Everton are back in European football for the first time in three years. For a club with the ambition of the Toffees, it is vital they make themselves one of Europe’s mainstays and progress further in this year’s Europa League.
The draw has seen them enter a tough group and will face Lyon, Atalanta and Apollon Limassol. However, fans can be hopeful. Last time Everton were in the Europa League they also had a tough group, facing Wolfsburg, Lille and Krasnodar. They topped the group comfortably.
What about their opponents this season? What should Everton expect, and will they qualify from the group?
The toughest team for Everton in this group, Lyon are regulars in European football, whether that be in this competition or the Champions League.
They finished fourth last year in Ligue 1, but were not part of that exciting title challenge involving Monaco, PSG and Nice, finishing eleven points off third.
This summer they have lost Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal and Corentin Tolisso to Bayern Munich, two key players last season. However, they are still a solid team with very talented players.
Everton know it will be a tough challenge in France on their visit to the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, a 60,000-seater stadium. However, there will undoubtedly be a strong contingent of Everton fans there, and while it will be difficult, the Toffees do have the ability to beat them.
Watch out for: Dynamic forwards
Even without Lacazette, Lyon have some very dangerous attacking players. Nabil Fekir is highly rated in France and has been given the captain’s armband this season. He has led by example so far, with four goals in four league games, including this wonder goal.
Memphis Depay is another key part of the Lyon forward line. After an unsuccessful spell at Manchester United he moved to France in January and made an instant impact, getting eight goals and five assists in seventeen games.
The Dutchman is fast and direct, and if he plays to the potential that got him a move to Old Trafford in the first place, he will cause serious problems to Everton’s defence.
Atalanta were one of last season’s most surprising performers. A team that had been relegated three times in the 2000s, they had solidified themselves as a lower mid-table club in Serie A.
Therefore, when they beat both Milan clubs to fourth place under manager Gasperini’s guidance, fans in Italy were shocked.
Their success comes from a combination of a fantastic youth setup and a tactically brilliant manager. In 2015, the CIES Football Observatory ranked Atalanta’s academy as the eighth best in the world.
Players like Mattia Caldara and Roberto Gagliardini came through this setup, and the likes of Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti were signed at a young age and developed into fantastic players. Gasperini did brilliantly to slot all of these players into a system that got the absolute best out of them, leading to their incredible success.
However, their success has led to one negative; many key players have left the club. They lost Gagliardini to Inter in January, as well as Kessie and Conti to AC Milan. Everton will be going into these matches as favourites, as on paper their squad is certainly stronger.
Watch out for: Alejandro Gomez
‘Papu’ Gomez, as he is affectionately nicknamed, was the key to Atalanta’s success. Under Gasperini his career has been revitalised, and last season saw him score 16 goals and provide 12 assists.
The diminutive playmaker is a very tricky player to defend against. If the opposition gets too tight to him, he displays incredible close control and trickery to wriggle past them. If left with too much space, he offers a danger with his long-distance shooting.
If Ronald Koeman can figure out a strategy to stop Atalanta’s main man, Everton’s chances of victory will be higher.
This team, plying their trade in the Cypriot First Division, are the underdogs of the group, having been picked from pot four. They are one of the bigger teams in Cyprus, having won the league three teams in their history and the cup nine times, winning it for the last two years consecutively.
This is their third time participating in the group stages of the Europa League, but they've never gotten through. They did very well to reach this stage considering they started in the second qualifying round.
Even more impressively they beat FC Midtjylland in the play-off round, who made the round of 32 last year. Everton would be expected to win both matches against Limassol, but have to make sure they take their opponents seriously, or risk suffering a shock defeat.
Watch out for: Home atmosphere
In the qualifying rounds, Apollon Limassol won all of their home matches, conceding just two goals in the three games. The atmosphere generated by the stadium and the fans will be a factor for this.
The Tsirion Stadium only holds 13,000 people, in a city with a population of over 100,000. It will be bursting with fans all desperate for their club to win. The atmosphere will be intense, and Everton need to make sure they stay calm and focused on the task if they are to come away with a win here.
RealSport's prediction: 2nd
Everton will expect to get through this group and qualify for the knockout rounds. Lyon will be their toughest challenge, and may just pip Everton to top spot.
Their experience in the competition and their attacking talent may prove a little too much for the Toffees.
As for the other two teams, Everton would expect to win against both.
Atalanta, as mentioned earlier, are a team who have lost many of their best performers from last season and may struggle to replicate that incredible form, whereas Apollon Limassol do not have anywhere near the same level of players as Everton do and shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge.
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