What a difference a 17-day break followed by two solid performances makes. There is a renewed sense of confidence around Everton and Marco Silva will be under pressure to keep that going.
In his pre-match press conference the manager had indicated that he’d told his players to treat each remaining game of the season as a Cup final and to finish out the season strong. With five of those nine games against teams in the top half of the table (a group that the Blues have picked up a paltry four points from so far), it remains to be seen whether the players can live up to their end of the deal.
It’s been an odd season so far outside the top six and though the Blues sit six points off seventh place, it remains all to play for and that spot in the table could still net one of the teams jostling for it the poisoned chalice of Europa League qualification rounds in early summer.
Everton have taken 4 out of a possible 39 points against the top ten teams in the Premier League this season.— Royal Blue Mersey (@RBMersey) March 7, 2019
Wolves: D, L (1)
West Ham: L (0)
Watford: D, L (1)
Arsenal: L (0)
Utd: L (0)
Chelsea: D (1)
LFC: L, D (1)
Spurs: L (0)
City: L, L (0)
Only Fulham have been worse.
Tomorrow’s opponents Newcastle under Rafa Benitez are an odd side. The manager certainly has the pedigree to coach at the highest level, and ever so often can coax out a world-beating performance out of his side, witness the 2-1 win over defending champions Manchester City recently.
The Magpies followed that up with a good February losing a tight game to Tottenham Hotspur and drawing away at Wolverhampton before bouncing back with two 2-0 wins on the bounce at home.
The drama with owner Mike Ashley continues to unfold in the background, but Newcastle did add playmaker Miguel Almiron from the MLS and he appears to have settled in well.
Benitez’s 5-4-1 formation will not allow Everton the crucial width that Silva craves through his wingers, not without bringing the fullbacks into play as well, which then opens up the Blues to counterattacks much like the one that led to Newcastle’s goal at Goodison Park in the 1-1 draw earlier in the season.
Leighton Baines remains out, but Everton’s centrehalf musical chairs continues with now Phil Jagielka injured again while Yerry Mina is fit to play.
Meanwhile, where is Ademola Lookman? Only Marco Silva knows, apparently.
For the hosts, Sean Longstaff is out for the rest of the season while Ciaran Clark and Rob Elliott are out too with no return dates known.
The Toon are just six points behind the Blues, and certainly gave Everton fits especially with their counterattacks in the previous leg at Goodison Park. There is a renewed sense of confidence around both teams, with Newcastle playing well at home in recent weeks while Everton look rejuvenated since the away win at Cardiff and the battling draw in the derby - there is all the potential of an end-to-end football match breaking out at St. James Park on Saturday.