Ross Barkley will be hoping to keep his place in the side after being substituted at half time against Sunderland on Monday
It's still very early days but there can be no denying how satisfying it is to see Everton sitting in 3rd place in the table. Blues fans are fully aware of the caveats — it's only been four games; the team has only faced one bona fide top side so far; etc — but, regardless, the team has made its best start to a Premier League season in a decade.
It's notable because there are no easy games in the top flight anymore and that was brought home last year in the season opener against Watford — Everton needed Arouna Kone to rescue a point against the newcomers — and in what was supposed to be a comparatively easy run of games over the final five weeks of 2015 but which yielded just one win in six, that a last-gasp win at ultimately doomed Newcastle.
Unbeaten in five games and on a four-match winning streak in all competitions, Everton under Ronald Koeman have done all that could be asked of them since the 1-1 draw with Tottenham: beat the team in front of them. At times it has required decisive intervention from the touchline but that has, of course, been welcomed and long overdue.
Evertonians have seen enough false dawns over the past three decades that they will be taking nothing for granted, though. It may feel very much as things are different this time but the vast majority of Blues will surely await more evidence that the sun is indeed to rise again over the club's fortunes before getting too excited.
In that sense, a home match against newly-promoted opposition will provide a very “Everton, that” acid test of the new regime. Middlesbrough have made a solid start to life back in the Premier League with a win, two draws and last weekend's first defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace and they're the sort of team that might have posed a problem for the Toffees in previous years.
In Aitor Karanka, 43 on Sunday, they have one of the game's most promising young managers; former Manchester City striker Álvaro Negredo gives them the kind of potency up front that will be vital in their attempts to stay in the top division this season; and the likes of ex-Blue Adam Forshaw will provide some unpredictability in midfield.
More importantly, in the context of an away side who might come to Goodison looking to contain Koeman's potent attack, they have shown themselves to be dangerous from set-pieces so far and that will likely be in the Dutchman's mind as he prepares his men for this one.
However, having hinted that there would be few changes — Gareth Barry will start his 600th Premier League game, the boss has confirmed — uppermost in his thoughts will be whether to go with the team that turned Monday's game at the Stadium of Light so convincingly or to stick with the same XI that started against Sunderland. Essentially, the question concerns Ross Barkley and whether the manager feels the young midfielder is ready and able to shake off his undoubted disappointment at being hauled off at half-time in that game.
Koeman revealed in his press conference that he has spoken with Barkley about his need to eradicate the ball-retention errors that littered his performance on Monday and to improve the defensive side of his game. The latter criticism has dogged him since his days on loan at Leeds United as a teenager but his current manager has made it quite clear that defence in his team will start from the front and that all his forward players will need to press the ball.
He also outlined to the print media afterwards that there was nothing personal in his decision and that he wouldn't hesitate to drop any of this players if they fell short of expectations. Still, his decision could go either way — with this weekend's game being in the more welcoming confines of Goodison Park, Barkley could get the nod to start, although he could be just as effective coming off the bench, as Gerard Deulofeu was against Sunderland.
Mindful that he and his players still have plenty to prove, Koeman stood behind his assertion that the Europa League is Everton's most realistic target. He also argued that the biggest danger in a game where you're expecting to win as Blues fans might be this weekend is players losing focus and not making sure they're ready.
“Why after the win last Monday do I need to change from ‘we need to fight for European football to we need to fight for the Champions League'?”, he mused. “I don't know… I think that's not realistic. It's a big ambition what we have and what I mentioned in the press is that, really, we can fight for [the Europa League] but we need to continue and this Saturday is the next one and we need to prepare for that.
“[The game] can be dangerous if the player is not prepared or is sloppy at the start of the game but we know we need to play at our level to win the game. Middlesbrough has also started the season positively and it's a well-organised team with some good individual players. They're strong physically and it's a new team and we have to put our best [players] out there on the pitch.”
Whether that is with Barkley or Deulofeu in the line-up, Koeman will be fielding just that. With Romelu Lukaku back scoring again, they just need to carry on doing what they've been doing.
