Everton host Atalanta in a UEFA Europa League contest which offers little more than a chance to salvage some pride for the home side.
The crushing back-to-back defeats to Lyon on match days three and four of the competition have left the Toffees rock bottom of group E, with just one point and three goals to their name.
With only two games remaining for David Unsworth’s side to show their teeth in what has been a disastrous European campaign so far, the hosting of Atalanta at Goodison Park provides the chance to avenge a bruising 3-0 defeat suffered against the Italians on match day one.
That match effectively set the tone for what was to come for Everton in both their European and domestic campaigns to this point. It also spelt the beginning of the end for Ronald Koeman’s time in charge on Merseyside.
With Everton’s inability to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition from the position they have succumbed to in their group, the lifting of any pressure to progress may afford them the chance to play with freedom and without fear.
Their 2-2 draw away at Crystal Palace on Saturday showed signs of improvement in form, as Unsworth’s men twice came from behind to earn a hard-fought point on the road.
If this well-earned draw was a step in the right direction for Everton, the chance to build further momentum against Atalanta should be approached with both ambition and caution.
Caretaker manager David Unsworth will be without Morgan Schneiderlin for this match, as the Frenchman is suspended following his dismissal in the previous 3-0 defeat to Lyon. Also absent from selection due to injuries are Ross Barkley, Ramiro Funes Mori, Yannick Bolasie, James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman. Youngster Jonjoe Kenny is expected to continue at right-back, whilst the revitalised Oumar Niasse could keep his place up front, following his goal which secured Everton’s point against Palace on Saturday.
The away side remain without injured midfielder Leonardo Spinazzola, who is suffering with a thigh injury. Alejandro Gomez is one to look out for following his stunning strike against Everton in the previous fixture between the two sides.
The game presents the platform on which Everton can continue their recovery of form and confidence, and the chance to play a match in which the result is of little consequence should encourage them to play without trepidation to attack and to take the game to their opponents. A big result is not important, but a strong team performance could be of great value in the long run.
On the flip side, David Unsworth must also make his team consider damage limitation. Whilst staging a positive performance could be vital to his side’s confidence, Everton must also be conscious of the way they were condemned to that 3-0 battering at the hands of their Italian opponents in the away fixture.
Atalanta were dominant and ruthlessly dispatched Ronald Koeman’s side with three first half goals on match day one. Whilst the Italians reside in 12th place in the Serie A table at present, following a 2-0 defeat to Inter Milan on Sunday, Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have enjoyed better fortunes in their European efforts in this campaign. Currenty level on points with Lyon at the top of group E, La Dea will be intent on strengthening their position as group leaders when they take to the pitch at Goodison Park.
The Toffees will need to match offensive ambition with a defensively solid resistance to the Italians’ tactically-sound and efficient attacking approach if they are to gain any positives from this game, in front of Evertonians who are desperate for something to cheer about.
Prediction: Everton 1-2 Atalanta