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Nov 23, 2017 at 8.05pm UK at Goodison Park
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Preview: Everton vs. Atalanta BC

Sports Mole previews Thursday evening's Europa League group-stage meeting between Everton and Atalanta BC at Goodison Park.

Everton welcome Serie A side Atalanta BC to Goodison Park on Thursday evening with their hopes of progression in the Europa League already over.

The Toffees had big aspirations for the 2017-18 campaign but, just three months into the season, they are out of Europe and in a possible Premier League relegation battle.


Interim Toffees boss David Unsworth watches on during the EFL Cup game between Chelsea and Everton on October 25, 2017© SilverHub

While four points from the last six on offer can perhaps be seen as signs of recovery from an Everton point of view, there is no doubt that whoever takes charge permanently, whether that be frontrunner Marco Silva or even current caretaker David Unsworth, they will certainly have their work cut out.

The Toffees are in the midst of a terrible run, even accounting for the win over Watford and draw away to Crystal Palace, as they find themselves 18th in the English top flight and out of Europe after just four rounds of matches.

Everton's overall record this term, discounting the Europa League preliminary rounds, reads 20 games played, five won and 10 lost. Any hopes of bettering last season's seventh-place finish in the Premier League, or indeed simply matching it, are surely now over.

The task for Unsworth for the time being is to steady the ship which, in fairness to the untested manager, he has managed to just about achieve either side of the international break with a couple of encouraging league displays - certainly more promising than what came beforehand, at least.

Thursday's visit of Atalanta will be right down his list of priorities, of course, with a battle for third place hardly likely to get supporters fired up, and a five-match winless run in Europe suggests that things may look even worse come full time.

Everton have lost four of their last seven home fixtures in the Europa League group stage, in fact, while Atalanta remain unbeaten on the continent with two wins and two draws.

The comprehensive 3-0 loss to Lyon a few weeks ago confirmed the Toffees' fate, giving them a record of one point from a possible 12 and condemning them to a pre-Christmas exit for the first time ever in UEFA's secondary competition.

Things may look bleak right now for the Merseyside outfit, with two dead rubbers against Atalanta and Apollon Limassol far from ideal over the next fortnight, but if Unsworth can keep this mini momentum going then 2018 may provide far more for supporters to smile about.

Recent form in Europa League: LDLL
Recent form (all competitions): LLLLWD

Atalanta BC

Head coach of Genoa Gian Piero Gasperini looks on during the Serie A match between Udinese Calcio and Genoa CFC at Stadio Friuli on October 4, 2015© Getty Images

Competing in Europe for the first time since 1990-91, thanks to an incredible campaign last time out that saw them finish fourth in Serie A, Atalanta are dreaming of a run deep into the competition.

They have certainly adapted well to this rare foray in continental football, remaining unbeaten in their first four fixtures to lead the Group E standings with a couple of games left to play.

A win or a draw will be enough to send La Dea through to the round of 32, while even defeat at Goodison Park may not delay their progress as Apollon Limassol require victory over second-placed Lyon at Parc Olympique Lyonnais - the venue for this season's final.

Regardless of events elsewhere, Gian Piero Gasperini will no doubt set his side up to claim all three points on Merseyside against their fragile opponents as it remains all to play for in terms of top spot - Lyon currently second by virtue of an inferior goal difference.

Atalanta are not only unbeaten in Europe this season but also outside of Italy since 1989, although those figures perhaps paint a misleading picture as they have just one away win to their name - 1-0 against Fenerbahce in the second round of the 1990-91 UEFA Cup.

The Bergamo club reached the quarter-finals the last time they competed in Europe, being knocked out by domestic rivals Inter Milan, and maintaining their Europa League form is now a priority as they are lingering in mid-table in Serie A.

Gasperini's charges have lost two and drawn one of their last three domestically, having previously won two on the bounce at the end of October to give them hope of finishing in a European berth once again.

A battle to finish as the best of the rest is looking increasingly likely at this point, so La Dea will be aiming to keep their Europa League adventure alive post-Christmas which, bar a major collapse, they are almost certain to achieve.

Recent form in Europa League: WDWD
Recent form (all competitions): WWLDDL

Team News

Everton striker Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring during his side's Europa League clash with Apollon Limassol at Goodison Park on September 28, 2017© SilverHub

Despite his side already being out, Unsworth will want to improve his win rate as manager to bolster his aspirations of landing the job permanently, so a mixed XI is expected to be fielded on Thursday night.

Morgan Schneiderlin is among those likely to miss out, having come off at half time in the 2-2 draw with Palace, while Oumar Niasse is ineligible as he was not named in the Toffees' Europa League squad.

Elsewhere, midfielder Tom Davies is suspended for the meeting with Southampton and is therefore in line to start this one, while Wayne Rooney - a winner in this competition with Manchester United six months ago - is one of a number of players pushing for a recall.

In terms of the visitors, Leonardo Spinazzola is the one big injury concern for the 1,250km trip to Merseyside, so Gasperini may need to tinker slightly.

Andrea Masiello and Josip Ilicic are both one booking away from missing La Dea's final group game, meanwhile - a home tie against Lyon in a likely shootout for top spot.

There are some familiar faces in the Atalanta squad, too, as former Middlesbrough midfielder Marten de Roon is included, as is ex-Manchester United and Aston Villa goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini.

Everton possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Kenny, Keane, Williams, Martina; Davies, Besic; Klaassen, Rooney, Lookman; Calvert-Lewin

Atalanta BC possible starting lineup:
Berisha; Masiello, Caldara, Palomino; Hateboer, Cristante, Freuler, De Roon, Castagne; Petagna, Gomez

Head To Head

These two sides have faced off on just one previous occasion in European competition, coming in the reverse fixture two months ago when Atalanta prevailed 3-0 at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia.

That was the Italian club's first meeting with English opposition, in fact, with first-half goals from Masiello, Alejandro Gomez and Bryan Cristante setting the tone for what was to come for both teams.

Everton have won just one of their seven encounters against teams from Serie A down the years, meanwhile, though they have yet be beaten at Goodison Park.

Sports Mole Logo

We say: Everton 1-2 Atalanta BC

A third match without defeat would be a big positive for an Everton side in disarray at the present moment, but Atalanta - themselves far from impressive domestically this term - have more to play for and look good value to maintain their unbeaten run on the continent.

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