Everton host West Ham in the first of Sunday's two Premier League encounters and Steve Rawlings suspects it could be a tight affair at Goodison...
“There won’t be much to separate the two clubs come May and there won’t be much in it on Sunday either. A tight encounter with both side settling for a point apiece is perfectly plausible and odds of around 5/2 are more than fair.”
A soft start for the Toffees
The appointment of ex-Liverpool boss, Rafa Benitez, raised a few eyebrows at Goodison Park but the new manager is winning the Everton fans over after a bright start to the season.
The Toffees went out of the League Cup on penalties away at QPR and their second half performance at Aston Villa last month is one to forget (conceded three goals in nine second half minutes to lose 3-0) but they've won all three Premier League home games and they really should have left Old Trafford with all three points before the international break.
A 65th minute Andros Townsend strike cancelled out Anthony Martial's first half goal and if Tom Davies had elected to shoot instead of passing to Yerry Mina in the 85th they would have won the match. Davies was through on goal but instead of firing he squared it to Mina who was offside. The goal was correctly ruled out by VAR.
So good has Everton's start to the season been that should they win on Sunday they will have made their best start after eight league fixtures since 1978 and they will have won their first four home games for the first time since that 1978/79 season too.
As impressive as their start has been, Everton have had a soft set of fixtures on paper and a maximum nine-point haul from their first three home games, against Southampton, Burnley, and Norwich, is nothing more than most would have expected, and Sunday's fixture is most certainly their toughest assignment at Goodison Park to date this campaign.
West Ham United
Injuries to key forwards, Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have been an issue but new signings, Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray have hit the ground running. Townsend has been involved in eight goals in nine games in all competitions this season (5 goals, 3 assists) and Gray has three goals and an assist in eight matches.
Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin are both big doubts for Sunday again but Lucas Digne, who Benitez has made captain, is back in training after withdrawing from the French squad with a hamstring problem.
Hammers tough nuts to crack on the road
West Ham were odds-on favourites when beaten 2-1 by Brentford at home in their final Premier League match before the international break, thanks to a 95th minute Yoane Wissa goal, and they were also beaten at home by Manchester United 2-1 after conceding late on.
Jesse Lingard, who had revived his career on loan with the Hammers last season, notched in the 89th minute before Mark Noble came off the bench to miss an injury time penalty to square the match.
David Moyes will be far from happy about back-to-back Premier League home defeats but they've been great on the road and they're unbeaten in their last six Premier League away games.
The Hammers have been ticking along nicely overall and they've began their cup campaigns well too. They avenged the United loss by knocking them out of the EFL Cup at Old Trafford, three days after the Premier League defeat, and they sit atop of Europa League Group H after 2-0 victories away at Dinamo Zagreb and at home to Rapid Wien.
West Ham sit ninth in the Premier League after the two home defeats, but they'll have designs on equalling last season's top-six finish and if Saïd Benrahma and Michail Antonio continue in the same vein there's every chance they can.
Antonio has six goals and four assists already and the pair are combining brilliantly. They've created 14 chances for each other in the Premier League so far this season (7 each) and that's more than any other pair in the competition.
Too close to call between two tightly matched teams
West Ham currently sit ninth, four places behind Saturday's hosts but they ended the last campaign in sixth and four places ahead of Everton.
As already stated, the Toffees have enjoyed an easy start to the campaign and as the season wares on the two clubs should come together. They were separated by six points at the end of last season and I suspect they'll be separated by even less this time around.
The two are very closely matched and this is a very difficult fixture to access. Historically, the Toffees have a great record. They've won more Premier League games (27) and scored more Premier League goals (87) against West Ham than they have vs any other side in the competition, but the Hammers are in search of their third win in their last four visits to Goodison.
Looking at the two teams individually, the odds-on for Over in the Over/Under 2.5 Goals market makes sense. Everton have scored at least twice in each of their last three home games and there have been at least three goals scored in eight of West Ham's last nine Premier League games but when the two teams have met recently goals have been scarce.
The Hammers left Goodison with all three points last season, courtesy of an 86th minute Tomáš Souček goal to break the deadlock in January before Everton won 1-0 at the London Stadium in May after a first half Dominic Calvert-Lewin goal and there have been less than three goals scored in each of their last five Premier League encounters.
With Everton struggling with so many injuries, and with Benrahma and Antonio combining so efficiently, if forced to pick a winner I'd side with West Ham, but Goodison Park is a tough place to go now that the crowds are back and a small wager on the draw looks the sensible play at 3.55/2.
There won't be much to separate the two clubs come May and there won't be much in it on Sunday either. A tight encounter with both side settling for a point apiece is perfectly plausible and odds of around 5/2 are more than fair.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
Staked: 9.0 pts
Returned: 5.76 pts
P/L: -3.24 pts
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