Referee: Lee Mason
Last Time: Everton 1-1 Middlesbrough (16 November, 2008)
Predicted Line-up: Stekelenburg, Coleman, Jagielka, Williams, Baines, Gueye, Barry, Deulofeu, Bolasie, Mirallas, Lukaku
Full details: ToffeeWeb match page
Reader Comments (88)
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1 Posted 16/09/2016 at 06:35:17
The good thing is there'll likely be a few of us watching at half midnight tomorrow I'm always amazed how far flung Evertonians get, and talking to a few of the locals, and a few expats here, even a few of the neutrals would like to see us do well.
2 Posted 16/09/2016 at 06:58:49
Lukaku will be full of confidence at present. We will create more chances for him with Deleufeu on the pitch than with Barkley.
3 Posted 16/09/2016 at 07:01:47
It's a bit more difficult now though. I have a small, but growing, army of Evertonians locally where I live and, of course, all the family follow the Blues. Unfortunately, almost all the Asian nations are football crazy, with the exception of the Philippines!!! Just my luck to choose the one place where football isn't a way of life!!
Still,a promising start to life under Ronald Koeman, long may it continue. NSNO
4 Posted 16/09/2016 at 07:18:39
5 Posted 16/09/2016 at 07:30:36
6 Posted 16/09/2016 at 08:00:31
7 Posted 16/09/2016 at 08:01:48
I would start with Deulofeu myself, getting hooked at half-time for poor play shouldn't get you a start next game but I'll leave it in the hands of Ronald Koeman. Seems Mirallas and Bolasie are certs with Barkley and Deulofeu sharing the other spot for now. I would like to see what Valencia can offer as well off the bench.
8 Posted 16/09/2016 at 08:03:52
9 Posted 16/09/2016 at 08:15:33
Coleman Williams Jagielka (c) Baines
Deulofeu Barkley Bolasie
Subs: Robles, Funes Mori, Holgate, Davies, Cleverley, Mirallas, Valencia
10 Posted 16/09/2016 at 08:23:01
I want maximum points going into the Man City game then stick it up 'em!
11 Posted 16/09/2016 at 09:13:32
It's a toss up for me as to who has the most potential between these two. I don't think we should be protecting Ross at the expense of Gerard.
12 Posted 16/09/2016 at 09:27:50
13 Posted 16/09/2016 at 09:27:58
On saying that I have no problem with giving Ross as much time as he need's to sort his game out and get to the level's expected! He is one of us and undoubtedly has the physical qualities and a lot of natural talent to keep improving but he has to do better more often to maintain his place, the team and result's come first!
If he bring's Barkley back in which I think he will I won't have a problem as long as Bolasie play's on the left and either Mirallas or Deulofeu on the right. Bolasie was much better on the left against Sunderland and stated when he signed that is his preferred position!
If we get an early goal Saturday, it could be a rout!
14 Posted 16/09/2016 at 09:40:53
It's a long time since I've been so excited about match days, 3-0 win to blues. (With my prediction success, that's a kiss of death!!!)
15 Posted 16/09/2016 at 09:41:51
16 Posted 16/09/2016 at 10:03:51
17 Posted 16/09/2016 at 10:29:32
18 Posted 16/09/2016 at 10:38:09
Let's see if we can keep this rum going COYB
19 Posted 16/09/2016 at 10:50:03
20 Posted 16/09/2016 at 11:03:08
Coleman, Jagielka, Williams, Baines
Davies, Gueye, Barry
Bolasie, Lukaku, Mirallas.
I think Deulofeu will come on for Mirallas at some stage. Sadly, Barkley is dropped and won't get any game time unless Davies is struggling.
Under Koeman, all the players will have to earn a start based on how they perform in training and on the pitch.
Have we found another Nigel Martin in Maarten Stekelenburg? The back four looks really solid; Barry and Gueye in midfield are a terrific, and the frontline looks extremely dangerous.
Lyndon, I understand your comment about caution but I am getting too long in the tooth to subdue the excitement I am feeling about the way things are going for us. Like Dave (#14) I am looking forward to every game under Koeman's management. It's great. I am just going to enjoy it and if I make a mug of myself so be it.
As Ken would say (no report on Monday?)... Up the Blues!
21 Posted 16/09/2016 at 11:20:20
Ross definitely needs a spell out of the limelight to reflect on things and Valencia will be keen to show what he can do.
22 Posted 16/09/2016 at 11:42:57
Starting with Ross would heap more pressure on the lad at a point when he probably needs a bit of space to sort out his game if not his mind.
23 Posted 16/09/2016 at 11:43:06
I am going for 3-0 (and another Rom hatrick), but only if he gets the service and the defence holds up again.
Early days, but is great to be an optimistic Evertonian again...
24 Posted 16/09/2016 at 11:54:04
Although I think he can be very exciting and produces really dangerous crosses I do find it exasperating the number of times he runs up a blind alley or overuns the ball. He did it again on Monday late on and cocked up a great chance for a fourth goal.
25 Posted 16/09/2016 at 12:26:29
26 Posted 16/09/2016 at 12:35:25
2-0 Blues... onwards.
Btw, I do rate their left back, George Friend: good solid player in the Baines mould. I would love him here at some point, with Baines playing the Barry role... just a thought!
27 Posted 16/09/2016 at 12:35:44
Give Barkley a go again and see if the little chat he had with Koeman has worked. If not, hook him off again and send him to a shrink.
Same 11 as Sunderland for me.
28 Posted 16/09/2016 at 12:35:45
I fancy him on the right and Bolasie on the left both providing quality deliveries for Rom who I feel will score loads this year under Koeman!
Save Lennon for when Delboy enivtably tires!
29 Posted 16/09/2016 at 12:35:57
30 Posted 16/09/2016 at 13:01:33
How long is it, since we beat ourselves up about 'only' getting a point against Tottenham!!!
31 Posted 16/09/2016 at 13:03:07
32 Posted 16/09/2016 at 13:06:20
33 Posted 16/09/2016 at 13:23:25
I would also take a 1-0 win. 13 points would be fantastic start. :)
34 Posted 16/09/2016 at 13:54:47
It's a long season with plenty of games for Ross to get back to basics. I would relieve him of all corner and free kicks and get him in the box on the end of them.
That's my two bobs worth for what it's worth. Lol
35 Posted 16/09/2016 at 14:12:27
Coleman Williams Jagielka Baines
Deulofeu Mirallas Bolasie
36 Posted 16/09/2016 at 14:40:07
Like many on TW, I would love to see Barkley come good and reach his true potential but I think it will take time to iron out his many faults, if they ever can be. The lad is a dyed-in-the-wool Evertonian and deserves better, and if anyone can get him to perform, it will be Koeman.
Looking forward to tomorrow and, hopefully, another three points as we are again live on TSN at 10am COYB.
37 Posted 16/09/2016 at 14:50:26
I think the kid is still quite immature judging by his social media and the interviews he gives and he seems happy enough to be a bit part player rather than pushing on and reaching his potential. With the pace and skills he has he should be a lot more effective taking men on, playing one-twos, shooting much more rather than looking for Rom all the time.
No doubt Koeman will work his magic on him but most managers he's played under so far get frustrated with him and even Bobby ended up dropping him last season.
38 Posted 16/09/2016 at 16:14:09
39 Posted 16/09/2016 at 16:18:30
40 Posted 16/09/2016 at 16:48:06
41 Posted 16/09/2016 at 17:34:13
42 Posted 16/09/2016 at 18:03:37
It will be good to see Valencia involved at some stage, a debut goal would be magic.
Ross will be given a chance in the Norwich game; hopefully he will show a big improvement.
43 Posted 16/09/2016 at 20:58:22
Jagielka (not a fan)
44 Posted 16/09/2016 at 21:03:24
I don't know why but I've got a bad feeling about this tomorrow. False dawns and all that but as an Evertonian I've become used to disappointment. Make me dream, Ronald, please.
45 Posted 16/09/2016 at 21:36:39
In my dreams, he starts, and he reacts quickly to pass the ball forwards instead of fondling it for another second! Or if no pass is there, he turns and just puts it somewhere between the posts... Keeper, posts or defenders may put it back in the right place for another EFC player... :P
Ross has good instincts, from what I've seen so far. Don't make him stop to think!
46 Posted 16/09/2016 at 21:49:59
47 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:00:41
48 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:11:04
49 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:15:24
50 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:15:52
Can we live with our own seemingly inevitable surprise defeat if/when it happens? Will our doom-mongers swarm?
