Everton are the only remaining side still unbeaten after five games, but they will be looking to put their midweek Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Fulham to bed on Monday evening when they host Newcastle United under the Goodison Park floodlights.
Back-to-back wins over Chelsea and West Ham United following three opening draws pushed the Merseyside club up to sixth in the table, whilst the Magpies bounced back from a 2-3 defeat on home soil against newly-promoted Hull City with a 2-0 victory over Leeds United in the league cup – setting up a mouth-watering tie with Manchester City in the next stage of the tournament.
Newcastle were one of the only teams to come away from the hosts’ ground last season with something, drawing 2-2 thanks to a second-half Demba Ba brace, and whilst Everton have kept six clean sheets in their last seven top-flight home games (having not conceded for 580 minutes) and only lost once in their last 24, a point this time around may again prove to be a solid result – although Alan Pardew will be hoping for a repeat of their impressive 1-2 away win against Aston Villa two games ago.
Everton will be without Antolín Alcaraz (hamstring) for the game, whilst Leon Osman (groin), Steven Pienaar (unspecified) and Arouna Koné (knee) could all make the bench and Romelu Lukaku is likely to make his home debut.
Newcastle will travel into the fixture with Steven Taylor (hamstring), Massadio Haïdara (knee) and Ryan Taylor (knee) all unavailable for selection, with Jonás Gutiérrez (hamstring) set for a late fitness test and Yohan Cabaye ready to return after being rested during the week.
Although Newcastle didn’t appear to be obvious shoppers during the latest transfer window, the amount of players that have returned to fitness during pre-season (41 significant injuries over 54 games in 12/13) has given Pardew plenty of reasons to be happy with his squad, and seven points from a possible 15 is a good showing from his side early doors.
At present, Pardew has once again adopted the 4-3-3 formation which served Newcastle well in the 11/12 year and it can easily revert to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-5-1 system when the opposition have control of the ball.
Vurnon Anita is currently being used as the ball winner in the heart of the three, intercepting play four times, winning 100% (2/2) of his tackles and recovering possession eight times against Hull last Saturday, whilst Cabaye drops deeper to partner him at times, although the Frenchman is at his best when causing danger in the attacking third – completing 80% (12/15) of his passes in that zone during the same match.
Everton, who have had the best average share of possession in the division so far with 59.4%, will want to control the game with great purpose, but they will be wary of what Cabaye can conjure up if allowed to enter their half freely, whilst Moussa Sissoko’s runs at speed will also be something James McCarthy or Darron Gibson will have to deal with alongside Gareth Barry.
McCarthy, 22, could make his first Premier League start for the Toffees because not only is Osman injured, but he has a calm presence when on the ball, with his pass accuracy with Wigan Athletic last season standing at 87% overall, and that patience he holds could be a virtue in this game as Newcastle will be happy to allow Roberto Martínez’s men the ball and break on the counter when they seize it from them, thus Everton must not rush into attack mode.
McCarthy and Barry can both do the much-needed ugly work in midfield effectively and they will allow the likes of Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley, in particular, to be given the platform to roam into the opponents’ half fruitfully. However, Barkley, who has completed the second most take-ons (33) in the Premier League so far – just behind Hatem Ben Arfa (34) – will need to track back and help press Cabaye and Ben Arfa in numbers, alongside trying to isolate Anita or Cheick Tioté in 1-on-1 situations when driving forward.
Whilst Martínez is attempting to tweak Everton’s philosophy and style on the pitch, the potent wide play that has served them well for the last few years is something he simply had to preserve and although both Mathieu Debuchy and Davide Santon like to push forward, Pardew may ask them both to tuck in this time around and block the recognisable threat coming from the likes of Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines – who are both experts at exploiting space through a mix of under-lapping and overlapping in order to confuse their opposite numbers.
But whilst Coleman and Baines both have the pace and energy to take any winger down the line successfully, Newcastle’s inverted wingers of Ben Arfa and Loïc Rémy will present a tantalising challenge for Everton’s full-backs to ponder.
It may well be a household and unsurprising shout to tip Baines to be the key man as Everton set about plotting the downfall of another opponent, but that is purely a testament to how special the full-back really is.
The England international joined a unique chart after his stunning brace against West Ham last week, which put him alongside Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba and Sebastian Larsson as only the fifth ever player to score two direct free-kicks in a Premier League game.
Baines, who created the second most chances in Europe last season (116) and has now scored 21 goals in the Premier League, will naturally pinpoint exquisite crosses into Newcastle’s box, but with Ben Arfa’s alarming trickery to deal with, the 28-year-old will need to be an all-rounder on Monday and could answer his critics about whether he has what it takes defensively.
Ben Arfa has been the stand-out performer for the Toon so far, scoring two goals, like Baines, and he will always want to drift inside on his magic left-foot, causing Baines to operate on his weaker right and he will need to be up to that challenge – as Sylvain Distin will be reluctant to come over in support due to both Papiss Cissé and Rémy’s eagerness to run in behind him.
