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Everton at Newcastle match preview - Toffees without key stars for Magpies trip

Can the Blues dig deep to return to the summit?

Newcastle United v Everton - Premier League - St James’ Park Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Everton were dealt a reality check on what was a fairly dreadful afternoon all-round at Southampton last weekend, making a reaction against Newcastle on Sunday even more important.

There were few complaints with the result; the Toffees were poor at both ends of the pitch and had their weaknesses ruthlessly exposed by a well organised and talented Southampton side who look set for a successful season.

The absence of Richarlison was an obvious blow, with Alex Iwobi failing to grasp his opportunity.

On the other flank, James Rodriguez wasn’t fully fit while Ben Godfrey, effectively Everton’s fourth-choice right-back, could not offer the same attacking threat as Seamus Coleman.

Southampton v Everton - Premier League Photo by Andy Rain - Pool/Getty Images

That is no slight on Godfrey, who performed well against Liverpool last weekend, but he isn’t an attacking full-back, so the sooner someone more comfortable can return in that position, the better.

The most controversial incident of the afternoon was Lucas Digne’s red card, which for me was harsh. It looked terrible, especially in slow motion, but I’m not sure how Digne can deliberately stand on Kyle Walker-Peters’ Achilles and then be dragged along by it.

As it was not a tackle it cannot be serious foul play, meaning it must be deemed violent conduct, but I’m not sure it fitted that description either. If so, then any accidental collision that results in one player being injured is a red card offence, which is, of course, a farce.

Everton, who have been on the wrong end of some puzzling decisions from the FA in recent years (hello Oumar Niasse), were perhaps wise not to appeal the dismissal, instead successfully reducing the suspension from three games to one.

The other piece of good news from an otherwise disappointing weekend was that the Toffees remained top, albeit on goal difference.

That has now changed following Liverpool’s win over West Ham, so returning to the summit with a positive result in the north east would be a real statement of intent.

The best sides do not lose successive matches, making this clash a pivotal one if the Toffees are to achieve something special this campaign.

The opposition

Newcastle fans were dreaming of Kylian Mbappe wearing a black and white shirt earlier this year when takeover talks with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund reached an advanced stage.

The deal would have made the club the richest in the world, but they withdrew when the Premier League dithered over the owners’ and directors’ test, leaving the Magpies stuck in a loveless marriage with Mike Ashley.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Despite that blow, boss Steve Bruce brought in some shrewd additions over the summer, with Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jamaal Lewis moving to St James’ Park.

Bruce has yet to fully win over a sceptical fanbase who felt his appointment as Rafael Benitez’s successor was a backward step.

But despite that constant uphill battle he led them to a comfortable mid-table finish last season and has a habit of snatching results even when they have not played particularly well.

Already this season we have seen them secure 1-1 draws at Tottenham and Wolves with late equalisers, despite the opposition having the better of the game. And who could forget the last meeting between the two sides, when the Toffees entered stoppage-time 2-0 in front but somehow contrived to concede two late goals in perhaps the most ‘Everton, that’ moment of them all.

Previous meeting

Everton 2-2 Newcastle 21 January 2020

Everton FC v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images

As mentioned above, the last match between the sides looked to be heading for a routine 2-0 win for Everton back in January, but a double from Florian Lejuene in the 94th and 95th minutes secured the most unlikeliest of points for the visitors.

Team news

Southampton v Everton - Premier League Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

Everton will be without the injured James Rodriguez and Seamus Coleman for the trip to St James’ Park, while Richarlison and Lucas Digne are suspended.

Jonjoe Kenny and Jarrad Branthwaite are fit again, though, with Kenny expected to slot into the right-back position, Niels Nkounkou could come in for Digne for his Premier League debut .

What they said

Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “It was not a good day against Southampton but we have moved forward and are preparing well for this game.

“It is an important match, we want to stay at the top of the table, if this is possible.

“To play against Newcastle is always difficult, they had good results in the past few games.

“But we are focused, the spirit is good and we have confidence for the game.

“We have to be focused on the opposition team, of course, we have to ty to find the weakness of the team.”

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce: “The one area where they’ve improved dramatically is the midfield area. The three players they’ve brought in have hit the ground running – they’ve given them an extra dimension, certainly.

“They’ve had a wonderful start, they’ve invested well and they’ve got a top class manager, so we know that we’re in for a very difficult game.

“But I’m really pleased that there’s somebody different at the top of the league. How refreshing is that? Wonderful. I’m a huge admirer of Ancelotti and what he’s done and achieved, and it’ll be a tough, tough game for us – that’s for sure.”

Final word

This game has taken on greater significant after last weekend’s disappointment at St Mary’s. The team has already shown impressive resilience this season, fighting back after conceding a lead or falling behind on five occasions, but this is the first real test to see how they respond to a genuine setback.

Win here and the Toffees will remain top going into their huge clash with Manchester United next weekend, with their aberration at Southampton all forgotten.