Overlooked against Bournemouth, will Sandro Ramirez figure in the absence of Oumar Niasse?
Everton resume their Europa League campaign tomorrow evening with a home fixture against Apollon Limassol needing to get three points on the board following the debacle against Atalanta.
The Blues' 3-0 reverse in Italy has increased the pressure on them to win their three games at Goodison Park in order to have the best chance to progress to the knockout phase but, unlike their last European match, they come into this clash with the Cypriots in a better frame of mind.
Back-to-back wins against Sunderland and Bournemouth have lifted the mood at Finch Farm and provided a timely confidence boost for the players.
“We had a difficult run of games at the start of the season but I think as a team we were never worried that we wouldn't get back together,” Mason Holgate said in a joint press conference with manager Ronald Koeman today.
“We know we're a good strong team and we've got the ability, once we're firing, to cause any team trouble. So I think we've got ourselves back together now and we're looking forward to moving on.
“That's what football's all about — once you'e got a few wins, confidence starts coming in and it looks like things start dropping a little bit for you and I think that's what's happening now.”
Koeman echoed the young defender's sentiments regarding the two positive results. “Of course, it's really important,” he said. You like to play full of confidence and the confidence of the players — they get it from themselves first and, secondly, they get it from good results.
“I think the wins in the last two games, against Sunderland and the last one against Bournemouth, are important but this is a different competition. We need to react because the final result in Italy was not the Everton we like.”
Everton will have do without Saturday's two-goal hero, Oumar Niasse, however, who is ineligible for this phase of the Europa League because he wasn't included in the squad the club submitted to Uefa prior to the registration deadline.
The Senegal striker took the chance offered him in the League Cup last week to put the cherry on top of a 3-0 win over Sunderland by scoring the third goal and his first in Everton colours. But he was vital to the Blues at the weekend when he rescued the side with a brace to beat Bournemouth and ease the growing pressure on Koeman following a poor start to the new season.
“We had to make that decision a long time ago and at that time his situation was not the situation [as it is] now,” the Dutchman said of Niasse's omission from the squad for Europe.
Focus will switch back to Koeman's chosen formation, how he uses Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a hero in his own right in the last two games with a brace against the Black Cats and a good performance leading the line against the Cherries, and perhaps to Sandro Ramirez who has yet to catch fire in England since making the switch to Goodison from Malaga over the summer.
The Spaniard was an unused substitute on Saturday, the first time he has been fit but not played since he arrived, but, like another new signing Nikola Vlasic, he will be hoping to be involved at some stage against Limassol.
As usual, Koeman has plenty of options in attacking midfield where much attention will be devoted to how many “No.10s” he can fit into his starting XI and how much he rotates of personnel with one eye on another important league game on Sunday against Burnley.
His options are fewer in defence, where “[the injury situation has not changed],” according to Koeman. “Still Michael Keane and Phil (Jagielka) are not available for tomorrow and they are doubtful for the weekend.” Both players trained separately from the main group this morning, as did James McCarthy who isn't scheduled to resume full training again until Friday. That will almost certainly see Mason Holgate continue alongside Ashley Williams at centre-half and leave the choice between Cuco Martina and Jonjoe Kenny as the only real decision.
In goal, Maarten Stekelenburg was the chosen cup ‘keeper in Atalanta and he is likely to be named as the starter between the posts again.
Presumed to be the underdogs in the group, Apollon secured a draw in their opener against Lyon two weeks ago and Koeman's comments at the presser suggested that he won't be underestimating them.
“It's a team who like to play football, that's really comfortable on the ball,” he said. They had a point against Lyon which was a good result for them.
“We have analysed the team. It won't be easy for us. They're an aggressive team, they like to press but, more important, it's about ourselves. You respect the opponent but we need to play better. We need to be more aggressive. We're playing at home and we need the win.”
Anything short of that, of course, would put Everton seriously behind the proverbial eight ball and put significant pressure on them to get a victory in one of the two remaining away games as well as getting favourable results at home to Lyon and Atalanta.
If they can take the confidence gleaned from the last two games, employ the passing that was a feature of some of their play against Bournemouth and create enough chances, then they should have enough to claim the points. Therein likes the rub, though — Koeman's Everton simply don't fashion enough goalscoring opportunities and he has yet to settle on a line-up that resolves that significant handicap.
Kick-off: 8.05pm, Thursday 28 September, 2017
Predicted line-up: Stekelenburg, Martina, Holgate, Williams, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin