I wrote in last weekend’s analysis piece on Wolverhampton Wanderers that Everton would need to get a minimum of four points from that game and today — against Newcastle United — in order to stave off relegation fears. Well, those fears well and truly materialized, descending upon Goodison Park at the full time whistle on Sunday as the Blues slumped to a 1-0 defeat, with the club now entering the game tonight outside the bottom three only on goal difference over Watford, albeit with games in hand over every other side seriously at risk of the drop. Clearly, three points against Eddie Howe’s resurgent Newcastle is a must, so let’s take a look at the opposition is more detail.
There was a degree of scepticism in the football media upon Howe’s appointment at St. James’ Park back in November. After all, he’d last been seen leading Bournemouth into the Championship and considering his reputation for expansive play and a somewhat porous defence, many figured he was not the right sort of manager to guide a woeful side to safety. It seemed to be going that way initially, as he suffered four defeats by at least a two-goal margin from his opening six games, with a solitary win over relegation-rival Burnley. However, as recruits began to arrive in January, things began to pick up and the Magpies are currently one of the form sides in the league, with an unbeaten run of eight straight matches, including six victories only just ended - somewhat unluckily - by Chelsea last time out.
Style of Play
Newcastle’s transition from poor to impressive has coincided with a shift to a 4-3-3 formation and the deployment of a midfield trio of Joelinton, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Willock, along with a raft of sensible January transfer window signings. Howe is playing more optimistically then the kick-and-run style beloved of former boss Steve Bruce, but the basis of their success is a combination of a higher line, a compact midfield comprising players that have gelled well together and disciplined shape, making them difficult to play through. Although key signing Kieran Trippier has been lost to injury, solid additions in on-loan left back Matt Targett and Dan Burn, at centre half give the Geordies a much more solid look at the back.
The Magpies can play on the front foot but under the new man, they’ve enjoyed the majority of possession on only four occasions, so they are more comfortable playing on the break. Howe likes his team to pressure high when the opposition are trying to play out, but otherwise they will drop back into a 4-5-1 and look to press around the halfway line. The midfield will look to block passing lanes and force opponents into giving the ball away, or being caught in possession. This happened frequently when Everton played at St. James’ Park last month. When a turnover occurs, Howe’s team will look to break in transition, with their high-energy midfielders getting forward in support.
A number of Newcastle’s players are facing late fitness tests, due to illness or minor knocks, so I'll only talk about those that appear likely to start tonight. Burn has been a fantastic addition to the side. He’s a gigantic presence, both offensively and defensively and is winning more than 5 aerial duels per 90 since making the move to Tyneside. He does the basic stuff very well, making an enormous amount of clearances for his side, but is composed on the ball, offering a decent passing range. Bruno Guimaraes figures to start as all the regular midfielders are doubts and from what we’ve seen of him so far, he cuts an classy figure. As well as being smooth technically, with a cleverness to his game, he contributes actively in defence, pressing as energetically as the others.
Alain Saint-Maximin has been used from the bench the last two outings, but tormented Everton in the second half in February and will likely start tonight. The winger is a dangerous dribbler with bags of pace and agility, even if sometimes his end product has been lacking. Regardless, he will present a danger to an Everton backline that has appeared vulnerable most of the season.
Under the lights at Goodison, the atmosphere is usually electric and the club have been pulling out all the stops to ensure the Old Lady is rocking for the visit of the Magpies. Howe’s outfit inflicted the first reverse on Lampard’s Everton with a sound tactical plan, so the Blues boss and his team will know what did and didn’t work last time out. What the Toffees cannot do is play tentatively, but conversely they could get punished by being too reckless. Matching up in a 4-3-3, or possibly a 4-2-3-1 would be a sound approach as Wolves demonstrated the problems in trying to play through the middle whilst outnumbered. Lampard needs to find a way to get midfielders into dangerous areas and in support of the likes of Richarlison and Demarai Gray. I feel one sitting midfielder, probably Allan is enough and two - maybe Dele Alli, Donny van de Beek or Abdoulaye Doucoure - should be charged with supporting the attack.