Newcastle is entering a stretch of matches from which it needs to get results to stop the slide and ensure safety in the Premier League. It will be doing so against a side in Everton that has been having a great stretch of play after getting off to a slow start and replacing Ronald Koeman with Sam Allardyce. Ahead of this vital match, we connected with our pals at Royal Blue Mersey to see what the match may have in store for us.
1. Everton has had a nice run of form following a rough start to the season. What has been behind the turnaround?
It will seem like an oversimplification, but the fact is Everton's good play recently can be pinpointed to a new commitment to keeping their shape. Under Ronald Koeman and David Unsworth, the formation was a mess. Players now know their responsibilities and are being played in reasonably proper positions. Sam Allardyce has his faults, but he also knows how to whip a squad into playing shape, and this is probably his most talented one yet. Relegation is no longer a real issue, and things are looking up.
It's helped that the fixture list has seriously lightened up, too.
2. After making an early splash in the transfer market this summer, some of the best players have been the kids. For Newcastle fans who haven't seen Everton lately, tell us a little bit about Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jonjoe Kenny.
Indeed - Kenny was named Royal Blue Mersey's man of the match for the derby, and Calvert-Lewin drew the match-tying penalty. Jonjoe is set to sign a new long-term deal, and Dom has a remarkable 6 goals and 6 assists on the year.
"JJK" is a bit of an old school right-back. He's got a good cross in his arsenal (if a little inconsistent), will run the flank for days, and absolutely flies into his tackles. Due to youth, sometimes he'll get caught out or not communicate well with the central defenders, but there's a great deal of promise here.
"DCL" has been a revelation. This time last year, he had zero senior appearances. Now, he leads the line. All knees and elbows, Calvert-Lewin could stand to hit the weight room, and his finishing is inconsistent. However, he's nearly always in the right spot, and has shown an impressive ability to make plays when he's not getting on the end of a chance. At this point, it wouldn't be a huge stretch to say Dom could one day back up Harry Kane for England.
3. With the holidays coming up, what sorts of players are Everton fans hoping for come January?
First and foremost, another left back. There is but one true left-sided fullback on the entire roster (Leighton Baines), and he's picked up what seems to be a serious injury. Currently, Cuco Martina, a mediocre right back, is deputizing. It could be going better.
Elsewhere, another center back is required if Ramiro Funes Mori's knee injury isn't rehabilitating well. Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams are, well, old, Mason Holgate is bad, and that leaves just Michael Keane.
A more consistent striker than Calvert-Lewin could be useful, but frankly, he and Oumar Niasse have done better than anyone could have expected. The Olivier Giroud-types are low on the shopping list at this point.
4. What have the emotions been around the return of Wayne Rooney? Is this the sort of storybook ending supporters were hoping for, or did the move come as a surprise?
The move itself didn't come as a surprise, but I think it's fair to say that Wayne's play has. Rooney has as many league goals - 8 - as Romelu Lukaku. Only two are penalties, and most of them have come when he's been played deeper in midfield. Wayne's legs are clearly not as powerful as they once were, but his vision and technical ability haven't left him. Everton fans are relieved that Rooney has come home and provided some positive memories rather than ending his career in disaster. Form is temporary - class is permanent.
5. Lastly, a prediction for the match:
I'll say 2-1 Everton. The boys are in good heart, and a derby result should have them flying. Allardyce has the defense seemingly sorted, and it's opened up tons of opportunities for Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson to get forward. Up the Toffees.