Everton vs MFK Ružomberok Preview: Blues take first steps back into Europe

Everton will make their first step back into the Europa League against MFK Ružomberok at Goodison Park on Thursday night.

The Blues have been away from European football since their horrendous exit at the hands of Dynamo Kyiv in 2015, and enter this year's competition at one of their earliest stages possible for quite a while.

Ronald Koeman is still figuring out what his strongest line-up is following Everton’s multitude of summer signings but will want to nail down a starting eleven before the Premier League season begins in just over two weeks time.

That means the Toffees are likely to field a team similar to the one that will face Stoke City on August 12th but Koeman has also shown throughout this pre-season his willingness to experiment with young players and different systems.

However, the Dutch boss isn’t likely to underestimate the Slovakian opposition as they have shown their ability to spring shock results in this competition.

Ružomberok were able to overturn a disappointing 1-0 aggregate defeat to SK Brann in the first leg, with a 2-0 win in Bergen to secure their place against Everton in the third qualifying round.

Overcoming 1-0 first leg defeats has become the Roses’ speciality in the Europa League after they fought back to beat FK Vojvodina of Serbia in the first round of qualifying.

In Focus: The Blues of Pre-Season

Everton have started pre-season in good form. Whilst they’ve already comfortably beaten Gor Mahia and FC Twente, the Blues also drew with KRC Genk in a physical game only a few days ago.

Koeman’s men are still unbeaten in pre-season football with a game against Sevilla to come in the days following the Europa League first leg.

The Blues squad have faced different challenges, both on and off the pitch, since returning to Finch Farm at the beginning of the month.

Off the field Koeman and his Director of Football, Steve Walsh, have had to replace key man Romelu Lukaku following his departure to Manchester United. They have also had to tackle the contract situation of Ross Barkley, which has still yet to come to a conclusion.

So far the pair have assembled a squad that is likely to once again compete at the Europa League level in the Premier League, but they still hope to add more quality and depth to their ever-changing squad before the window shuts.

Whilst spending their new found fortune is one way to bring players to the club, continuing their Europa League campaign is another valuable selling point to interested parties.

It won’t be plain sailing by any means but Koeman’s squad have the ability to put themselves in a good position before the start of the Premier League.

A look at MFK Ružomberok

Whilst minnows Ružomberok have already sprung a big upset in the previous round against SK Brann, their second leg performance was organised and workmanlike as they overcame a 1-0 aggregate scoreline.

The Slovakian side favour playing with one forward so they are able to try and pack the midfield, meaning Koeman's side will have to remain patient in possession in order to fashion goalscoring opportunities.

They were able to secure their place in this season’s competition after finishing 3rd in the Slovakian Fortuna Liga last season, 19 points behind eventual champions Zilina.

The Roses’, a perpetual mid-table side, haven’t won a trophy since 2006 when they won both the Slovakian First Division and Slovakian Cup. To start this season’s Fortuna Liga campaign, Ružomberok lost their opening day fixture 2-1 away to Zlaté Moravce last Sunday.

Norbert Hrnčár’s men will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing opening day loss and will likely prove to be a stubborn and difficult test for Everton to beat over two legs.

Predicted line-ups

Everton: Pickford, Martina, Keane, Williams, Baines, Schneiderlin, Davies, Gueye, Klaassen, Rooney, Sandro.

MFK Ružomberok: Macik, Gerec, Gal-Andrezly, Kochan, Kostadinov, Kruzliak, Kunca, Kupec, Lacny, Sapara, Haskic.