Newcastle United v Everton. The Everton Forum preview

Well, well, well… those boring, park-the-bus, unadventurous blues have been spilling kopite tears for the past 48 hours and guess what, it’s been marvelous.

I won’t lie and pretend I enjoyed watching the blues repel red wave after red wave on Sunday afternoon, but my word, the result and especially the manner of it, hasn’t half made it sweeter than your average undeserved draw.

Obviously, they’ll tell you that we’re celebrating a draw, acting like we’ve won the World Cup, beneficiaries of a ‘dreadful’ decision and the worst Everton team to ever grace Anfield but the thing is, reds, we expected to get tonked and your free-scoring team couldn’t break us down with 80% of the ball.

Southampton had scored 9 goals in 13 games and put 4 past us a fortnight ago, so really we’ll take our laughs at your expense and when an opposition manager does what yours did immediately after the game, it just writes itself really.

So yeah, it’s been an amusing start to the week, but there isn’t time to dwell – it’s onto the next and another away trip, this time to St. James’ Park to face Newcastle on Wednesday night at 7.45pm.

The Toon

Our hosts for Wednesday night’s clash come into this match on a poor run of form that’s seen them pick up just 6 points from their last 10 matches.

Newcastle are currently 16th in the Premier league on 15 points and somewhat worryingly for them, they had more points at this stage of the 2015/16 season, in which they were later relegated.

Looking specifically at their last match, a 2-3 defeat at the hands of Leicester City on Saturday evening, Newcastle had some good moments in the game but found themselves losing thanks to defensive mistakes the Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez blasted as happening ‘week in, week out’ afterwards.

What I’m sure will be of significant frustration to Rafa Benitez is how many points his team are losing from winning positions of late. In their last 4 games, Newcastle have taken an early lead 3 times and have gone on to lose every one of those matches – conceding 3 in all of those defeats.

I should point out that 2 of those matches were away against Manchester United then Chelsea and the other early goal (against Leicester on Saturday) was cancelled out by a Riyad Mahrez wonder strike, but still, for a manager who famously likes to build his teams on strong defensive foundations, getting 0 points from those matches must be annoying.

In terms of Benitez’ Newcastle set-up, he seems to favour a 4-4-2 system in home matches, however having been regularly outspoken about a lack of quality in his squad (despite the fact he bought most of them), it’s tricky to predict his actual starting 11 because he doesn’t seem to pick the same team twice.

From the goalkeeper to the strikers, Benitez has chopped and changed with regularity this season…

Initially, Rafa had Rob Elliot between the sticks until the West Brom game earlier this month when he was dropped to the subs bench in favour of Karl Darlow, who’s since conceded 7 in his 3 starts.

At the back we’ve recently seen a Newcastle centre back pairing of Lejeune and Clark with the occasional sprinkling of Mbemba (normally when they play a 3), however returning club captain Lascelles is set to force his way straight back into the starting 11 on Wednesday.

The full back duo of Manquillo and Yedlin seem set to continue, whilst moving into central midfield it seems likely to be two from Shelvey, Merino or Heyden. Matt Ritchie will more than likely operate from one flank whilst Christian Atsu (remember him) or Jacob Murphy will play from the other.

Up top, Dwight Gayle (hero of Crystanbul, never forget) has been in a bit of form after scoring in back-to-back games, so will likely continue alongside the Spaniard, Joselu, who also scored on his return on Saturday.

Other options available to Benitez include Ayoze Perez, Alexander Mitrovic and Mo Diame.

Overall, the ‘Toon’ do have some decent ball players (notably Shelvey, Ritchie and Merino), pace (Gayle, Atsu, Yedlin, Heyden and Murphy) and aerial prowess (Lescelles, Mitrovic, Clark, Joselu) – however, these aren’t a great side and in my opinion their manager is right, they do lack quality.

If I had to point out three of their better players, I’d say Matt Ritchie if often at the heart of most of the good they do, Shelvey has a lot of talent (but is sadly for them, a complete gobshite) and Merino has looked a tidy acquisition in the middle of the park.

I think you can get at Newcastle’s defence and in the poor run of form they’re in, the boisterous St James’ Park crowd could gobble their team up if they fall behind.

