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Buoyant Everton look to continue good run

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Toffees face newly-promoted Middlesbrough at Goodison Park

Middlesbrough v Everton - Capital One Cup Quarter Final Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Everton return to Goodison Park this Saturday teatime full of confidence after their convincing 3-0 thrashing of Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Monday lifted them up to third.

The result means the Toffees have equaled their best-ever start to a Premier League season set in 2006-07.

A victory on Saturday will not only represent Everton’s best Premier League start but best opening to any campaign since 1977.

The team has in-form players all over the pitch. Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams look like they’ve played together for four years rather than four games.

Idrissa Ghana Gueye has the makings of a cult hero and combines superbly with Gareth Barry to provide an effective defensive shield.

Yannick Bolasie was superb against the Black Cats on Sunday night while Kevin Mirallas looks a different player to the last two seasons and Gerard Deulofeu threatened as a substitute on Monday.

The return to form of Romelu Lukaku is what is most exciting though. The Belgian tends to go on goalscoring runs and the hope is that his quickfire hat-trick on Monday will spark to similar run to last autumn when he scored in eight successive matches.

The notable name I missed out there is Ross Barkley and one of the most intriguing aspects in the run-up to this game is how Ronald Koeman handles the midfielder.

Koeman took Barkley off at half-time on Monday after a poor 45 minutes from the 22-year-old, with the side much improved after the break.

The Dutchman has already shown he isn’t afraid to make tough decisions and refuses to indulge the players like his predecessor.

Koeman was equally as ruthless in his pre-match press conference, revealing he had shown videos of Barkley’s performance to the midfielder this week and told him it simply wasn’t good enough.

That kind of tough love should benefit Barkley in the long run but in the short-term in leaves his starting place in doubt.

Does Koeman drop Barkley and send a message out to the squad that no-one is safe? Or does he show some faith and give Barkley the chance to show his manager that he’s learnt his lessons?

We will find out at when the teamsheets are handed in at 4:30pm on Saturday.

Once player certain to start is Gareth Barry, who will become just third player to make 600 Premier League appearances.

It is testament to both his talent and professionalism that Barry is still performing at the highest level at the age of 35. And if he keeps on playing the way he is a new contract to extend his stay on Merseyside beyond the end of next season should be a formality.

The opposition

Middlesbrough are back in the Premier League after a seven year absence and will be quietly satisfied with the start they have made.

The Teesiders took five points from their opening three games before slipping to a home defeat against Crystal Palace last time out.

Their promotion campaign last season was built on defensive solidity and manager Aitor Karanka, a former defender himself, has employed a similar approach this season.

The four goals they have conceded is the same amount as Chelsea and leaders Man City. Though having said that they have only scored four at the other end.

Expect Boro to employ a safety first approach, as detailed in Mike’s preview, and seek to frustrate Everton and hit on the counter.

The fans therefore will need to be patient should the goals not come straight away.

Though they should at least take heart from the fact they have a manager who isn’t afraid to change tactics if things aren’t working.

Team news

As mentioned, Gareth Barry will start and make his 600th career appearance.

Ross Barkley though may be dropped in favour of Gerard Deulofeu. Deadline day signing Enner Valencia could also make his debut from the bench.

Middlesbrough duo Cristhian Stuani and Jordan Rhodes are doubtful because of groin and knee problems respectively.

Karanka remains without Grant Leadbitter, James Husband and Fabio da Silva for the trip to Goodison Park.

Final word

Confidence is seeping through Everton veins at the moment and that includes the supporters who sense the team could be on the verge of something special.

That brings with it its own pressures though and the Toffees will have to cope with being heavy favourites on Saturday against a side who will seek to frustrate from the off.

These were the sorts of games where Everton stumbled last season so it will be fascinating to see just how much has changed in the early weeks of Koeman’s stewardship.

Predicted starting XI: Stekelenberg, Baines, Williams, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, Gueye, Bolasie, Mirallas, Deuolofeu, Lukaku.