By 90Min
August 16, 2017

Everton find themselves just two games away from competing in the Europa League gorup stages for the first time in three seasons.

The Toffees must, however, bypass a tricky two legged play-off tie against Croatian side Hajduk Split before they can confirm their place in the next stage of the continental club tournament.

Both matches should prove to be tough affairs, and we're here to provide you with all the information you need ahead of the first leg at Goodison Park on Thursday:


Form

Everton opened up their 2017/18 Premier League campaign with a slender 1-0 home victory over a typically robust Stoke City team.

Wayne Rooney marked his second league debut for the Toffees with a fairytale strike, on the stroke of half-time, to hand Ronald Koeman's men all three points and make it three wins out of three competitive games this season.

The Blues were also worthy winners of their Europa League third round qualifier against Slovakian minnows MFK Ruzomberok thanks to a 2-0 aggregate scoreline.

Hajduk, meanwhile, are already nine matches into their own 17/18 season. 

The 1.HNL outfit have picked up 10 points from their opening five league encounters, with victories attained against NK Lokomotiva, Cibalia and Slaven Belupo, while a draw and defeat came against Inter Zapresic and Dinamo Zagreb respectively.

Hajduk currently sit second in the standings thanks to their domestic form thus far, and also saw off Levski Sofia and Brondby 3-1 and 2-0 on aggregate respectively in their Europa League second and third round qualifiers to get to this stage.


Team News

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Everton boss Ronald Koeman will be without Ross Barkley after the contract rebel tore his hamstring in training on Tuesday - a problem that is rumoured to have ruled him out for six weeks.

Koeman is also unable to call upon long-term absentees Ramiro Funes Mori and Yannick Bolasie (both knee) and Seamus Coleman (broken leg),  while James McCarthy (knee) and Sandro Ramirez (knock) may also miss out.

For Hajduk, manager Joan Carrillo will be missing key striker Marko Futacs after the Hungary international underwent on operation on a knee injury on 7th August, and he is expected to be out of action until March 2018 as a result.

Predicted Everton Starting Lineup: Pickford; Martina, Keane, Jagielka, Baines; Schneiderlin, Gueye; Calvert-Lewin, Klaassen, Mirallas; Rooney.

Predicted Hajduk Split Lineup: Stipica; Juranovic, Nizic, Lopez, Memolla; Radosevic, Barry, Gentsoglou; Erceg, Ohandza, Vlasic.


Key Men

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With a Europa League winner's medal the final jigsaw piece in his club trophy cabinet attained with Manchester United in May, veteran star Wayne Rooney will be the key to unlocking Hajduk's defence.

The 31-year-old boyhood Blue will be buoyed by his first goal since his summer move back to Merseyside, and should pull the strings once again in L4 as Everton look to give themselves a huge chance of progressing to the next round.

With Futacs sidelined for almost eight months, the weight of Hajduk's attack will lie on the shoulders of pacy winger Ante Erceg.

The Croat flier has already racked up four goals in his first six appearances this term, and his fleet footedness and desire to pop shots off will pose a significant threat to Everton's backline.

Erceg has not featured in the last three league clashes, so expect him to be fit and fresh enough to feature from the off for Carrillo's side.


Prediction

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If Everton harbour any hopes of continuing their Europa league adventure beyond August, Thursday's match needs to yield any kind of win.

A clean sheet would be a massive boost to their chances of progressing ahead of the return leg in Split - especially in the raucous atmosphere of the Stadion Poljud.

With matchwinners in the likes of Rooney, Kevin Mirallas and Davy Klaassen, the Toffees should have enough about them to bag a goal or two against Hajduk's defence.

Koeman will know, though, that his men will have to guard against complacency against the Whites, and Erceg, striker Franck Ohandza and others will attempt to earn Hajduk a crucial away goal at Goodison.

As long as Everton continue their good defensive form, they should be good enough to earn yet another slim win to add to their three so far this term.

Prediction: Everton 1-0 Hajduk Split

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