Well, yes/no to the first. For the last part, I LOVE doom-mongers. Why else would I still be here since I caught the bug around the mid-70's... :P
51 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:16:37
52 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:21:20
However, we are Everton and our best friend Mr Mason is the referee tomorrow, so stand-by for some groans and moans tomorrow afternoon.
53 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:21:28
54 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:28:00
55 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:31:35
Regards Deulofeu's 'unfitness', he's maybe a sprinter type who is not great on the stamina front. Olympic sprinters would be soon puffing if they played Premier League football.
I've been impressed with Gueye and Bolasie, they have put our play up a notch, it's looking good so far. I think we should win cosily tomorrow, although I thought we might find it tough at Sunderland, so who knows.
56 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:34:13
57 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:36:35
58 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:37:38
59 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:43:41
In ten years I can't remember ever seeing that.
I'm taking a screen shot of the table and saving it as my wallpaper on every electronic device I have.
We'll be so high in the table about a million Everton supporters world-wide will all simultaneously get a nose-bleed!
60 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:47:56
I very much doubt we can sustain a challenge over the whole season... but then again, I was totally convinced Leicester would blow up at some stage. Hope springs eternal!
61 Posted 16/09/2016 at 22:56:00
We have some serious talent on the bench young too! Kone is the oldest and then everybody else is under the age of 30.
63 Posted 16/09/2016 at 23:17:18
64 Posted 16/09/2016 at 23:25:03
Early days but sitting second with a game in hand over 3rd and 4th... Let's push on with a big win. COYB!
65 Posted 16/09/2016 at 23:35:04
66 Posted 16/09/2016 at 23:41:40
There is nothing more energy-sapping than a bit of anxiety. He needs a run in the side. He can be great.
67 Posted 16/09/2016 at 23:49:17
Fairly or unfairly, he really did come to symbolize the Martinez era at its hyperbolic worst ("One of the best free transfers in league history!" "I wouldn't sell him for any price!" "He's phenomenal!").
68 Posted 17/09/2016 at 02:11:41
69 Posted 17/09/2016 at 07:24:04
70 Posted 17/09/2016 at 08:00:39
71 Posted 17/09/2016 at 08:15:50
72 Posted 17/09/2016 at 08:43:01
73 Posted 17/09/2016 at 08:50:35
I would get at their left back George Friend. A good Championship player, but doesn't have the pace for this league. He will get exposed for them. We do need to keep Negredo quiet, he's someone I'd have liked for on our bench instead of Kone.
Good luck blues.
74 Posted 17/09/2016 at 09:42:55
Mirallas and Baines in a two-nil win is my punt
75 Posted 17/09/2016 at 11:03:59
76 Posted 17/09/2016 at 11:52:09
Looking forward to today's game, hope Barkley is not even on the bench, been garbage and lazy for a long time.
I see it's reds for the title now, ridiculous media. Where's our mention!
Easy home banker today. COYB.
77 Posted 17/09/2016 at 12:02:04
And, Middlesbrough are a decent team. I'm looking forward to seeing Adam Forshaw as he looks like a very good player.
78 Posted 17/09/2016 at 12:32:06
79 Posted 17/09/2016 at 12:33:59
These games happen in every era to the best of teams. n early goal is vital, then more will follow.
80 Posted 17/09/2016 at 12:44:22
81 Posted 17/09/2016 at 12:56:03
82 Posted 17/09/2016 at 13:00:26
Barkley to play a blinder couple of assists and a goal and Goodison roaring him on!
83 Posted 17/09/2016 at 13:58:30
I'd start Deulofeu all day long against their left back, he will absolutely frighten them to death. I'd start the following:
Coleman Williams Jagielka Baines
Deulofeu Barkley Bolasie
84 Posted 17/09/2016 at 14:00:17
85 Posted 17/09/2016 at 14:13:47
But is winning is far more important than a few quid!!
86 Posted 17/09/2016 at 14:48:12
87 Posted 17/09/2016 at 15:01:49
Colin (70) wish you hadn't reminded me of that game, as I was also in Canada at the time. Anyway, that was Montreal, I have an unbeaten record in Vancouver as it is my first visit!
88 Posted 17/09/2016 at 15:14:58
89 Posted 17/09/2016 at 15:35:53