Carlo Ancelotti said Everton’s European ambitions would be much clearer by the end of this week. And after Wednesday’s battling draw against Leicester, you suspect the Toffees boss will be happy with nothing less than three points against Newcastle if they are to be serious about a top four challenge.
Having had some time to reflect on Wednesday’s game I don’t think it is the worst result in the world given the depleted midfield and standard of opposition. Leicester are a very good team and certainly one of the most impressive sides Everton have faced so far this season.
They sat far too deep in the second half but still restricted Leicester to mainly half chances, with their equaliser coming from another error by Jordan Pickford.
Pickford gets a rough ride from the media, particularly since the Merseyside derby, but doesn’t help himself with errors like that which ultimately cost Everton two points. With Robin Olsen on the bench, you wonder whether Ancelotti look to change things up, especially given the weekend’s opposition.
With Abdoulaye Doucoure available again after suspension Everton’s midfield will be given an instant boost (though Andre Gomes and Tom Davies did well against the Foxes) while Allan’s imminent return is also timely given the positive impact he has on the side.
Games like Saturday are matches Everton simply have to win if they want to compete at the top of the table this season and would also put Wednesday’s draw in a more positive light.
You could also say they owe the Magpies one after two disastrous games against them last year. First, in January, the Toffees contrived to throw away a two-goal lead in stoppage time in what was one of the most remarkable two minutes of football I have ever witnessed at Goodison.
Then, in November, a sluggish Everton slipped to a 2-0 defeat at St James’ Park in a game where they never truly got going.
Newcastle never seem to be too far from a crisis, but even by their standards, things seem pretty turbulent at St James’ Park right now.
The failed take-over and continued ownership of the deeply unpopular Mike Ashley meant a troubled backdrop going into the new season. But patience with Steve Bruce has worn perilously thin.
A run of nine defeats in 11, including their last five, has only increased the levels of anger and frustration among the Geordie support.
A six-point gap between themselves and the drop zone looks comfortable, but that will only decrease if things don’t improve soon.
Some good news for Newcastle is the return of Allan Saint-Maximan. The Frenchman has been sidelined with the long-term effects of a Covid infection, with Bruce’s side suffering from a dire lack of creativity in his absence.
There were signs of improvement in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat against Leeds, but Bruce needs points over performances right now if he is to keep his job.
Newcastle 2-0 Everton, November 1 2020
A desperately disappointing afternoon and arguably Everton’s worst performance of the season as a double from Callum Wilson gave Newcastle victory at S t James’ Park.
Leicester (H) Drew 1-1
Sheffield Wednesday (H - FA Cup) Won 3-0
Wolves (A) Won 2-1
Rotherham (H - FA Cup) Won 2-1
West Ham (H) Lost 1-0
Leeds (H) Lost 2-1
Aston Villa (A) Lost 2-0
Arsenal (A) Lost 3-0
Sheffield United (A) Lost 1-0
Arsenal (A - FA Cup) Lost 2-0 AET
The Toffees will be boosted by the return of midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure, who is available after serving a one-match ban.
Carlo Ancelotti has no fresh injury concerns after Wednesday’s draw against Leicester, though none of his injured players are available to return yet either.
Fabian Delph is back in training after a hamstring injury but is not yet ready to return. Allan and (gasp) Jean-Phillipe Gbamin are due to resume training next week.
What they said
Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti: “We have to pay attention to this game, every game is really difficult and unpredictable.
“It is an important game for both teams for different reasons. For us, it is really important because we have a possibility to go up in the table… it can be good motivation for the second part of the season.
“Newcastle have difficulties in this moment and will come here with all their energy and motivation.
“Our position is good, there is a lot of competition and every game is so complicated and difficult.”
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce: “We’ve seen slight improvement, we’ve seen the addition of people coming back, getting fit again and healthy, which will help, and let’s hope that continues on.
“We had a very decent start – we won five of our first ten or 11 games. We know we’re capable, and to be capable we need everyone fit and healthy and we’re edging towards that now.
“Let’s hope we can improve – we will improve, we will get better, I’m convinced of that. I was pleased with the second half in particular – you could see what a goal did for us in the second half – so let’s hope we can build on what we did in the second half against Leeds.”
As I mentioned at the top, Everton simply have to win these sorts of games if they want to keep challenging for the European places. Newcastle couldn’t arrive in much worse form, but the last two meetings should serve as a warning. They are not to be underestimated.