An important game beckons for Everton in just a matter of days, as the Toffees host Slovak club MFK Ruzomberok in the first leg of the third qualifying round of Europa League on Thursday. As such, tomorrow’s friendly at Racing Genk will be manager Ronald Koeman’s last chance to tinker with a lineup as he tries to find the best side to field on Thursday.
The Blues have been based in eastern Holland the last few days, and Koeman said the emphasis has been on fitness levels once again. The Dutchman had controversially stated at the beginning of last season that he thought his players were only ‘70% ready’ for the opener, and will be keen to prevent a repetition of that this summer.
“Our training base is a quiet place. The training pitch is behind the hotel, you don’t need a coach to travel. We had a one-hour flight, it was 10 minutes to the hotel. After the game tomorrow we will be back early in Liverpool. The pitch is good quality, the food is amazing in this hotel, all the facilities are only used by Everton and I think it’s the best way to prepare your team for the season.
“Our fitness levels are really good. The stats showed us that when the players came back from holiday their physical level was still the same from the time they went on holiday and that’s really good behaviour of the players. They know the intensity of the training and it’s a big difference to last season. Then I was the new manager and now we know each other really well. I know their character and it’s better now than it was last season.”
Everton lined up in a 4-3-3 against FC Twente, testing full units together. Ashley Williams and Michael Keane started the game with Jonjoe Kenny and Leighton Baines on defence. In the second half we saw Morgan Schneiderlin, Idrissa Gueye and Davy Klaasen come in the middle with Wayne Rooney as main striker flanked by Ademola Lookman and Kieran Dowell.
Genk ended up in eighth place in the Belgian Jupiler League, but made it all the way to the quarter finals of the Europa League where they were eliminated by Celta Vigo in an exciting two-legged fixture. Racing lost in the Belgian Europa League playoff at the end of May and will not be playing in Europe this season.
Forward Jose Naranjo, who was picked up from Celta Vigo in January, ended up as top scorer with five goals and two assists. Another player to keep an eye on is defensive midfielder Sander Berge who has been linked with Everton and Arsenal this summer.
Genk lost two of the biggest players on their squad during the January transfer this window, making a hefty chunk of change selling WIlfred Ndidi to Leicester City and Leon Bailey to Bayer Leverkusen.
Two of Racing’s best players during the season were Serbian youth international left back Bojan Nastic and former Swansea City midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo, who are still with the team.
Everton received some bad news on the injury front with Ramiro Funes Mori likely to miss 6-9 months after additional surgery on his knee, and Ross Barkley could miss the beginning of the season (if he’s still with Everton) after also undergoing surgery to correct his groin issue.
Back in the squad despite transfer talk of his own is goalkeeper Joel Robles.
Everton looked comfortable Wednesday against Twente, especially in the second half, but there is still room for improvement in the team. James McCarthy has had a wretched couple of games and will likely not feature again, while Wayne Rooney looked great on the ball and in decent shape as well.
Koeman will likely start the game with the same side he hopes to line up on Thursday. Jordan Pickford and Sandro Ramirez will get some action, as Koeman already confirmed.
“Pickford and Sandro will start tomorrow and then we will see how long they will play, maybe 45 or a maximum of 60 minutes.
“The starting team will play what most players did on Wednesday – 60 to 65 minutes. Then I will make many changes. We will show what we did well against Twente. We need to improve and it’s always about getting that intensity to be well prepared for next week.
“The first friendly saw good intensity from the players. I was really pleased with our second half on Wednesday against Twente. Genk will be another challenge tomorrow as they are further into their pre-season than we are and that type of game is what you need to prepare for the start of the season.”
I’d say Everton starts strong and scores early, scoring at least three against a defensively suspect opponent.
How To Watch
Predicted starting XI
Looks like 4-3-3 will be Koeman’s formation of choice with the current squad -
Pickford; Baines, Keane, Williams, Kenny; Klaassen, Schneiderlin, Gueye; Sandro, Rooney, Mirallas.