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Everton look to wrap up 2017 on a high against Bournemouth

Toffees will look to end the year in the top half of the table

Everton v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

Everton bring an eventful 2017 to a close on the south coast with a game against AFC Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium.

It hasn’t been a vintage 12 months, but there has certainly been a lot of drama and intrigue.

There was the surge in optimism following last season’s seventh-placed finish and subsequent summer transfer splurge.

That optimism nose-dived head long into despair as Everton collapsed during the autumn, with relegation looking a real possibility.

West Bromwich Albion v Everton - Premier League Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

But in strode Big Sam Allardyce to save the day, tightening up a previously shambolic defence, stealing a point at Anfield and lifting the team up the league.

Allardyce’s seven games in charge without defeat is the longest unbeaten start by an Everton manager ever, and has done much to lift the sense of gloom that had enveloped the club following Ronald Koeman’s departure.

Victory on Saturday could even see the Toffees begin 2018 in eighth place, a seemingly impossible prospect just a few weeks ago.

The Boxing Day draw at West Bromwich Albion did spark a few grumbles of discontent from the fanbase, some of whom it seems are ready to turn on Allardyce at the earliest opportunity.

In his defence, Allardyce admitted his side’s possession and attacking play was not good enough at the Hawthorns, though he was pleased with the team’s new found defensive resilience.

Some players also looked jaded after a hectic autumn schedule, with Allardyce desperate to get some of his injured players back ahead of the new year.

The arrival of Manchester United 48 hours after Saturday’s game means the squad will again be tested to the limit this week, with you-know-who waiting in the FA Cup on Friday.

The opposition

A little over 12 months ago Eddie Howe was being touted as one of English football’s brightest managerial prospects and linked with a number of high-profile jobs.

Howe’s rise to prominence came off the back of Bournemouth’s meteoric rise up the divisions and their establishment in the Premier League.

However, things have not gone to plan this season and as a result Howe’s stock has fallen dramatically.

AFC Bournemouth v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

He wasn’t even mentioned when Everton sacked Ronald Koeman in October, with Sean Dyche instead among the contenders.

That says more about the way the media works than anything else, but it is fair to say that Howe is under pressure at the Vitality Stadium for the first time.

His side remain in the bottom three, are winless in eight games and have conceded 11 goals in their last three league matches, comfortably their worst run of form since promotion in 2015.

That’s led to some questioning whether Howe’s methods are suitable for a relegation dogfight, where a more pragmatic approach is often preferred.

To be fair to the Bournemouth board there’s no suggestion any pressure is coming from them.

The Cherries hierarchy don’t seem to be agitating for a change, while Howe insists he won’t alter his style of play despite recent criticism.

It’s an approach that has worked in the past and Bournemouth would certainly argue that chopping and changing your manager may provide a short-term boost but won’t make things better in the long-term.

A.F.C. Bournemouth v Everton - Premier League Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Then there’s also the fact that the Cherries are only four points off Brighton in 12th - the team they play on New Year’s Day.

Meetings between these two sides have certainly been entertaining over recent seasons, with 22 goals scored in the last five league meetings.

That includes Everton’s remarkable 6-3 victory at Goodison in February and a 3-3 draw in November 2015 that was peak Roberto Martinez.

Everton’s recent defensive resilience suggests a repeat is unlikely, but you never know.

Team news

Sam Allardyce has confirmed Wayne Rooney is fit to return after recovering from illness.

James McCarthy is also available for the first time since October after yet another hamstring strain.

Idrissa Gueye is likely to miss out though with a hamstring injury of his own, while Ross Barkley has not yet got the all-clear to return from the club’s medical team.

Allardyce has previously hinted that Dominic Calvert-Lewin could do with a rest so Oumar Niasse may get a run out up front.

Predicted starting XI

Pickford, Martina, Kenny, Holgate, Williams, Schneiderlin, Davies, Rooney, Sigurdsson, Bolasie, Calvert-Lewin.

Final word

With Man Utd, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur lying in wait at the start of the year, Everton really need to take something from this game.

Bournemouth’s recent struggles and open style of play suggests Everton will have opportunities to attack, but a lot rests on whether the Toffees’ weak forward line can capitalise.

The West Brom game was desperately poor and the team would struggle to get a result if they put in another display like that.

A lot will rest on how Allardyce rotates his squad with another game just 48 hours away.

An away point is never to be sniffed at, but given the opposition and their recent form, this is a game the Toffees should be looking to win.