A tough game awaits on Merseyside on Tuesday night, but results in our last three send us into this one in good spirits.
The hard fought draw at Wolves and convincing FA Cup win over Rochdale was a solid response to some dismal form over the festive period, yet things got even better on Saturday, with an outstanding defensive display and last minute winner from Isaac Hayden handing us an unlikely 1-0 win over Chelsea.
It wasn’t great to watch at times, but we’re now closer to 5th than we are to the drop zone – a stat which sums up how well Steve Bruce has done so far (no matter how ‘lucky’ we’ve been).
There’ll be a few tired an sore players in our ranks, meaning Bruce will have to pick his team carefully ahead of our second game in 4 days, but Everton have their own fitness worries, with key man Richarlison ruled out for the hosts.
Losing Willems and Dummett for the season is a real blow and one that takes the gloss of our weekend win, however it looks like we may be boosted by the arrival of Nabil Bentaleb and Valentino Lazara this week.
We put in a massive shift to beat Chelsea over the weekend, with us spending 70% of the game chasing the ball, so Bruce might have to protect a few players who’ve only just returned.
Can Saint-Maximin and Lascelles start again just a few days after a tough 90 minutes? Can Ritchie play again after 80 minutes on Saturday?
At the back, I can see Bruce sticking with the same three centre-backs – although we have Schar and Lejeune fit and available if he feels the need to protect Lascelles.
At left wing-back, Ritchie seems the only option now Willems is out for the season. The latest training pictures suggest both Yedlin and Manquillo still aren’t fit to play, so it could be between Hayden and Krafth at right wing-back.
I’d personally go with Hayden at right wing-back and partner the energetic Matty Longstaff next to Jonjo Shelvey in midfield – although Sean Longstaff could return given how leggy Shelvey looked late on against Chelsea.
In attack, can Saint-Maximin really start again? He played 90 minutes against Chelsea, so I’d question whether he can go again little over 48 hours later based on his recent hamstring history.
The issue is, Carroll, Gayle and Muto all look set to miss out again, so the only other option is Christian Atsu – and he’s a significant downgrade on the dynamic Frenchman.
Preferred NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka – Hayden, Fernandez, Lascelles Clark, Ritchie – M Longstaff, Shelvey – Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Joelinton.
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton side:
Dominic Calvert-Lewin – The big striker is a real handful and good in the air, but he’s added goals to his game so far this season, scoring 9 in 21 league appearances. The main man to watch our for in Richarlison’s absence.
Yerry Mina – The 6ft 5′ centre-back is an impressive ball player for his size and VERY dangerous from set pieces.
Jordan Pickford – There’s not much in between with the former Mackem stopper. He’ll receive plenty abuse from the away end, so it’ll be interesting to see if he keeps his cool this time. A capable goalkeeper but never far away from a rush of blood and big error.
Djibril Sidibe – A powerful right-back who’s weighed in with 5 assists in 17 appearances this season.
Predicted Everton XI – (4-4-2) Pickford – Sidibe, Holgate, Mina, Digne – Walcott, Davies, Delph, Bernard – Kean, Calvert-Lewin.
Jetro Willems and Paul Dummett will both miss out after being ruled out for the season, while Bruce suggested that the game will also come too soon for Andy Carroll.
Dwight Gaye is still missing and the likes of Manquillo, Yedlin, Ki and Muto are all expected to be sidlined again after missing training.
For the hosts, Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alex Iwobi have been ruled out, while Michael Keane is also a doubt.
With several players likely to be knackered after Saturday’s hard fought win and Bruce hardly able rotate given our injury issues, I fear we’ll be a little jaded coming into this one.
Everton could struggle with a few of their key attackers out (Richarlison could be a big miss!), but I think they’ll edge a low scoring affair.
Hopefully Bruce’s battlers prove me wrong, however. After what happened last weekend, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did!
Prediction: Everton 1-0 Newcastle