Sean Dyche has five Everton issues to confront as critical week begins

Everton manager Sean Dyche during a training session at Goodison Park
Everton manager Sean Dyche during a training session at Goodison Park -Credit:Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

The next week is immensely significant for Everton.

The club will play three games - half its remaining fixtures - in six days that will go a long way to deciding the fate of this season. All three are at Goodison Park and they include two teams in the same orbit as the Blues - Nottingham Forest and Brentford - as well as, of course Liverpool.

Ahead of those crucial fixtures, the ECHO looked at some of the challenges that lie ahead, some of which were particularly exposed by the 6-0 thrashing at Chelsea on Monday.

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Lifting the dressing room

James Tarkowski labelled that Stamford Bridge display as “embarrassing” and Sean Dyche, while more reserved, still accepted his team were “miles” away from the standards he expects. Everton have struggled for form for some time, and the impact of that appeared clear on Monday. One win in 15 league games, as the run now stands, is clearly terrifying form and it will take us to Sunday’s game with Forest to learn how deep the wounds are from the Cole Palmer-led thrashing.

What perhaps offers some comfort is that this squad has been here before. It was in late April of last year when the Blues were humiliated 4-1 at home to Newcastle United. That was a night that left Goodison shellshocked and the manner of the defeat, with just five games to go, suggested Everton’s run as a top flight club would soon be over.

That was not the case, however. The Blues lost just one of the five that followed - at home to the future champions Manchester City. They immediately responded with two of the performances that did most to save them - at Leicester City and Brighton & Hove Albion. All felt lost when James Maddison put the ball on the spot just before half-time with Leicester 2-1 up and Blues club captain Seamus Coleman receiving treatment having been stretchered off. Then Jordan Pickford saved and, in the second half Alex Iwobi levelled to ensure Everton avoided a defeat in what was a relegation six-pointer. One week later the team produced that remarkable win over Brighton. A response to Chelsea that came anywhere near close to that big loss in April 2023 would be huge.

Assessing the new injury situation

The Blues left west London nursing several new potential problems. Jarrad Branthwaite, the bright spot in a tough campaign, was withdrawn in the second half while skipper Coleman injured his groin. Both feature in what is Everton’s strongest backline. Branthwaite came through light training on Thursday, which is a positive sign, but Coleman looks to be a doubt. Coleman’s injury is even more an issue given half-time substitute Nathan Patterson - the man who replaced him - came off late on due to a hamstring issue that we now know has ended his season.

And dealing with those already on the club’s radar

Those assessments add to a picture that already includes concern over Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Idrissa Gueye. Calvert-Lewin missed Chelsea with the hamstring issue that saw him absent from training at the end of the previous week. It was particularly frustrating given that the striker had just scored two goals in two games to boost his confidence heading into the final stretch. Gueye pulled out of the action on the morning of the game with a calf issue. The club’s belief on Monday was that both injuries were minor and, like Branthwaite, both were back in light training on Thursday. Their return for the upcoming games will be crucial.

Can Arnaut Danjuma play a role?

Arnaut Danjuma started a game for the first time in months when he played in the Under-21s’ defeat last week. It was a big step forward for the winger, who was injured in the final minutes of the draw at Fulham and at a time when it looked like he might have been about to get a run in the team. Everton have struggled to pose an attacking threat from wide areas in recent months and Dyche has recently started Ashley Young ahead of Jack Harrison as part of efforts to adopt a different approach. Danjuma would offer a different, much-needed profile and could be a real threat going forward should he be able to find full fitness. He was on the bench on Monday and any progress he has since made would be welcome.

What is the right formula in the middle?

As well as the wide areas, Dyche also has to consider what his strongest central midfield is. That will now extend into which players can make the biggest difference and how can he get that from them. Abdoulaye Doucoure, so crucial to much of what went right in the first 12 months of Dyche, is still finding form after recovering from two hamstring issues. Helping him to return to his devastatingly effective ways of 2023 would be key. Behind him, Amadou Onana and James Garner were both pulled off at half-time by Dyche, who later suggested the performance from all but Vitalii Mykolenko and Dwight McNeil had not been good enough. With Andre Gomes fit and getting minutes but questions over Gueye’s injury, Dyche needs to work hard to come up with a formula in the middle that gives Everton the best opportunity to succeed.

This could extend into some more experimental decisions - Garner’s versatility was vital at the end of last season and moving him to the right of the defence in the absence of Coleman and Patterson, a position he excelled in against Bournemouth on the final day of last year and then with England U21s as they won the Euros weeks later, could be a serious option. Harrison may have struggled on the wing recently but has enjoyed some success centrally this season and might be an option behind Calvert-Lewin or Beto should Dyche need fresh ideas.