Marouane Fellaini serves the first match of his three-game suspension when Everton travel to West Ham United on Saturday, with David Moyes again in need of a way of coping without the talismanic midfielder.
Last time, when Fellaini was suspended against Norwich City for picking up five yellow cards, Moyes drafted Bryan Oviedo into the side to play on the left of midfield and moved Steven Pienaar infield to support Nikica Jelavic. Oviedo’s excellent performance against the Canaries, where he created Everton’s goal and tortured the Norwich right-back, is reason enough to suggest Moyes will do likewise against the Hammers.
While Everton will miss Fellaini, particularly against the burly West Ham side, their experience against Norwich shows they do have other routes to goal. It should not be forgotten that this is a West Ham side that conceded three goals against a Liverpool team without a single striker on the pitch, and there is even an argument to be made that the dynamic Oviedo will have joy against a West Ham back line that looked vulnerable against the Reds.
That said, the Hammers recovered to keep a clean sheet against West Bromwich Albion, at the Hawthorns, a feat Everton could not manager as they sank to a 2-0 defeat. The absence of Fellaini then does deprive Everton of a useful way to assail the West Ham goal, but finding the back of the net has not been a problem for Moyes’ side. Not since that blank at the Baggies have Everton failed to score, in early September, some 15 games ago.
The problem has come at the other end. Everton have not kept a clean sheet since shortly after the West Brom defeat, a 3-0 victory over Swansea City in mid-September, 13 games ago. There have been nine draws since then, five of them 1-1, with Everton plagued by lapses in concentration as a team or individual mistakes. Everton’s Champions League push would look a lot healthier if they tightened up, but matches at Goodison Park can never be described as boring these days.
Given Fellaini’s size and aerial strength his loss may be felt defensively as much as going forward. Any Sam Allardyce team is going to be well-organised at set-pieces and considering Everton have lately been completely unable to keep clean sheets, chances are West Ham will do their best to exploit the weakness. But then again, it was a Fellaini foul – from a set-piece – that gave Manchester City a penalty just a few weeks ago, so perhaps it is a bullet dodged.
Allardyce-led teams roar out of the blocks and play with the fire of their manager. Everton have to be on their guard at all times, from the first whistle to the last, especially but not only from set-pieces. A switched-on Fellaini would do a great deal to help but, thanks to his own short temper, Everton will have to do without. The Belgian’s suspension has created problems at both ends of the pitch.
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