Sam Allardyce says Everton must be at their resilient and creative best to beat Manchester United at Goodison Park on New Year’s Day.
Allardyce has only 48 hours to prepare his team for the visit of Jose Mourinho’s side – beaten just once in their past 10 Premier League matches – following Saturday’s defeat by Bournemouth.
The manager suggested he would resist the urge to make wholesale changes despite admitting a jam-packed schedule – which tasked the Blues with playing eight games in December – is beginning to take a physical toll on his players.
He is nevertheless demanding a significant upgrade on the display against Eddie Howe’s Cherries, who took advantage of an off-colour Everton to win 2-1 and curtail Allardyce’s seven-match unbeaten start as boss.
Asked how he would manage such a tight turnaround, Allardyce told evertontv: “It is a big ask. There is a lot of fatigue in the team. Everybody will be suffering at the moment.
“I can change the team an awful lot but the players I might put in, I would not know how well they would or would not play because I have not been here long enough.
“And a lot of the rest of the squad have not got a lot of Premier League experience, so we will have to try to calculate the right team for Monday and hope it goes and performs to its best, because they will need to against Manchester United.
“I am still learning about the players. Some of the players have received [new ideas from Allardyce] quite well. Some are not getting anywhere near the squad or subs bench. They have got to stay fit and capable of stepping in because there is another game in 48 hours.
“The bottom line is... we have to be a very good defensive side because our squad is not blessed with goals. In our team at the moment, we do not have two very good goalscorers.
“We will always have to be defensively sound between now and the end of the season because we are not going to be a free-scoring side. We might create the chances but we do not have the goalscorers you need to convert those chances and that is what we are missing at the moment.”
The two goals Everton conceded in their final match of 2017 doubled the tally let in by the Toffees since Allardyce took charge last month – a seven-match sequence that saw the Blues win four and draw three, while scoring 10 times.
Allardyce, however, has identified extensive room for improvement in his side’s offensive play. And, although he noted signs of progress in that department during the second 45 minutes at Bournemouth, the 63-year-old insisted his side still had a long way to go to hit the heights he expects them to scale.
“Yes [there was an improvement in the passing against Bournemouth], but it cannot be in the shape of losing your defensive responsibility,” said Allardyce.
“If you open yourself up and make as many sloppy passes as we did, you create more of a threat on your own players and leave more spaces for the opposition, which is exactly what happened for Bournemouth’s second goal.
“The passing did get better but it was not as good as I would expect with the quality of these players. I would have expected them to have moved the ball and kept it better – and created more, which we did in the second half but not really in the first.
“It was a disappointing day, not just the result – I would have expected us to have done better in terms of creating and getting opportunities to score."
Allardyce welcomed James McCarthy back into Everton’s midfield at Bournemouth for the Irishman’s first Premier League start since the 6-3 Goodison Park victory over Howe’s men on 4 February.
McCarthy’s only previous action this season came in the Carabao Cup tie at Chelsea, where the 27-year-old was withdrawn on 64 minutes after suffering a recurrence of his hamstring problem.
Yannick Bolasie has also returned from an extended layoff in the past week but Allardyce – who reserved praised for Oumar Niasse after the striker came on and set up Idrissa Gana Gueye’s goal against Bournemouth – is promising to adopt a cautious approach with players coming back from injury.
He replaced McCarthy at half-time on the south coast, and continued winger Bolasie's transition back into the fray by giving him a 19-minute outing, four days after the former Crystal Palace man played 61 minutes of the stalemate at West Bromwich Albion.
“Oumar did improve us,” continued Allardyce. “Our service to him and attacking play could have been better but what he did get caused Bournemouth more of a threat, which was good to see.
“You must not forget, these players [McCarthy and Bolasie] are not match fit. We are juggling the balls in the air. James played for 60 minutes at Chelsea and felt his hamstring, which was the only reason I gave him 45 minutes.
“He could have gone on longer but, if he came off after 60 minutes last time, I was not going to take that risk again. We have been waiting a long time to get him back.
“Yannick Bolasie has been out for more than 12 months and is very rusty indeed. We are juggling around players who cannot last 90 minutes, as well as players who are fatigued, so it is a difficult job we have at this moment in time.
“We have made a miraculous recovery, let’s not forget, from the position I started in – and we have to overcome this defeat and get back to being both resilient when we have not got the ball and creative when we do have it.”