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Everton seek European solace amidst domestic woes

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Successive defeats have affected confidence ahead of Europa League group stage opener

Atalanta BC v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images

Everton’s return to the Europa League proper should be a cause for celebration. But instead a sense of panic has enveloped the fanbase after successive defeats to Chelsea and Tottenham checked spiralling expectations.

It’s perhaps not the results themselves that were so disappointing but the manner of them. The Toffees barely put up a fight against their London opponents, with the Tottenham performance particularly alarming.

Spurs eventually came away with a 3-0 win but in truth four or five would not have flattered them.

It suggested the gap between Everton and the top six – something the heavy summer recruitment was designed to narrow – is in reality as far away as ever.

It certainly raised pertinent questions about the club’s summer recruitment and even – among the more hysterical supporters - the manager’s tactical ability.

Off-field distractions involving Wayne Rooney and Kevin Mirallas haven’t helped either, as the optimism generated over the summer quickly fizzled away.

It’s far too early to panic of course and this horrendous fixture list was always going to be a tough challenge with a rebuilt squad still looking to gel with one another.

However, there is understandable concern at the damage these defeats will do to morale and just how much the club’s failure to land a striker to replace Romelu Lukaku will haunt them in the coming months.

The opposition

Atalanta are celebrating a return to Europe after 26-year absence following their fine fourth place finish in Serie A last season – their highest ever top flight finish.

Frustratingly for fans of the Oribici, the club sold two of their best players over the summer in Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti.

Like Everton, Atalanta were handed a tough early fixture list and lost both of their opening games to Roma and Napoli.

They gained their first victory of the season against Sassuolo last time out to lift the club up to 13th in the early Serie A table.

Atalanta have limited European experience, playing just 21 ties over four seasons.

Atalanta BC v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images

Their run to the semi-finals of the European Cup winners’ Cup in 1988 is their finest performance to date while their last taste of continental action came in the 1990-91 UEFA Cup.

The match will be played at the Città del Tricolore in Reggio Amilia, some 200km away from Bergamo, as Atalanta’s Atleti Azzurri d'Italia stadium is currently undergoing renovation.

Everton last played Italian opponents nine years ago in the shape of Fiorentina in the UEFA Cup round of 16 stage.

After a disappointing 2-0 first leg defeat in Florence Everton roared back at a pulsating Goodison to level the tie on aggregate, only to lose agonisingly on penalties.

It remains one of the most memorable matches of recent years, lets hope there’s some happier European adventures this time around.

Team news

Everton boss Ronald Koeman has confirmed Wayne Rooney will start of the Toffees in Italy.

The Dutchman also insists he will name a strong side, though we are likely to see some rotation.

Everton have no fresh injury concerns from the weekend with James McCarthy still sidelined, leaving just long-term absentees Yannick Bolasie, Seamus Coleman, Ramiro Funes Mori and Ross Barkley.

Predicted starting XI

Pickford, Martina, Jagielka, Keane, Baines, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Lookman Rooney, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin.

Final word

With Old Trafford looming on Sunday Everton badly needed a morale-boosting result in northern Italy.

They should have the players to do so but Atalanta do represent something of a unknown quantity.

In the context of the group an away draw would not be a disaster, but any sort of win would be most welcome.