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Everton vs Lille: Match Preview

Everton begins the second half of the Europa League Group Stage with a visit from their most recent European opponent.

Phil Jagielka will likely captain the side against Lille again on Thursday.
Phil Jagielka will likely captain the side against Lille again on Thursday.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos

The Toffees enter their fourth Europa League match after a disappointing draw against Swansea City over the weekend, looking to launch further into the driver's seat in Group H before November's international fixture break puts their European campaign on hold.

Everton has five points through three matches, good enough for top spot in Group H at the halfway mark.

The Toffees picked up a hard-earned point in France against Lille in their last Europa League outing. With the French side coming to Goodison this time around though, Roberto Martinez and co. will be looking for a more attacking, refined performance.

TV Info - Live Soccer TV

Team News

Kevin Mirallas and John Stones remain long-term injury absences. Antolin Alcaraz joins them on the injury list after sustaining a shoulder injury against Swansea this weekend.

The Alcaraz injury has left Martinez with only two senior center-backs to choose from: Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin. Jagielka, after a poor start to the season, has ramped up his performances in recent weeks and is almost certainly a lock to start both against Lille and at Sunderland on Sunday.

Distin is the obvious choice to play alongside Jagielka, but his absence from the match-day 18 against Swansea raises some questions. Is the Frenchman not fully fit, or is a falling out between Distin and Martinez still diminishing the manager's faith in the experienced center-back?

If either is the case, Martinez indicated it is possible that young Tyias Browning or Brendan Galloway (the latter of whom is yet to appear with the senior squad) could get an opportunity to play at center-half. If Martinez is not just bluffing, Thursday's match against Lille seems as good a chance as any to insert one of these two into the lineup.

The Opponent

The result of Everton's Europa League match in Lille, a 0-0 draw, perhaps should not have come as a surprise. Lille has only conceded ten goals in Ligue 1 play. Only PSG and Nantes have conceded fewer in France.

But, Lille have only scored nine times in 12 league matches, joint-worst in Ligue 1. Divock Origi, currently on loan from Liverpool, leads Lille with three goals in Ligue 1 play, but the team has no other player that has scored more than once in league play.

Lille currently sits in third in Group H, having picked up three points from three draws thus far. Defender Simon Kjaer scored in a 1-1 draw at home against Krasnodar, and Divock Origi converted a penalty in Wolfsburg before Lille conceded a late equalizer to Kevin De Bruyne, leaving that match even at one as well.

With Wolfsburg hosting Krasnodar in the other match in Group H, Lille will know there is a very real chance that a loss against Everton will see them fall four points behind the Germans for second place in the group with two matches to go, leaving the French club with everything to play for in this one.

What To Watch For

As mentioned above, perhaps the most interesting part of the squad selection for Roberto Martinez will be the choice of the second center-back, but there are other intriguing decisions to be made as well.

Will Romelu Lukaku return to a starting role after being relegated to the bench against Swansea? After Eto'o started each of Everton's last two matches, the Cameroonian would appear to be in line for a break, pushing Big Rom back into the starting XI.

In the midfield, only Kevin Mirallas remains unavailable, so what Martinez will do is anyone's guess. Steven Naismith, usually brilliant this season, looked tired against Swansea, and could use a rest. With the return of Steven Pienaar and the excellent performance of Aiden McGeady against Swansea, Martinez can afford to give the Scotsman a break.

For Lille, the plan will likely be to try to bunker down defensively against an Everton side that was firing on all cylinders in their only other European home game, and try to use cracks in a make-shift back-line to get a goal on the counter. Origi is a raw, but talented striker, and capable of making Everton pay if they switch off defensively.

The Final Word

With only a match at struggling Sunderland between the Lille match and the international break, Martinez may see this match as a chance to all but solidify his team's place in the knockout stage. With that in mind, expect Everton to field a top side and come out with tons of energy, pressing high and looking to create chances.

If the Toffees can get an early goal, as they did against Wolfsburg back in September, this match could play out much as that one did -- with Everton playing some of its top football.

If Lille can weather the initial storm though, Everton could run itself into the ground early on, and find itself susceptible to Origi on the counter-attack.