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Time to step up - Everton have more than just pride to play for

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Everton’s European hopes may already be over, but that doesn’t meant Thursday’s game is meaningless

Atalanta v Everton FC - UEFA Europa League Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

Justice for Oumar!!

Right, now that’s out of the way, lets get down to business.

Actually, no, I can’t let this pass without comment on the ridiculous two-match ban issued to Niasse by the FA.

Regardless of what you feel about the incident itself, it’s clear the FA have opened a can of worms.

There have been worse cases this season - as we showed here - but now Niasse has been punished I expect similar cases to be punished equally as severely*.

(*we all know that won’t happen)

It’s another example of the FA’s muddled thinking that, although done with good intentions, only adds confusion.

It may yet have further consequences too, with Niasse now unfairly labelled a diver and unlikely to ever get anything from referees ever again (other than yellow cards).

Anyway, back to matters on the pitch. Everton take on Atalanta at Goodison Park on Thursday with the Toffees bottom of Group E and already eliminated from the competition.

The Italian side, meanwhile, are top of the group and will secure their place in the next round if they avoid defeat.

It’s hardly one to whet the appetite. Everton’s European adventure has been a nightmare and the performances shambolic. We just want to get the last two group games out of the way.

And with a crucial match against fellow strugglers Southampton to come on Sunday, caretaker boss David Unsworth could be forgiven for fielding the kids at Goodison Park on Thursday.

That’s something Rhino won’t do of course. Unsworth says he owes it to the supporters to field a strong side as well as to the integrity of the competition.

Everton v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

It is, however, the opportunity for some of the players struggling for confidence to play in a competitive game but without any severe consequences for failure.

One of those players is Davy Klaassen.

The Netherlands midfielder comes across as a likeable bloke and the fans are desperate for him to do well. But he has done little to justify his £23.6m price tag and there are fears he is set to join the long list of Eredivisie flops who struggled to cope with the demands of the Premier League.

Sandro Ramirez and Nikola Vlasic are also likely to feature, at least giving the match some degree of intrigue.

It also acts as a minor distraction from the club’s hunt for a new manager, which has gone worryingly quiet.

The eerie silence has led to criticism of the club from some quarters. But only once an appointment is made will we know whether Everton have been dithering or complex negotiations have been going on in private.

Only time will tell.

The opposition

Atalanta have been in impressive form since we last met in September, losing just three of 13 matches in all competitions - including last time out at Inter Milan.

As mentioned they are sitting pretty at the top of the group and look well set for the next round. While in Serie A, Gian Piero Gasperini’s side sit 12th with four wins, four draws and five defeats.

However, they have yet to win away in any competition this season.

Back in September Everton were utterly dismantled (not for the first time this season, granted) with goals from Andrea Masiello, Alejandro Gomez and Bryan Cristante securing a comfortable victory.

Team news

Unsworth says he will “pick a side to win” despite this game being a dead rubber.

However, captain Phil Jagielka will definitely be among one of those rested. Academy graduate Morgan Feeney could make his senior debut in defence.

Morgan Schneiderlin is both injured and suspended while Mason Holgate is struggling with a groin problem.

Niasse is also absent as he wasn’t registered for the competition.

Predicted starting XI

Robles, Martina, Feeney, Williams, Kenny, Gueye, Baningime, Klaassen, Vlasic, Sandro, Rooney.

Final word

This is a dead rubber, it means nothing, but I don’t want us to lose.

It’s been a fairly torrid season so far with a squad cripplingly low on morale and confidence. Another loss will only makes things worse.

A win, or at the very least a decent draw, could inject some much-needed belief into the side ahead of a critical few weeks.