Against West Ham, Baines not only scored twice and completed 89% (40/45) of his passes but he also won 100% (5/5) of his tackles and 66.6% of his aerial duels. Ben Arfa has only created four chances, including assists, for Newcastle so far and Baines will be aware that he won’t be interested in taking him to the byline or floating in crosses but instead, he will want to test Tim Howard at every given opportunity – Ben Arfa, on average, is taking a shot every 30 minutes.
Baines has been a master at bombing up and down the left flank with fantastic dynamism for the last few seasons but Martínez will want him to be conscious of what Ben Arfa is capable of when not closed down quick enough and the Spaniard may try to use the right hand side pairing of Coleman and Steven Naismith to combat the potential space left by Rémy, constantly wanting to move into the box rather than sticking out wide, leaving Santon with the predicament of having no cover.
Naismith is a workhorse and will try to get the better of Santon in the air but should Pardew ask the Italian to sit back, there is a slight chance Gerard Deulofeu will see some action in this game as the young Barcelona loanee has more tools in his locker to chip away at full-backs than Naismith does, whilst Mirallas can often decide a tight game with his relentless dropping off the shoulder and dipping shots.
Nonetheless, Baines will still be keen to test Newcastle further forward via first-time crosses, as not only have they conceded the most headers so far this season (3), but two of Hull’s three goals last week came from down that side whilst the other was from a set-piece.
Like Baines is for Everton, Ben Arfa seems to hold the honour of being Newcastle’s key man in every game but as previously explained, the former Marseille man doesn’t create an abundance of chances for his team-mates and instead the trio of Sissoko, Sylvain Marveaux and Cissé have been the most profitable in the creative department for the visitors so far – producing 32 chances between each other.
Whilst Marveaux (11 chances) is making something happen for Pardew’s side every 14.2 minutes when played, with Cissé (9 chances) also playing his part despite the glowing lack of goals, Sissoko (12 chances) could be crucial against Everton because his pace on the counter can not only trouble both McCarthy and Barry’s strength, but Cabaye is likely to fall back at times to support Anita or Tioté around Barkley and, therefore, Newcastle’s front line will be looking towards him to feed the right balls through in order for them to score.
Everton’s dogged and spirited 1-0 win over Chelsea two games ago was magnificent but Jose Mourinho’s men failed to convert any of their enormous 22 attempts and could have won the game if they had an inspired striker on the field. Although Cissé is currently on a barren run in front of goal in the Premier League, his strike against Leeds on Wednesday could give him some confidence approaching this match, whilst he may profit from any spillages Ben Arfa can manufacture but more importantly his link-up play with Rémy could also bring a goal.
Against Hull, Cissé created four chances, including assists, every 18.3 minutes, which is more than what Ben Arfa has fashioned in the past five games collectively despite his early brilliance, but, Cisse is still falling short as a striker – with the Senegalese having just one shot all match which was off target.
Rémy, however, created one chance himself and finished with a clear-cut chance conversion rate of 67% after scoring twice against the Tigers. Both players proved they can link-up well together and on a better day defensively, Newcastle would have got something out of the game, yet the biggest factor is that they’re obviously creating chances and can definitely trouble Everton through the middle.
Martinez’s open and expansive set-up is eye-catching when in full-flow but, as he admitted himself after the Chelsea clash, his players are still going through the transition of adapting to his fresh tactics and Newcastle could utilise that by allowing them the ball in their own half, but pressing as soon as they enter their territory and counter-attacking in numbers.
There has been a couple of hiccups in certain games for Everton so far because teams have started to close them down quickly in order to make their players panic, as Martinez instructs that the ball stays firmly on the floor. Chances could arrive from this pressing, and Newcastle will be fine with Ben Arfa, Cissé, Rémy, Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran all capable of scoring; but, they will need to perk up at the back if they’re going to come away from the game with something positive to take back to Tyneside.
Everton have lost just one of their last ten Premier League matches at home against Newcastle United (W6 D3), whilst Romelu Lukaku has scored four goals in his last four top-flight appearances.
Only once in the Premier League era have Everton been unbeaten after six games (2006/07, W3 D3), with the other occasion before that being the year they lifted the league title in the 1986-87 season (W3 D3).
It should undoubtedly be a cracking game of football to watch between two sides, who both boast several stars that can step up to the plate and salvage all three points for their respective outfits. Whilst Everton will hope to take control of the game with a vast amount of possession, Newcastle will likely play on the counter attack through the middle and hope more good things will come from Cissé and Rémy in-and-around the box.
Prediction: Everton 2-1 Newcastle United
Matthew is currently studying a Journalism degree at Liverpool John Moores University and writes Player Focuses, Team Focuses, Player Analyses, Transfer Reports, Scout Reports and much more for EPL Index. He is also a writer for FTBpro and an Everton juror every two to three weeks for the Liverpool ECHO newspaper.
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