Elliot’s return would be wise for me. There can be a distinct edginess to Darlow when the going gets tough and he didn’t fill me with confidence on Saturday. Elliot’s been poor himself lately, but I think his experience and leadership could be beneficial in a game like this.
At centre-back Lascelles must now return. We’ve been woeful in this area in his absence and it’ll be interesting to see who makes way as a result. There’ll be calls for Lejeune to be dropped, who has been caught out several times recently, but I think Clark might make way. He’s looked even more edgy and I think Rafa sees Lascelles and Lejeune as his preferred partnership going forward – being his skipper and summer signing).
Full-backs. Mbemba should come in for Manquillo for me. The latter had the odd burst forward against Leicester but he doesn’t look a natural defender and certainly isn’t a natural left-back. Mbemba isn’t either, and he too was caught out for goals at West Brom and Chelsea, but I feel he’s a better defender and looks more convincing in that role.
On the other side, Yedlin continues to get caught out, but I’m not sure who replaces him. Everton lack pace, so although Yedlin may not need his to recover defensively, his could be used to hurt them at the other end.
Hayden was so poor on Saturday and offered so little. For this reason, Merino and Shelvey must be given a shot in the side. Everton have a hard working and combative central midfield, so don’t be surprised if Rafa goes for something a little more cautious. With Hayden and Diame failing to impress in recent games, could there even be a case for Saivet’s inclusion?!
Now Atsu’s back, the wide men won’t just pick themselves. On recent performances, you’d have to say Ritchie deserves dropping before Murphy – whose often been our bright spark during this bad run – however I can’t see a player of his experience being axed for a big game like this.
I think he’ll bring Atsu in for Murphy. I don’t see this as Murphy being dropped, but he has played almost all of our games over the last month so may be rested.
A return of 4-2-3-1 is quite possible, with 4-4-2 helping us score a few more but ultimately contributing to us looking far more open and unorganised. Perez could well return.
Gayle has been in great form with 3 in his last 5 and you’d think he’d have to play on recent form, but if we revert to 4-2-3-1 and play one up top his inclusion is debatable. Rafa has nearly always gone for Joselu when we’ve played Perez in support of a sole striker. Maybe Gayle will play with Joselu once again, but we’ll see Gayle in a role just off the front to help protect our midfield?
Personally I’d stick with Gayle and Joselu – who’ve struck up a decent partnership recently – however our midfield and general set up must be much more protective of our leaky looking defence.
Too many times on Saturday we saw the likes of Mahrez running at our defence or in a position to get a shot off within 25 yards from goal. We can’t give that sort of space to the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson or Wayne Rooney, who may not be quick, but know how to curl a ball into the top corner.
Idrissa Gueye is an impressive defensive midfielder and often looks to me like a poor mans Ngolo Kante. He’s not one to worry about, but he’s very good at what he does in front of a defence.
In goal for them, Jordan Pickford is an excellent shot stopper and frighteningly good kicker. I don’t expect them to carry a huge threat on the counter due to their general lack of pace, but expect him to fire some long kicks into the chest of Calvert-Lewin up top. Winning those first and second balls will be key. We may not like to admit it, but the former Sunderland star is probably going to be England’s number one keeper very soon.
CLICK HERE for an inside look at Everton’s strengths and weaknesses, as this week’s ‘Opposition Opinion’ comes from an honest and outspoken Everton fan who happens to be a real good friend of mine. He doesn’t beat around the bush and will be sure to give you an alternative look at our club from the eyes of someone who doesn’t see things through rose tinted glasses.
Newcastle – 16th (15 pts) – Last 5 in the league – Won: 0 / Drawn: 1 / Lost: 4
Everton – 10th – (19 pts) – Last 5 in the league / Won: 2 / Drawn: 2 / Lost: 1
Jamaal Lascelles and Christian Atsu were both on the bench for Saturday’s game and could be handed full recalls back into the starting 11.
Paul Dummett played for the U-23’s last week, but Rafa admitted yesterday that he’s still not quite ready – with it also being reported that a bout of illness will see him miss this one.
Centre-backs Michael Keane and Phil Jagielka are fully fit and back in contention after missing the Merseyside derby on Sunday.
SEVEN senior players will be missing for Everton tonight. Big Sam has confirmed club captain Leighton Baines won’t be back in time, whilst Ross Barkley, Yannick Bolasie, Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, Ramiro Funes Mori and Maarten Stekelenburg will all be missing once again after long spells on the sidelines.
Newcastle XI – (4-4-1-1) – Elliot – Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Mbemba – Ritchie, Merino, Shelvey– Ritchie, Perez, Atsu – Gayle
Everton XI – (4-1-4-1) Pickford – Kenny, Keane, Williams, Martina – Gueye – Lennon, Davies ,Rooney, Sigurdsson – Calvert-Lewin.
Again, it’s not great is it. Four defeats in our last five meetings, with us having scored in just one of our last five games encounters with Everton. That’ll need to change tonight.
Before the takeover news gave us reason to have a real spring in our step tonight, I was fully expecting a draw here.
I still think that’s a distinct possibility, but I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a great atmosphere tonight and a game where we all pull together to scrape a scruffy three points.
Big Sam’s Everton won’t make it easy, but I don’t think they carry the same speed and uncontainable threats that the likes of Watford and Leicester have posed in recent home defeats.
Give them time and they’ll punish us – they still have the quality – but I think, with the extra days rest and everything at stake, we might just get the big win we need tonight.
Head has been saying 1-1 all week, but I’m going to go with my heart and predict a narrow win, with today’s news and the return of Lascelles likely to put some fire in the bellies of the 52,000 at St James’ Park tonight. As we’ve seen on so many occasions, that really can be the difference.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-1 Everton
Howay the lads!