It might not be make or break – and the new Everton boss Frank Lampard has played down its importance somewhat – but this could be a season-defining week for the Blues, starting with a trip to fellow strugglers Newcastle.
A defeat on Tyneside would see Newcastle (currently 19th) move just one point behind the Blues. And if Everton were to also lose to Leeds at the weekend, it’s possible that the Blues could drop into the relegation zone and potentially even be bottom of the table.
On the flipside, if (so-far) Super Frank can guide the Blues to back-to-back league wins for the first time since September, then any relegation concerns would all-but dissipate.
So with a host of new signings available to choose from, how will Everton line-up at St James’ Park?
Ben Godfrey hobbled off with a hamstring injury against Brentford that is set to rule him out for four to five weeks. Fabian Delph (4-5 weeks) and Abdoulaye Doucoure (3-4 weeks) aren’t likely to see any action in February.
Salomon Rondon missed out at the weekend with a slight injury and there’s no word whether he’ll be available to take his place on the bench here. Tom Davies won’t be available again this season after being left out of the updated Premier League squad following surgery on a hamstring problem.
New signings Dele Alli, Donny van de Beek and Anwar El Ghazi are available to make their debuts after being cup-tied at the weekend. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is also back in the squad after a slight knee problem ruled him out at the weekend.
Everton Squad Available for Newcastle
Goalkeepers: Pickford, Begovic, Lonergan
Defenders: Keane, Mina,
Godfrey (INJURY), Holgate, Branthwaite, Mykolenko, Coleman, Kenny, Patterson, Holgate
Doucoure (INJURY), Delph (INJURY), Gomes, Gbamin, Alli, van de Beek, Onyango, Davies (INJURY)
Wingers: Gray, Gordon, Townsend, Iwobi, El Ghazi
Attackers: Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Rondon (DOUBT), Tosun, Dobbin
Tactics and Formation
It will be intriguing whether Frank throws Dele and/or Donny van de Beek straight into the starting line-up, considering Andre Gomes put in a man-of-the-match performance at the weekend.
Indeed, apart from those two new signings, it would harsh to see any of the other starters (apart from the injured Ben Godfrey) dropping out of the line-up if he keeps the same setup.
However, switching from a back five to a back four would accommodate one of the new boys, and give the Blues an extra body in midfield – so I think a 4-3-3 may be the order of the day. Donny van de Beek probably more likely to start that Dele Alli considering the latter’s lack of gametime recently.
Many might expect Dominic Calvert-Lewin to be thrust straight back into the starting line-up, but after an injury-plagued season so far, Lampard might be better off keeping him as an option from the bench in order for him to build up his fitness more gradually.
Starters (likelihood of starting rated out of 10)
Jordan Pickford – 10/10
Seamus Coleman – 8/10
Wouldn’t completely rule out that Jonjoe Kenny could start.
Vitaliy Mykolenko – 9/10
Michael Keane – 8/10
Mason Holgate – 7/10
Allan - 9/10
Andre Gomes – 7/10
Donny van de Beek – 6/10
Only likely to start if the Blues switch to a back four.
Demarai Gray – 7/10
Could drop out if DCL is brought straight back in.
Anthony Gordon – 7/10
Richarlison – 10/10