Crystal Palace v Everton Preview: better finishing needed

Could Rooney make the difference for Everton? –

Neither Crystal Palace nor Everton are in the healthiest position: The Eagles are rock bottom with four points from their first 11 games while their managerless visitors are struggling to live up to their pre-season billing.

Toffees fans are concerned that the club is taking a long time to appoint its next permanent boss, but the delay shows intent in some respects.

They are willing to trust David Unsworth in the hotseat that little bit longer in an attempt to lure a high-profile manager who matches their ambition. The question is whether they can get good enough results in the meantime to preserve the club’s allure – and it’s top flight status.

Supporters played their part in the victory over Watford, which saw the team overturn a two-goal deficit to win 3-2, a result vital for building confidence. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been trusted more than one might have liked as a main striker this season, but he and Ademola Lookman changed the game when they came off the bench.

The latter might have earned himself a start on the left, as perhaps the only player who might pose a threat up against right-back Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who has great athleticism.

Fosu-Mensah – and Joel Ward on the other side – did well against Tottenham in a competitive performance before the international break. Crystal Palace are not playing like a side six points adrift of safety and have been in a lot of tight games since August, baring the trips to Manchester. Without a recognized, in-form striker though, they have struggled to convert their chances.

Their fate may rest on whether Christian Benteke will return from injury as the beast we saw at the tail end of last season, or the one that struggled at the beginning of this campaign.

As good a goalscorer as Benteke is, it is hard to see him making an instant impact in this match having been out for so long. Even if he does start, Everton’s defence tends to fear pace, which isn’t the Belgian’s forte.

Another player marked doubtful is Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who picked up a back injury in an England friendly against Brazil on Tuesday. Normally, it would be a good plan to put a quick player on the right side of midfield to exploit Leighton Baines, who has perhaps lost a yard over the last couple of years.

With Loftus-Cheek out however, Wilfried Zaha is likely to be used as an auxiliary striker and Andros Townsend favours his left foot, so it is hard to see where the width on that side will come from.

At the other end, Rooney remains a more than able technician and could make a key contribution for Everton. He does not possess the boundless energy he once had though and therefore needs willing runners behind and in front of him.

Idrissa Gana Gueye and Beni Beningime, if the latter starts ahead of the out of form Tom Davies, must work hard to win second balls over Luka Milivojevic and Yohan Cabaye, who Roy Hodgson will likely instruct to stay disciplined.

The Merseysiders also need Oumar Niasse to create space for Rooney by forcing Scott Dann and Mamadou Sakho back with quick runs in behind. They are getting balls forward earlier under Unsworth, but they need to be more clinical in the absence of Romelu Lukaku.

Neither side are playing too badly, but a little more ruthlessness in front of goal is required.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 0-1