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Everton may settle for a draw on Croatian coast

Europa League playoff second leg
ITV 4, 8pm Thursday

Everton have kept three clean sheets out of three in the Europa League this season and their solid defence can help them achieve a satisfactory stalemate against Hajduk Split on the Croatian coast.

It has been a busy start to the campaign for the Toffees and the strain was starting to show as they clung on for a 1-1 draw against ten-man Manchester City at the Etihad on Monday night.

However, the performance was underpinned by a well-organised rearguard expertly marshalled by summer signing Michael Keane.

Keane's calming influence of Keane has been obvious during Everton's opening five games and the ex-Burnley man will be a key figure as they bid to protect the 2-0 advantage established at Goodison Park last Thursday.

Offensively, Everton have room for improvement. Romelu Lukaku was the main man last season, scoring 25 of the club's 62 Premier League goals, and the Toffees are still adjusting to life without the big Belgian.

Wayne Rooney has done his bit, popping up with the winner at home to Stoke and the opening goal against City, but fellow summer signing Sandro Ramirez has struggled with niggling injuries and is still waiting to open his account for the club.

Gylfi Sigurdsson's arrival might improve the situation. The Icelandic attacking midfielder is a proven goalscorer in the Premier League but has to work out a way of playing with Rooney, who likes to take up a similar position.

Perhaps the only obvious weakness in a very talented Everton squad is the centre-forward position.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin got the nod at City and produced a tireless performance but he may be given a night off in Split to keep him fresh for Sunday's clash with Chelsea.

Ronald Koeman is likely to make a handful of changes with the Chelsea match in mind but his team will be packed full of internationals and should be tough to beat.

The onus is on Hajduk to break Everton down and they will rely heavily on highly-rated 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic to unlock the door.

Vlasic, a first-team regular since making his debut at the age of 16, made his first appearance for Croatia's national team in May when he featured in a 2-1 victory over Mexico in Los Angeles.

He has started the season brightly, scoring in two of his five league appearances, but is often handicapped by the lack of star players around him.

Hajduk created chances in the first leg on Merseyside but lacked the quality to finish things off and it is hard to imagine the floodgates suddenly opening against such defensively solid opponents.

Everton will be happy to do just enough and may well register their second draw in four days.


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Match in Focus

13:00 Th 21Jun ITV

Denmark v Australia

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Australia have scored in their last nine games against European teams
Expert verdict
Australia must have been delighted with their performance in the 2-1 loss to France and they can keep their qualification hopes alive by drawing with Denmark in Samara. The Socceroos matched France for long periods with Aaron Mooy impressing in midfield. They can trouble the Danes, who rode their luck against Peru.