While the midfield is unsettled, the back four are in good spirits as Everton seek a sixth consecutive clean sheet at home dating back to last term. The Toffees have not conceded in 450 minutes at Goodison Park since Gabriel Jesus capped Manchester City’s 2-0 victory in stoppage time Feb. 6, and Michael Keane and Yerry Mina were an imposing pair in central defence versus Palace.
“Michael was different class all last season and throughout pre-season and has really grown into an Everton player,” right back Seamus Coleman told evertonfc.com. “Yerry came in on Saturday and was one of our best players. He is very solid and slowly but surely understanding what the manager wants from him.
“We have two class centre-halves and competition everywhere else on the pitch – and we hope that adds up to a good season for us.”
Watford, who exceeded expectations last season with a run to the FA Cup final and a club-record 50 points while finishing 11th, got it all wrong in their 3-0 defeat at Vicarage Road to Brighton and Hove Albion last Saturday.
“We’ll have a look in the week and see what we did well and didn’t, but it’s a hard one to take, especially being at home in the first game,” defender Craig Cathcart told Premier League Productions. “We are disappointed and we’ll have a look and try to learn from it.
“It was just one of those games. We felt in the game in the first half, but just the final ball let us down. We had a chance and if we had taken it that might have changed things completely, but we are disappointed with the goals we conceded.”
A listless offence could be in for some changes on the flanks after both Gerard Deulofeu and Will Hughes were largely anonymous, with the former lifted at halftime – something manager Javi Gracia attributed to illness.
Summer signings Danny Welbeck and Ismalia Sarr are waiting in the wings, with the Watford boss saying the ex-Arsenal man Welbeck is further along as Sarr – their club-record £40 million transfer from Rennes — is working his way back to match fitness after representing Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations.
“He is training with us all this week, with the rest of the team,” Gracia told Watford’s official website regarding Welbeck, who has not played since suffering a severe ankle injury in November with the Gunners. “He is training well and I think he can help us in the next games because what I see is he’s ready.
“He (Sarr) needs time to be ready and after a time resting, he needs time to recover his best condition,” the gaffer added. “I expect he will be ready as quick as possible. I am sure he is going to help us this season.”
Roberto Pereyra could also be in line for his season debut at right back following his summer with Argentina at Copa America.
Watford took four of six points in the two meetings last season in the first two editions of the”Silva Derby” following the manager’s contentious move from Vicarage Road to Goodison Park, including a 2-2 draw in the corresponding fixture.
Digne’s goal in six minutes into second-half stoppage time minute salvaged a point for Everton. The Hornets have not won in six all-time visits (0-2-4) to Goodison Park in the Premier League era.
Odds and Ends, per Ladbrokes:
To Win: Everton 8/11, Draw 11/4, Watford 18/5
Both Teams to Score: Yes 4/6, No 21/20
Over/Under 2.5 Goals: 7/10 Over, 21/20 Under
First Goal Scorer — Everton: Kean 7/2; Richarlison 4/1; Tosun, Calvert-Lewin, Sigurdsson 9/2
First Goal Scorer — Watford: Gray 15/2; Welbeck, Deeney 8/1; Deulofeu 9/1
Anytime Goal Scorer — Everton: Kean 11/8; Richarlison 7/5; Calvert-Lewin 6/4; Sigurdsson 13/8
Anytime Goal-Scorer — Watford: Gray 13/5; Deeney, Welbeck 14/5; Deulofeu 16/5; Sarr 7/2
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Everton 2, Watford 0.
PREDICTED HALFTIME SCORE: Everton 2, Watford 0.
PREDICTED FIRST GOAL-SCORER: Calvert-Lewin.
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 2 PREVIEWS
Arsenal (1-0-0) vs. Burnley (1-0-0)
Manchester City (1-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (1-0-0)
Chelsea (0-0-1) vs. Leicester City (0-1-0)
Wolverhampton (0-1-0) vs. Manchester United (1-0-0)