Have you ever had a friend ask you, “I’m thinking of a number between one and 13 trillion — what is it?”
Because that’s more or less what the task of trying to predict Everton’s starting lineup for its upcoming match against Newcastle United is like. Everton has less than 48 hours of rest since its last match, its manager is in his second match in charge, and the team is riddled with injured players.
Ancelotti did say this about his team selection, but how much of that was mind games?
“Of course, I have to change players and try to put more players fresh if possible. 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.”
So who can really guess what Everton will look like against Newcastle? Well, I’m going to try.
Tactics and Formation
One thing that is for certain is that Newcastle will come out with a conservative approach. No team has had less of the ball in the Premier League this season than Newcastle United (and it’s not all that close), and given that the Magpies will surely be rotating their own squad as well, it’s a pretty predictable outcome.
So, much like in Boxing Day’s match against Burnley, it’ll be incumbent upon Carlo Ancelotti to devise a way to break down a deep-lying opponent. But with presumably limited options available given the congested schedule, he may be forced to get even more creative in doing so.
It’s tough to see a world where Ancelotti comes back to the back three in this match — he just doesn’t have enough central defenders to rotate them effectively. So, based on what he’s got available to him, my best guess is a 4-4-2.
Starters (likelihood of starting rated out of 10)
Jordan Pickford - 10/10
Leighton Baines - 9/10
Baines has proven to be good value as a backup option during Lucas Digne’s time injured, so expect the experienced Englishman to start this one, paving the way for Digne to return against Manchester City.
Yerry Mina - 6/10
At least one of Mina or Mason Holgate is going to have to start in this match after going a full 90 on Boxing Day — the Toffees just don’t have enough center-backs to work around it. I’ll guess it’s Mina, but admittedly with little to back up that prediction.
Michael Keane - 10/10
Squad rotation! That’s about the only reason Keane should play given his current form, but Mina and Holgate can’t be expected to play all three matches over this seven day period, so Keane will likely start here.
Seamus Coleman - 7/10
Djibril Sidibe came off in stoppage time, so he played slightly fewer minutes than Coleman on Thursday, but the Frenchman did a lot more running than the Irishman, who covered on the right of the back three. As such, Coleman seems the more likely to start at right-back here.
Tom Davies - 10/10
Tom didn’t start on Thursday, but is definitely capable of going a full 90 against a lower-table team. His legs will be a big part of this match.
Fabian Delph - 7/10
There just aren’t enough healthy players to do a full squad rotation as I suspect Ancelotti might like to for this one. So, my best guess is that Delph gets another start in the center of midfield, ahead of Sigurdsson.
Bernard - 7/10
Similarly, Everton is short on healthy wingers. Bernard was the first player subbed off on Thursday, so my guess is that he’ll start Saturday,
Theo Walcott - 10/10
A healthy winger who didn’t start on Thursday? You bet he’ll start on Saturday!
Moise Kean - 7/10
Cenk Tosun - 7/10
Both Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have played a ton of minutes of late, and Kean and Tosun both deserve a chance to start for their new manager. They combine to make an interesting strike partnership too — Tosun prone to dropping deep and using his technical ability to create for others, with Kean more interested in getting in behind and taking defenders on 1-v-1.
It’s a partnership borne of necessity, but one that could make a lot of sense practically as well.
Well, I can officially say I’ve made my best guesses. Some of Carlo’s personnel decisions make themselves, given the proximity of the matches and injury situations — though exactly how the manager works around those issues is still unclear heading into the match.