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Everton’s European hopes in the balance ahead of Lyon tie

The Toffees need a win on Thursday - for a number of reasons

Brighton and Hove Albion v Everton - Premier League Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

If one image symbolises Everton’s start to the 2017-18 season it’s the sight of a haggard, unshaven Ronald Koeman taking his seat at Finch Farm ahead of his press conference on Wednesday.

The Dutchman, so often a picture of calm authority, looked worn down as he tried to explain away yet another poor performance.

It didn’t escape the attentions of the Evertonians watching that his appearance mirrored that of Roberto Martinez in the final weeks of his reign.

The Spaniard was usually bright and enthusiastic when speaking to the press, but looked broken as his Goodison tenure crumbled all around him.

Whether Koeman’s reign ends the same way remains to be seen, but defeat on Thursday would certainly increase the already significant pressure on his weary shoulders.

Everton’s woeful start to their European campaign means failure to take three points on Thursday would leave their qualification hopes hanging by a thread.

It would likely require three straight wins from their remaining games to be in with a chance – with two of those games away from home at Apollon and Lyon.

Koeman has been quick to lament the lack of time between games in order to work with his players; an excuse given short shrift by the supporters.

Brighton and Hove Albion v Everton - Premier League Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

If we want to try and close the gap on the top six then coping with European games is a basic requirement. And the failure to figure out a system that fits the players at his disposal isn’t down to the extra fixtures.

Koeman has revealed the board are fully behind him for now and that the players are working hard to turn the situation around. However, he also acknowledges that football is a results business and a manager’s job security can change very quickly.

With Arsenal and Chelsea to follow swiftly after this game, things may change very quickly indeed.

The opposition

Lyon were drawn as the top seed in Everton’s group having finished fourth in Ligue 1 last season. Bruno Génésio’s also reached the semi-finals of last season’s Europa League that represents their best performance in the competition.

However, last season’s star player, Alexandre Lacazette, was sold to Arsenal in the summer for £46m.

Only four clubs have won more Ligue 1 titles than Lyon’s seven, won in successive glorious seasons between 2002 and 2008. They also reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2010.

However, the team has failed to hit those heights since that golden era, with the rise of PSG making it even harder to compete at the top of Ligue 1.

Lyon have instead sought to rebuild from within and have produced a number of top players in recent seasons.

Lacazette is the most recent graduate but the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa, Ludovic Giuly Karim Benzema and Sidney Govou have all come through the Lyon academy.

Lyon have made solid start to this season, losing just once to petro-dollar fuelled PSG. However, Friday’s win over Monaco was their first victory in six games in all competitions.

They currently sit sixth in Ligue 1 with 16 points from nine games, and second in Europa League Group H after two successive draws.

As a result neither side can really afford to lose on Thursday, which hopefully should mean an entertaining game.

Team news

James McCarthy again misses out despite making his comeback from a knee injury for the U23s on Monday.

Jonjoe Kenny will be assessed on the day of the game after picking up an injury while on international duty while Aaron Lennon is reportedly out with a muscle injury.

Aside from that only the long-term absentees Ross Barkley, Ramiro Funes Mori, Yannick Bolasie and Seamus Coleman will be missing from the squad.

Lyon will be without five first-team regulars for Thursday’s game at Goodison Park.

Pape Cheikh Diop, Clement Grenier and Jeremy Morel were already ruled out before joint top-scorer Mariano Diaz suffered an abductor injury. Defender Ferland Mendy also misses out with a thigh problem.

Predicted starting XI

Pickford, Martina, Jagielka, Keane, Baines, Schneiderlin, Davies, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin, Vlasic, Rooney.

Final word

It’s a real shame that Everton head into this game under such a cloud as these are the sort of matches the team worked so hard to get into Europe for.

Lyon are one of the bigger names in the competition and the stage should be set for a thrilling European night under the lights at Goodison.

Sadly the team’s wretched form means a corrosive atmosphere now exists among the home fans that eats away at any atmosphere or positivity the longer Everton go without scoring.

It’s easy to simply ask the fans to get behind the team but Koeman is right when he says it’s the players’ responsibility to perform first.

I am among a minority of Evertonians who still believe Koeman can turn things around but he needs both a result and performance urgently.

And given what we have witnessed recently it would take a brave punter to bet on that happening on Thursday.