The Blues

Apart from the obvious and important fact we didn’t get beat at Anfield, there isn’t an awful lot, football-wise that we can take away from that match.

I thought the team defended quite well as a unit, limiting Liverpool to a handful of chances, but our ball-play was almost completely non-existent and clearly, for a match like this which we should go trying to win, that will need to change.

The manager tried something new and quite surprising on Sunday, giving a starting berth to Oumar Niasse alongside Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but while I know what he was getting at the plan really didn’t work at all.

Allardyce’s plan for Liverpool was clearly to have 2 flat banks of four behind the ball and 2 strikers to play long to in the hope they could work some attacking openings together.

The issue was the composition of the midfield 4 was all wrong for that plan; Rooney wasted out wide on the right, Davies treading water in the middle, Gana running around like a headless chicken trying to man the middle on his own and Sigurdsson struggling wide left. It became abundantly clear very early on that it wouldn’t work and something had to change.

Thankfully, the second half we saw Allardyce revert back to the West Ham and Huddersfield shape (which had, after all, won us 6 points, scoring 6 goals and conceding 0) and with it, we somehow, despite being battered for most of it, ‘won the 2nd half’, as many a Sunday league manager has challenged his team to down the years.

So going back to Wednesday night, I think we can safely presume Allardyce will continue with the shape that has served him best; 4-5-1.

In front of Jordan Pickford I see no reason to change a back 4 which has only conceded 1 goal in the last 3 Premier League games. There are the options of Keane and Jagielka should Allardyce wish to freshen things up, but I see no reason to interrupt what’s becoming a settled unit.

I know many point the finger at Martina and wish him dropped, but let’s face it, how many natural and seasoned left backs have contained Salah this season? I don’t think he was good by any means but he stuck to his task, did well on the cover when Mane fluffed ‘the chance’ and stats even suggest he was one of our better defenders on the day (tackles won, interceptions and clearances all high).

In front of Kenny, Williams, Holgate and Martina I’d personally like to see Idrissa Gueye, Wayne Rooney and Davy Klaassen. However, I think it’ll be Schneiderlin alongside Rooney and Gana.

As far as Tom Davies is concerned, I think the lad needs a spell out of the team. I appreciate Liverpool are a strong team and there’s no disgrace in playing poorly against them as a young player, but his form has been poor for the majority of the season. I know it might not be popular but I think he could use a spell in the under 23s so he can get back to dominating games again.

Out wide Gylfi Sigurdsson will surely continue to occupy the left hand side, despite his tendency to tuck inside and on the right Aaron Lennon looks to be the man in possession. I do like Lennon and wouldn’t be against him starting, particularly as I think he does well with Jonjoe Kenny but Ademola Lookman and Nikola Vlasic are 2 options that I will admit excite me more.

Up front Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been making things happen by chasing lost causes and generally working his socks off so I’m sure he’ll be continue, especially following Oumar Niasse’s struggles at Anfield.

So my predicted team for this one is –

I guess my two main concerns for this match are with fatigue and our plain inability to win away matches in the Premier League.

Fatigue because we had a very challenging match on Sunday, both physically in chasing the ball around for 90 minutes and emotionally, with all the stress, emotion and additional baggage that a derby match brings.

And then there’s the away form, as we’ve now not won in 16 Premier League away matches. I can’t recall us ever going this long without an away win, so I can’t help but wonder how much of a mental scar that’s left on this team. If we’re not careful, we’ll be talking about it being a season’s worth of away games and then a whole year – it really is dismal.

Never the less, I do think this is a fantastic opportunity for us to pick up the all-elusive away win to banish the demons. We’re playing against an average team in really poor form and you’d think we might have a bit of new-found confidence having taken 7 points from the last 9.

I think this will be a match when we have to expect a strong start from Newcastle, who do score early goals, however if we can quiet the crowd, grow into it and score first ourselves I only see there being 1 winner.

I see subs being important in this match, so I have a sneaky suspicion one of ours will score; Niasse, Vlasic or Lookman.

Finally, the ref for this is Martin Atkinson. He’s not been good to us over the years but the 1 time we’ve had him so far this season we’ve won (2-1 v Bournemouth).

Oh, and if you’re going up, wrap up warm. It’ll be bloody freezing.

Anyway, let’s get this game won, keep the run going and carry on climbing the table! COYB!

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