Everton may have to share points in Italy
BT Sport 2, 6pm Thursday
If there’s a revolution at Goodison Park then it’s something of a slow-burner and Everton’s somewhat undistinguished start to the new season can continue with a Europa League stalemate against Atalanta in Italy.
Proud spender of the best part of £200m over the summer, Ronald Koeman is awaiting a return on his investment with his team in 16th place in the Premier League after back-to-back defeats to nil by Chelsea and Tottenham.
Even qualifying for the Europa League group stage was fairly nondescript, featuring a pair of one-goal triumphs over Slovak nobodies Ruzemberok and a 3-1 aggregate success against Hajduk Split. The four matches which earned them their spot in Group E produced the grand total of six goals.
Koeman, whose team were being talked up during his colossal summer spending spree, need a spark but it’s hard to see it happening at Reggio Emilia, Atalanta’s European home this season, a couple of hundred miles away from their Bergamo fortress.
It's an obvious plus for Everton that the Italian side have had to move their European games while their stadium is being renovated, though Atalanta have been training at the Mapei Stadium, home of Serie A rivals Sassuolo.
But other grounds for backing Everton, the 12-5 outsiders, look flimsy.
Koeman, like opposite number Gian Piero Gasperini, is going to make changes. The Toffees take on Manchester United on Sunday and Koeman needs to keep some key figures back for that one.
He’s also chronically short of goals. They’ve bagged just two so far in the league – Wayne Rooney getting them both – and critics have questioned why Koeman, who had so much money to burn after flogging ace goalgetter Romelu Lukaku, didn’t bring in a top-drawer frontman.
And they look iffy at the back where Ashley Williams and Cuco Martina, in particular, are unconvincing.
Koeman is quite likely to unleash pacy aces like Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ademola Lookman at the Mapei and see if they can outrun a strong, well-drilled Atalanta.
The Italians, back in Europe after a 27-year absence, shocked many last term with their fourth-place finish but that success hasn’t led to a massive asset-strip by Serie A’s giants.
Frank Kessie and Andrea Conti did go, but star forward Manu Gomez has stayed as have the Juve-owned duo of Mattia Caldara and Leonardo Spinazzola.
Atalanta lost their opening two league fixtures – though there’s no disgrace in being second best to Roma and Napoli – and Sunday’s victory over Sassuolo will have settled nerves.
Gasperini doesn’t have a huge squad which means clever juggling during this busy autumn. What is fairly clear is that his tried and tested tactics – three at the back and stifling midfield with numbers – won’t change.
The upshot is that it might not be a hugely entertaining contest with goals scarce and the draw, therefore, a big runner.
1pt 23-10 general
Italy left-back Leonardo Spinazzola is a doubt. Highly-rated teen midfielder Filippo Meligoni is out. This is the second of seven games in 21 days for Atalanta, whose coach Gian Piero Gasperini will shuffle his pack.
Seamus Coleman, Ramiro Funes Mori, Ross Barkley and Yannick Bolasie are all injured.
Everton have drawn seven of their last 14 away games.
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