Everton away did you say? Any chance we could recall Florian Lejeune from Alaves and stick him up front?
All jokes aside…well, not completely….Steve Bruce seemed to take a lot of encouragement from our second half performance against Leeds United on Monday night, but it ultimately ended in yet another defeat – a line that tells you everything you need to know about his mentality and the current state we’re in.
It was another chance missed to stop the rot and a another week that saw those around us either creep a point closer (Fulham and Brighton) or extend their lead (Burnley) with big wins.
New assistant Graeme Jones has had a few days to give Bruce a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ in training and returns to the club he once worked at under Roberto Martinez in Everton.
His arrival is said to be a show of faith in the under-fire boss, but with the players shot for confidence and Bruce a broken record full of contradictions in most of his pre and post-match interviews, a trip to take on Carlo Ancelotti’s Blues will be a tough test and one that could make or break his attempt to save our season that’s sinking faster than the Titanic.
He clearly retains the backing of Mike Ashley right now, but that could change if results go against us AGAIN this weekend – with Fulham’s trip to West Brom giving them a big chance to move within three of us should we lose at Goodison in the early kick off.
- Clark & Dummett – Both returned to training at the back end of this week, but Bruce’s comments suggest this one might be a bit early for both of them.
- Federico Fernandez – Hasn’t played since the 1-0 loss at Sheffield United and Bruce reckons he’ll be out for “at least another couple of weeks.”
- DeAndre Yedlin – A midweek trip to Manchester appears to have sorted his visa, meaning he should be fit to play….providing he’s not about to board a flight to Turkey!
- Javier Manquillo – Was rated as ’50-50′ for the Leeds match but missed out. Has been spotted back in training since then, so you’d hope he can return here.
For the hosts, Allan, Fabian Delph, Niels Nkounkou and Jean-Philippe Gbamin remain out, but summer signing Abdoulaye Doucoure is back from a one-game ban.
Predicted line up
(4-2-3-1): Dubravka – Manquillo, Lascelles, Schar, Lewis – Hayden, Shelvey – Fraser, Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Wilson.
OUT – Darlow, Murphy and Hendrick?
IN – Dubravka, Manquillo and Saint-Maximin?
I’ve been wrong in backing Dubravka to return in recent weeks, but feel it’s a matter of time until Bruce brings him back into the side. Darlow’s not done a great deal wrong, but his distribution has put us on the back foot in recent weeks and I’m still not sure what he was doing for Watkins’ goal last weekend. I’d have no issue if he starts – he’s been brilliant – however I do feel Dubravka remains our No 1 for a reason.
At the back, Manquillo has trained so could be in line to return for Murphy; who was at fault for Leeds’ opener and struggled defensively in midweek.
In the middle, Lascelles and Schar appear to be our only fit centre-backs once again. Bruce has rarely played a four-man defence when Schar is involved, but it’s about time we got Hayden back into midfield – especially when one less centre-back (which we have so few of fit) allows Saint-Maximin to return in attack!
Lewis to continue at left-back and a midfield two of Hayden and Shelvey. It may seem harsh on Hendrick given he had a solid second half against Leeds, but he’s been an absolute passenger in our last two away games at Villa and Sheffield United. I’d probably prefer to see Matty replace Jonjo against Everton, but the latter somehow seems to be back in Bruce’s good books now he’s overcome that groin injury.
In attack, is this finally the day we see Saint-Maximin, Almiron and Fraser all start behind Wilson?
Bruce stated after the Leeds loss that he’s never been able to play his best side this season, so you’d like to think he’ll finally give that a go now ASM has got two cameos under his belt following a long battle with COVID.
That said, what the NUFC boss says and does tend to be two VERY different things, so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if one of those attackers is benched to make way for another defender in a 5-3-1-1!
Here’s a few ones to watch in Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton side:
James Rodriguez– The Colombian scored a stunner with his weak foot in midweek, but tends to be more of a creator who’ll pop up in all sorts of areas to pull the strings and put them on a plate for Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison. His wicked delivery from corners is another one to watch – especially when Keane and Mina so often get on the end of them!
Dominic Calvert-Lewin – Loves scoring against Newcastle, having 5 in his last 5, but just loves scoring goals in general this season! He’s on a dry spell at present, failing to score in his last six PL games, but that’ll only make him more hungry to get back in the goals here. Forgetting his predatory instincts inside the six-yard box, he’s also a very good target man with a great leap and a surprise turn of pace for his size.
Jordan Pickford – An accident waiting to happen. If he’s not flapping at crosses or tipping shots into his own net he’s flying off his line when he really doesn’t need to – although all of the above may see him dropped for this one after yet another costly error in midweek.
Lucas Digne – One of the most creative left backs in the league, bagging an outstanding six assists in 10 Premier League appearances so far. Now he’s fit again, Calvert-Lewin will be licking his lips if we give the Frenchman too much time to cross.
Richarlison – A real handful who’s one of the best headers of the ball in the league for me, meaning whoever starts at right-back MUST be switched on from cross to the back post. Calvert-Lewin is the big one to watch but the Brazilian can be devastating if given half a yard.
We beat the Toffees when they came to Tyneside earlier this season, but that was a Blues side without James Rodriguez, Richarlison, Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman – four key players who are all fit and raring to go after they dropped two points late on against Leicester in midweek.
I’m hoping we learn from our improved second half display against Leeds and don’t wait to go behind until we give the opposition something to think about, however it feels like Everton will have too much no matter how we approach this one.
It could get ugly if we are passive, downbeat and poor all over the pitch as we were in our last away game at Villa, yet you never know what might happen if Bruce’s finally decides to start ASM, Almiron, Fraser and Wilson in the same side!
Hoping for a huge result to get us back on track, fearing the worst!
Prediction: Everton 3-1 Newcastle