Sandro is doubtful with an injury
Everton's two-part quest to qualify for the Europa League group stage begins this evening as they take on Hajduk Split at Goodison Park.
The Blues welcome the Croatian side for the first leg which could be crucial to their chances of progressing given that the return leg in Split is likely to be a tricky assignment in a more intimidating atmosphere than was the case in the small environs of Ružomberok's home ground in the last round.
Indeed, Hajduk should pose a sterner test all the way around for Everton. Though they are not the force they were in the mid-1980s when the Toffees were also enjoying a heyday, they come from a country with a rich tradition of producing impressive footballers.
While most of the superstars of the Vatreni played for Dinamo Zagreb, Ivan Perišić was born in Split and started out in their youth system before making his way to the top in Italy via France, Belgium and Germany; reported Everton target Nikola Kalinić spent four years with Hajduk from the age of 17; goalkeeper Danijel Subašić played almost 100 games for them; and both Slaven Bilić and Nikica Jelavić started their careers with the club.
Ronald Koeman's men should be better prepared now than they were in the two drab Third Qualifying Round games when they were still in the throes of a truncated pre-season programme, although they could be two men down in terms of numbers. Gareth Barry, a late substitute in the second leg has left for West Bromwich Albion (he would have been ruled out with a minor injury anyway) while Sandro Ramirez is doubtful because of a knock he took in the Premier League opener against Stoke last weekend.
Koeman spoke in his press conference as if he expected the Spaniard to miss the game which would leave him with just two striking options in the form of Wayne Rooney and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The latter will feel he earned his spot by grabbing the winning goal in Slovakia earlier this month and, if he is picked, supporters will feel he has a better chance of justifying his selection by playing in his natural position at centre-forward.
James McCarthy is still not fit while new signing Gylfi Sigurdsson won't feature in the game but is almost certain to be paraded before the home fans either prior to kick off or at half-time.
Perhaps one of the most eagerly anticipated aspects of the game is whether Koeman will have another crack at trying to make the three-man central defence with wing-backs system work and, if so, who will get the nod on the right flank. Tom Davies was given the brief against Ružomberok with limited success while Calvert-Lewin was, somewhat surprisingly, tried there against Stoke.
Given the attacking instincts he has shown in his two outings so far, Cuco Martina looks like he could slot into the role, as could Mason Holgate just as easily, but it remains to be seen whether the manager will opt of a flat back four with the Curaçao international at right back.
Up front, Kevin Mirallas could be the beneficiary of Sandro's misfortune by starting for the first time in three games.
Hajduk, meanwhile, will be without their main striker Márkó Futács. The Hungarian, who has had spells in England with Portsmouth and Leicester City in the past, has scored 22 goals in 29 games for the Croatian club since last year but misses this first leg through injury.
In any case, Hajduk's Spanish manager, Joan Carrillo, is expected to adopt a very defensive posture for this one which is typical in away legs by unfancied teams hoping to keep it tight in the away leg and spring a surprise in the return game on their home turf.
Everton should, on paper, have enough for the side that finished third in what is a league dominated by Dinamo Zagreb and Rijeka but they will probably have to again be patient and take their chances when they fall their way.
Kick-off: 8.05pm, Thursday 17 August, 2017
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Martina, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Klaassen, Davies, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin
* The game is being shown only in Croatia on HRT 2 and in the Middle East by beIN Sports but Everton look set to stream it live on their YouTube channel
Full details: ToffeeWeb Match page