Everton’s hectic festive period continues with a second game in the space of 48 hours against Newcastle at St James’ Park.
The Toffees at least head to the north east in buoyant mood following their hard-earned 1-0 win over Burley that gave Carlo Ancelotti the perfect start to life in the dugout.
Sean Dyche’s side showed little attacking intent and were focused on escaping with a point, being ultra-aggressive and time-wasting at every opportunity.
It looked like their approach would yield a draw until a rare piece of quality in the final third saw Djibril Sidibe put in a wonderful cross that was met by an equally fine diving header by Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
The 22-year-old now has eight goals this season, equalling the tally he achieved in each of the last two campaigns. It is a sign that he is starting to be more clinical in front of goal, the one thing previously missing from his impressive armoury of talents. Everton have been linked with another striker in January and while I agree we need more a little more firepower, it would be a shame if that came at the expense of Calvert-Lewin, who has benefitted from the regular first-team football he has been afforded over the past three years.
The win extends Everton’s unbeaten run to four matches since Marco Silva’s sacking and lifts them to the relatively dizzy heights of 13th.
The congested Premier League table means they are only seven points off fifth but are also just four points clear of the drop zone, meaning adding at least another point to the tally on Saturday would make a huge difference, especially with Man City waiting on New Year’s Day.
Newcastle fans were in uproar over the summer when Rafael Benitez chose to leave the club and head to China, their mood worsened further when he was replaced by Steve Bruce.
Bruce maybe a boyhood Newcastle fan but his reputation as an average Championship manager, with a spell at Sunderland on his CV, was considered a huge comedown compared to the more illustrious Benitez.
But, to his credit, the former Manchester United defender has not only maintained the steady progress achieved by his predecessor but built on it.
The Magpies are currently 10th in the table and have not lost at home since the opening day of the season.
Their success is built on defensive stability as goalscoring remains a problem - only two clubs have scored fewer this season. Jonjo Shelvey is their top scorer with five goals while big-money summer signing Joelinton has scored just once.
Injuries have also hampered their progress in recent weeks, with the lively Allan Saint-Maximin ruled out until the new year with a hamstring injury.
That said, the team showed resilience to edge past Crystal Palace in their last home game and another win here could lift them as high as seventh.
Newcastle 3-2 Everton March 9th, 2019 (match report)
A car crash of an afternoon for Everton and Jordan Pickford inparticular. The Toffees raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison but Pickford, clearly wound up as a former Sunderland man playing at Newcastle, lost his head, as the Magpies scored three goals in the final 25 minutes to secure victory.
Burnley H) Won 1-0
Arsenal (H) Drew 0-0
Leicester City (H - Carabao Cup) Drew 2-2 (lost 4-2 on penalties)
Manchester United (A) Drew 1-1
Chelsea (H) Won 3-1
Man Utd (A) Lost 4-1
Crystal Palace (H) Won 1-0
Burnley (A) Lost 1-0
Southampton (H) Won 2-1
Sheff Utd (A) Won 2-0
Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed he is to make changes to freshen up the side given the lack of recovery time from the Burnley win. That could mean starts fo the likes of Moise Kean, Michael Keane and Theo Walcott.
Alex Iwobi is still out with a hamstring problem while Morgan Schneiderlin is yet to fully recover from a calf injury.
What they said
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti: “I have to change players and try to put more players fresh if possible,” said the Blues boss, who added Everton have no new injury concerns ahead of the match.
“We are an energetic team. Physically, we are in really good condition, so we look forward to the next game.
“We don’t have really time to recover but we are going to check the players that were not able to play [on Boxing Day] - maybe they have more possibility to play against Newcastle.
“We have to see how the players recover. I am going to decide on the line-up on the day of the game.”
With both teams playing their second game in three days and also lacking squad depth, predicting the outcome is a bit of a lottery. Newcastle have a strong home record though so a point would not be a bad result, especially given the number of injuries still affecting the squad.