Charlie Nicholas believes Everton will earn a comfortable victory against Hajduk Split in the first leg of their Europa League play-off round.
Ronald Koeman’s side play host to the Croatian giants at Goodison Park on Thursday night, as they look to use home advantage to give themselves the best chance of qualifying for the group stages.
Everton have so far progressed through the qualification phase with consummate ease, beating Slovenian side Ruzemberok over two legs with an aggregate score of 2-0.
Writing in his column on the official Sky Sports website, Nicholas believes the Toffees were poor in against Stoke in the Premier League on Saturday but is confident of an Everton victory, predicting a 2-0 win for the Toffees.
“I covered Everton at the weekend and they were very poor. Wayne Rooney was the best player on the pitch by miles,” Nicholas said. “Ronald Koeman’s face was miserable except for when their returning hero scored.
“They should have enough to come through here, though, against a side who don’t have much in terms of attacking threats.”
New £45million signing Gylfi Sigurdsson will not feature against Thursday night’s opponents, as he is not deemed fit enough to be thrown into first-team action just yet.
Striker Sandro Ramirez is a doubt for the match after picking up a knock on his heel, while midfielder James McCarthy and defenders Ramiro Funes Mori and Seamus Coleman both miss out with long-term injuries.
Everton are expected to progress into the knockout stages of the Europa League despite failing to find their form against Stoke on Saturday, and Nicholas is right in predicting a comfortable victory on home soil. However, they must remain cautious against a side that managed to score a huge 70 goals in just 36 outings in Croatia’s top tier last season, conceding only 31 goals in that time. A bigger test than the one they faced against Ruzemberok, Koeman should field a back four instead of the three-man defence that he has started with in Everton’s last two competitive fixtures. Playing with three centre-backs and three central midfielders has seen the Toffees play too conservatively, and a 4-2-3-1 system should see Everton progress without concern.