Everton return to European action tomorrow night when they travel to BSC Young Boys of Switzerland. The Blues take on the Swiss side in a two-leg, Round of 32 clash and will be looking to continue their good form in Europe so far this season.
Domestically things have been disappointing, and as much as I would like to describe the forthcoming Europa League game a ‘welcome distraction’ there is no getting away from the fact that a Premier League improvement is essential and all eyes are on the Goodison Park fixture with Leicester City this Sunday, it is a must-win game.
That being said, the two games with Young Boys provide Martinez’ side with an opportunity to get themselves a much-needed boost and some positive results. Although our recent undefeated League run came to an end against Chelsea this time last week, our performances on the continent have been the one constant positive throughout the current campaign and being away from home in the first leg tomorrow night has to be seen as a positive and a real chance to progress even further.
Looking back to our Europa League campaign to date we’ve pulled off some excellent results in the group stages – most notably in the two games with Wolfsburg (4-1 & 2-0) and the home tie against Lille (3-0). Even in the games in which we never managed a victory – the draws with Krasnodar (1-1) and Lille (0-0) away from home and the defeat (0-1) to Krasnodar at Goodison, there was plenty of positives to take from what we saw from Everton.
It has just been a shame that we’ve been the polar opposite in the Premier League. We have caught the eye in our return to Europe, looked comfortable on the ball and looked full of goals, but in the Premier League our composure and performances have been very different indeed. To think how our season has gradually worsened since we kicked off our Europa League campaign when a 2-0 League win over West Brom was followed by a 4-1 defeat of Wolfsburg – a side who hadn’t won any of their three opening fixtures when we first faced them but now sit pretty in second place in the Bundesliga – a tale of two opposites you could say.
Anyway, to tomorrow’s opponents and once again the Toffees have travelled in large numbers with 4000+ fans making the journey to Switzerland in the hope that we can overcome a side who currently occupy second place in the Swiss League. I have to admit, I don’t know the first thing about BSC Young Boys (I’ve included the BSC, otherwise that sentence would just sound weird), but I managed to get the lowdown on the Swiss outfit earlier this week from Football Writer who knows his stuff on the Swiss game (Click here to read what he had to say). It made for interesting reading, and after a recent winter break BSC have returned to action with a draw and a win – which came at the weekend over Grasshoppers (4-2), and they find themselves eight points behind League-leaders and Champions League regulars FC Basel.
In their three home ties during the group stages, BSC won three times – scoring nine and conceding none – and most notably they defeated Rafa Benitez’ Napoli side 2-0 at the Stade de Suisse. They are obviously a formidable opponent on home soil, but Everton will be going there and attempting to keep it tight at the back as we have done in recent weeks and come away with a positive result. Obviously the home side are going to come at us and try to get a foothold in the game before they travel to Merseyside next week, and the game in Switzerland offers different surroundings with an artificial pitch which will hardly help matters, but if Martinez’ side show the character and spirit as they did during the group stage challenges then we could well get a good result and bring BSC back to Goodison for what would hopefully be a memorable night at Goodison under the lights.
The Club has just released travelling squad information and the most notable absentees are Arouna Kone, Leighton Baines and Aiden McGeady. Baines and McGeady are still struggling with injuries but should be back in contention for the game with Leicester at the weekend but there is no explanation as to why Kone hasn’t travelled – the only clue being his involvement in an Everton Under 21’s fixture last night. Surely he is fit enough to be included by now though? He’s been working his way back from countless injuries for what seems like a lifetime and at least his inclusion would offer us an alternative in the attacking department. He seems to be seen for a ten-minute cameo then go missing for weeks on end. Maybe it’s that bloody elephant. The Ivorian has remained on Merseyside and he is joined by Aaron Lennon who is unfortunately cup-tied for this competition. A few younger faces have made the trip which is always nice to see, with Courtney Duffus, Tyias Browning and Russell Griffiths all taking a place in Martinez’ squad – whether or not they get any game-time remains to be seen.
Without Lennon and McGeady in the squad we look a little short on wide options but the return of Christian Atsu from the African Cup of Nations is a welcome boost – if he can continue in the form he has shown for his country. I’d like to see Atsu start on Thursday night, and the team I put on Twitter before is what ideally I would want to see begin the game in Switzerland:
Robles, Coleman, Jagielka, Stones, Garbutt, Besic, McCarthy, Barkley, Atsu, Mirallas and Lukaku.
However unlikely this starting XI might seem, my thinking behind some of these choices is: for me Luke Garbutt offers more than Oviedo, both defensively and offensively – McCarthy/Besic midfield combination, let’s be honest everyone wants to see it (Barry is a cert to start though because he’s suspended for Sunday!) – Barkley, can continue to shine in this competition, more time on the ball and a freedom to express himself if played in the correct position, needs to build his confidence back up – Mirallas/Atsu – both can chop and change flanks and the latter is bang in form, let’s see If he can now perform to that level for his Club. Although the above is what I would prefer to see I know Martinez will probably pick something similar to the following:
Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Stones, Oviedo, Besic, Barry, Barkley, Naismith, Mirallas and Lukaku.
The squad in full reads:
Howard, Robles, Griffiths, Alcaraz, Browning, C.Duffus, Coleman, Gibson, Jagielka, Stones, Lukaku, Naismith, Oviedo, Mirallas, McCarthy, Garbutt, Barkley, Besic, Barry, Atsu.
This is a good chance for the Blues to provide us with a boost going into what has become a vital fixture in our season at the weekend versus Leicester. There is no denying that BSC will provide Martinez’ men with another stern test on foreign soil but with a home tie to look forward to and a recent defensive improvement, I am confident that we can keep it tight and who knows even nick a victory if we are lucky. Domestic affairs have continued to disappoint but with two home fixtures following our trip to Switzerland we have a real chance to have an enjoyable week (what are they?!) build a bit of form and take one step closer to some of that ever-elusive silverware.
Over to you Everton.
Up the Toffees.