Europa League commitments allows Everton fringe players a chance
A good measure of the ongoing search for consistency is the constant rotation of Everton players under both former manager Ronald Koeman and caretaker boss David Unsworth. Everton have not named an unchanged starting XI since April.
Barely a month into the job, Unsworth has used 23 different players in his first five matches. With goalkeeper Jordan Pickford an ever-present in that time, the stand-in manager has used the equivalent of two full teams in just 450 minutes of football.
Substitutions also underline this uncertainty in terms of selection as Unsworth has made four half time changes in five games. This continues a trend Koeman established on the opening day, going on to make nine half time substitutions in 15 matches. Both managers continually altering their team at the halfway mark reflects poorly on their chosen starting XI.
This lack of continuity is a small part of the bigger picture but helps outline how Everton arrived at a situation that has them preparing for a meaningless Europa League tie against Atalanta on Thursday. While their Italian visitors are in the position Everton hoped to be in, unbeaten and battling Lyon for top spot in the group, the Toffees must face up to being eliminated with their two remaining games now an inconvenience for the most part.
This turn of events means an early kick off away to Southampton on Sunday and a hectic fixture list have to take priority, and Unsworth should select his team for Thursday accordingly. This match begins a run of four games in 10 days stretching to the start of December, a month that sees Everton play eight matches in four weeks.
Even though parts of the squad vary on strength in depth, there is no real need for any player expected to start against Southampton to appear in this match, at least not from the start. The biggest balancing act is in defence, where Unsworth has to weigh the need to rest his 30-something defenders against the lack of natural replacements.
As it happens, some changes are inevitable, even if Everton did have something riding on this match. Among those is top scorer Oumar Niasse, who is ineligible after Koeman omitted him from the 25-man Europa League squad, and that could provide Sandro Ramirez with another opportunity after the 22-year-old forward made his first appearance under Unsworth against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Unsworth also has to decide who replaces the suspended Morgan Schneiderlin in central midfield following his red card in the 3-0 defeat in Lyon in the last round of matches. The obvious candidate is Tom Davies, especially with Davies suspended for the trip to Southampton after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season at the weekend. Due to work rate and the number of league games on the horizon, it may also be worthwhile for Unsworth to consider resting Idrissa Gueye. Such a move and the aforementioned suspensions would likely bring promising young midfielder Beni Baningime and the versatile Muhamed Besic into the equation for this match.
Even depleted by suspension midfield remains the best bet for resting players or assessing those on the periphery as it is the one area of the squad with numerous options. Yet to feature in any of the previous five matches, £24 million summer signing Davy Klaassen is one such player. The former Ajax captain will be keen to impress as he attempts to salvage a debut season that has gradually turned into a nightmare.
Elsewhere, with Aaron Lennon one of only three ever-presents under Unsworth, the winger may sit this out and thereby hand an opportunity to those on the fringes in recent weeks. Nikola Vlasic or Kevin Mirallas could return in place of Lennon or Unsworth may opt to look at Ademola Lookman again. Vlasic has played only 19 minutes under Unsworth and Mirallas has not been seen in either of the last two squads, while Lookman has only lasted until half time in two of his last three starts and needs to grasp his chance when starting games.
The potential for this many changes in any normal game would likely set alarm bells ringing, but this is not such an occasion. Unsworth will eventually need to settle on a team and system capable of dragging Everton away from the foot of the Premier League table, but this is one match where Unsworth can effectively experiment without worrying too much about the outcome.
Aside from being able to rest some of the older players in the team, this meaningless match is a chance for some of Everton's forgotten men to show Unsworth that they are worthy of further playing time when Premier League action resumes on Sunday. Especially with so many senior players flattering to deceive of late.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.