Everton vs MFK Ruzomberok Match Preview: Form, Team News & More Ahead of EL Qualifier
Everton's first European adventure in three seasons kicks off with a third round qualifying round two-legged affair against MFK Ruzomberok.
The Toffees' pre-season preparations are interrupted momentarily as they eye a place in the play-off stage of the Europa League, with an earlier-than-anticipated competitive start to their 2017/18 campaign.
Ronald Koeman's men will hope to do the business at Goodison Park on Thursday night to give them a huge advantage over their opponents ahead of next week's return leg.
Ahead of the 8:05pm clash, we give the lowdown on both teams and how well prepared they are ahead of this crunch match:
With their pre-season schedule still in full effect, Everton are yet to play any competitive fixtures so far this term.
However, the Blues can confidently strut into their match against Ruzomberok with two wins and a draw from their three friendly games to date, with a 2-1 victory over Kenyan champions Gor Mahia and a 3-0 triumph over FC Twente followed up by a decent 1-1 draw away to Genk.
Ruzomberok, meanwhile, have already taken in five competitive matches in 17/18 after their league and continental adventures began in late June.
The Slovakian outfit may have lost their Super Liga opener to Zlate Moravce 2-1 on 23rd July, but their Europa League progression has made for a more than adequate start to their season.
A 3-2 aggregate victory over Serbian club Vojvodina granted them passage to the second round qualifiers against Norwegian side SK Brann and, after a 1-0 loss was sutained away from home, stunned their opponents by triumphing 2-0 on home turf to set up a mouthwatering tie against Everton.
Wayne Rooney is in line to make his second senior debut for Everton after he completed a free transfer switch back to Merseyside after 13 years away at Manchester United.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman will also look to give first-team debuts to his other summer recruits, with Jordan Pickford, Davy Klaassen and Michael Keane all expected to start from the off.
Contract rebel Ross Barkley will be absent, however, after he had minor surgery on a niggling groin problem that has prevented him from featuring so far this summer.
Koeman will also be without long-term absentees in Yannick Bolasie (knee) and Seamus Coleman (broken leg) - though both could return around December - and Ramiro Funes Mori, who is likely to be out for the season after undergoing a second bout of surgery on a meniscus tear.
Ruzomberok, meanwhile, are not thought to have any major injury issues ahead of their visit to Goodison Park and will likely be captained by Slovakia international Marek Sapara - the veteran midfielder being the only recognisable name in their squad.
Predicted Everton Starting Lineup: Pickford; Holgate, Kean, Williams, Baines; Schneiderlin, Gueye, Klaassen; Mirallas, Calvert-Lewin, Rooney.
This is the first time that Everton and Ruzomberok will face off in their respective histories, with no other matches taking place between the pair.
The Blues would have faced familiar opposition in Brann had the Norwegian side beaten Ruzomberok in the last round - Everton having record an 8-1 aggregate victory over Brann during their 2007/08 UEFA League run to the last-16 stage.
Koeman has managed to give regular minutes to all of his first-team stars so far in pre-season, but the Toffees will end up feeling a bit leggy as Thursday's match runs into its final half-hour.
The Dutchman will hope that his side's quality will provide enough in the way of goals to close out the contest - first leg wise at least - before they begin to tire, while Ruzomberok will hope to put up a more than decent fight and last a while longer fitness wise.
If Everton land an early blow then they could wrap up this particular game early enough for Koeman to rest some tired legs. Don't count against the Blues doing so either.
Prediction: Everton 3-0 Ruzomberok