This weekend we welcome Everton to Selhurst Park. Ahead of the game I caught up with Fantasy Football legend and Everton fan ‘Doctor Fantasy’ aka Mohamed Abdou to hear how Everton fans are feeling.
TEB – So Mo, obviously a tough start to the season for you guys, after quite an upbeat end to last season. Are you back on an upwards trajectory and is it all about Dominic Calvert- Lewin?
MA – I think Everton started the season well in terms of performance although not getting the results obviously. This is not just an opinion from a fan, but it is heavily backed by data. Everton are in the top half for both metrics xG and xGC with the Toffees being the only team amongst the 11 who have negative goal difference to have a significantly positive expected goal difference.
Of course, the absence of a proper number 9 such as Calvert-Lewin who is integral to the way Sean Dyche wants to set up his team was an important factor. However, I would still think that there was an element of the players getting used to Dyche’s system and the fact that Dyche himself was still tinkering with his best starting 11.
TEB – So it sounds like more to come from this team? Overall, in terms of ambition do you have bigger goals than just surviving?
MA – For sure, I would say that a comfortable mid-table finish would be a very reasonable target for this season.
TEB – Who is your star performer?
MA – I think that Branthwaite is severely underrated. He is a world class centre back, so much so, that although I hope I’m wrong, he may not stay with us for that long. He reminds me of John Stones at a similar age.
TEB – For any Palace fans who have not seen much of Everton this season, how do you think you will line up and approach the game?
MA – The previous 3-4 games have shown a classic Dyche set up that I expect to continue.
He sets up his team in a 4-4-1-1 style which is very compact and hard to break down. Our attacking style is not just about long balls but does aim to transfer the ball as quickly as possible to the final third. We tend to overload our left side through long balls from Tarkowski or Pickford then utilising McNeil to put crosses into the box for Calvert-Lewin, Doucoure, or Harrison to attack.
Although it is a well-known style of play it is not easy to defend against, especially if you have players with accurate long passing and a player who is dominant in the air such as Calvert Lewin.
TEB – If you had a magic wand, which Palace player would you have in the Everton squad or line up?
MA – I know most people would answer that question with Eberechi Eze who can easily walk into the starting eleven for probably any of the 20 teams in league, but I’d go for Joachim Anderson as he is more suited to Dyche’s style of play and would allow us to play three centre backs with wing backs. He has got all the qualities you need, a leader, very accurate long passes, brilliant in the air and carries a decent attacking threat, what a player!
TEB – We agree! Clearly you know ball!
TEB – What are your views on Palace this season?
MA – I was asking myself at the start of the season whether Hodgson will carry on with the unusual attacking approach from the end of last season and whether we could call this “a late career shift” for him… but he seems to have reverted back to his usual old style of conservative defensive football.
I think Palace are a good, organised team who are hard to play against, but they desperately lack attacking threat especially from the flanks and they rely mainly on moments of brilliance from Eze.
Of course, the injury to Michael Olise and the departure of Zaha did not help but, I think the team is set in a way which is not helping to unlock the attacking potential in the Palace squad.
TEB – Your prediction for the game?
MA -With Dyche and Hodgson at the helm, and with England’s numbers 1 and 2 between the sticks, I cannot see much beyond a 0-0 which was the result last season when the teams met with similar setups. For one of them to break the deadlock, I think it’ll need a set piece or someone capitalising on a mistake from the other team.
TEB – So not expecting a thriller! Anything else you would like to add?
MA – Great to chat, thank you for hearing me out.
If you’d like to hear more from Mo –especially if you speak Arabic and want some fantasy football tips (he finished in the top 800 in the world last year) check out his YouTube channel or find him on X