Everton is two up, hasn’t conceded an away goal, and faces an away game against a minnow. Sounds simple, right? Well, in this case, the Toffees are heading out to eastern Europe to play a club who has a contingent of fans who are... let’s say unpredictable and potentially violent. These sorts of atmospheres have caused stumbling for English Premier League clubs before.
So, here are three things the Toffees can do to not fall prey to the environment and the high stakes this week.
1. Use players who are comfortable in this kind of environment
Muhamed Bešić came to Everton from the Hungarian League where he played extremely well. He may not be an everyday starter for Everton under normal circumstances, but he’d be a star at a place like Hajduk, so he has more than enough quality to play a big role in this game. Here’s the world he’s used to playing in:
Another example of this would be Kevin Mirallas who has a history at Olympiakos, whose Ultras Gate7 is legendary in Greece. Like Bešić, he may not normally be first choice but he could find himself right at home in this environment, and in Mirallas’ case might be a good option to help close the game in the second half.
2. Dominate the Ball
The strength of this Everton team is its midfield. In addition to Bešić mentioned above, the Toffees also have Davy Klaassen, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Morgan Schneiderlin, Idrissa Gueye, not to mention local hero Tom Davies. Hajduk can’t compete with Everton in the middle of the park, so this is a great chance to own 65-70% of possession on the road to suck the life out of the local support. Here’s what we don’t want:
The more Ronald Koeman’s boys own the ball, the less Hajduk supports have to cause a ruckus about. Everton will want the home support to have zero fun Thursday night.
3. Be the good guys
When playing a team whose fans are prone to questionable outbursts, it’s crucial to be the team with the level head. No unnecessary provocations, no taunting the fans, no dangerous tackles; don’t give supporters a reason to feel justified in acting like idiots. If the tension in the stadium gets to a point that it’s distracting for the Everton players, they are vulnerable to big momentum swings and bad breaks. The hope is that the players avoid that by being cool, calm, and collected.
The Toffees are in a great position here, they just need to avoid doing anything that will blow what they built at home. If the Everton players can impose their superior quality while keeping their heads and not wilting from the atmosphere, they will advance to the group stage of the Europa League with no issue whatsoever.