Ben Grounds, Sky Sports: Branthwaite key to keeping Brentford at bay

Ben Grounds, Sky Sports: Branthwaite key to keeping Brentford at bay
Ben Grounds, Sky Sports: Branthwaite key to keeping Brentford at bay

Ben Grounds, digital football journalist for Sky Sports, has highlighted Jarrad Branthwaite as Everton’s key player ahead of Brentford’s visit to Goodison Park on Saturday.

Branthwaite received his first call-up to the England senior team in March and the defender could prove vital to keeping an in-form Brentford forward line at bay.

The Bees have scored 10 goals in their last three Premier League games, including five against Luton Town last time out, but will come up against a Toffees side looking to keep a fourth clean sheet in five Premier League fixtures.

Everton are 16th in the Premier League table, eight points above the relegation zone with four games left to play. What have you made of their 2024 so far?

There is no doubt there has been gradual progress under Sean Dyche. In both of the last two seasons, Everton were 19th at this stage with a greater negative goal difference. Had it not been for the eight-point deduction, the team would be safe by now this time around.

Dyche recently described the building job he inherited as being akin to putting up a wall just as another one was falling down. He spoke on how Champions League-winning managers with far greater budgets have struggled to find the magic key to unlock the club. It was bullish talk from a manager who has rolled up his sleeves and ditched the suit in a bid to preserve Everton’s top-flight status.

The football has remained unattractive, but it looks like Dyche’s survival mission will prove successful.

For the third season in a row, the Toffees are part of the relegation picture, though this time points deductions for PSR breaches have been a significant contributing factor. How much have those penalties hit morale?

There is no doubt the PSR charges have taken their toll on the players.

Fans were singing about the deduction back in December when Everton put together four wins in double quick time to wipe out the initial 10-point penalty - but that purple patch has proven to be something on an anomaly when viewed across the bigger picture of the campaign.

Since then, Everton have won just three of their subsequent 17 matches. It is therefore quite remarkable to think they sit outside the relegation zone with four games remaining.

When Everton have been bad, I’m thinking of the recent 6-0 demolition at Chelsea, they have been very bad. But if morale was brought into question, then the response in beating Nottingham Forest six days later suggests the squad still has the minerals to overcome setbacks.

Dyche has publicly spoken about parking what has happened off the pitch and blocking out the external noise. But it has inevitably weighed heavily on a set of players - honest professionals but middling - who have been worn down by the pressure of becoming the first group to be relegated at this club in over 70 years.

'Dyche has publicly spoken about parking what has happened off the pitch and blocking out the external noise. But it has inevitably weighed heavily'

What’s the mood like among fans and players?

There was elation when Richarlison inspired Frank Lampard’s Everton to survival in 2022. Relief was the overriding emotion this time last year. No cause for celebration.

This season, with members of the old board removed, the fans have mobilised more against the Premier League and a sense of injustice at how the PSR breaches have been handled. It has made assessing the collective mood towards the team and Dyche as manager harder to define.

The manager has not been immune to criticism, but past experiences have taught the fanbase that grumblings over playing style and personnel at this stage come second to creating a siege mentality.

There is the promise of moving into a state-of-the-art new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock on the horizon, but the club are still going through very choppy waters. Dyche feels the right captain during these turbulent times.

Which player should Brentford fans keep an eye on?

Everton have had a talisman who has risen to the occasion in previous relegation escapes with Abdoulaye Doucouré emerging as the ‘Richarlison of 2023’ in dragging the team over the line.

This season has been a tale of missed chances, with Everton the worst team at underperforming their xG. It has placed greater emphasis on keeping clean sheets, and on the whole - barring the aberrations at Aston Villa and Chelsea - they have been defensively sound.

As such, Jarrad Branthwaite has been the runaway outstanding performer at the back. A recent display against Burnley to help ensure a first league victory since 16 December was particularly impressive.

Branthwaite has emerged as the best piece of business of the Farhad Moshiri era, and while Dwight McNeil and Doucouré will provide the attacking thrust on Saturday, the young English defender sent off in this fixture two seasons ago will be key to keeping an in-form Brentford forward line at bay.

How is Sean Dyche likely to set up his side at Goodison Park?

I expect Dyche to stick to a preferred 4-4-1-1 formation, with two holding midfielders.

Provided there are no fresh setbacks, that will mean Doucouré playing in behind Dominic Calvert-Lewin, with Beto still missing as he adheres to concussion protocols.

I fancy Jack Harrison and McNeil to take up the wide positions.

The two holding midfielders have been rotated throughout the season owing to form and fitness, but Idrissa Gana Gueye and André Gomes have brought greater control and balance of late than James Garner and Amadou Onana.

The problem position really has been right-back. Ashley Young has been favoured frequently by Dyche, with Nathan Patterson out for the season and Seamus Coleman also struggling for fitness. Ben Godfrey has a very different profile to Young but it is certainly an area Brentford - and Keane Lewis-Potter - could target.

Last time out v Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Pickford; Godfrey, Tarkowski, Branthwaite, Mykolenko; Harrison, Garner, Gueye,McNeil; Doucouré; Calvert-Lewin

Everton have won the last two Premier League meetings between the teams. What’s your score prediction for this one?

It was in the reverse fixture that they belatedly collected their first win of the season, which I correctly predicted.

Backed by a partisan Goodison Park, and with Thomas Frank’s side seemingly safe, I fancy another narrow Everton win. 1-0.