Everton head into their opening Premier League clash on Saturday with problems aplenty.

The Toffees haven’t had the easiest of pre-season periods, being hammered 4-0 in their most recent clash against Manchester United, but now they have to make do with a number of absentees.

As Rafa Benitez’s men face Southampton at Goodison Park this weekend, they will be without more than five first-team players.

They have a handful of their squad self-isolating but fortunately Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are fit enough to play following their respective periods on international duty.

However, with their current squad in disarray, who will Benitez select in his first competitive game at the helm?

Here’s the XI we’re predicting today…

We anticipate the Spanish manager to make two changes to the side which was hammered by Manchester United last weekend.

The first change is up front, where Calvert-Lewin comes into the team ahead of the so-called “embarrassing” £100k-per-week Alex Iwobi, who played incredibly poorly against United.

Should Iwobi start on Saturday?

No way!

No way!

Yes please!

Yes please!

The England striker’s return will be vital to Everton’s chances this weekend after he ended the 2020/21 campaign with 21 goals to his name.

Another change is just behind him, where James Rodriguez sits out. He is one of the players self-isolating but whether he plays for the club again remains to be seen – the Colombian has been linked with the exit door on a relentless basis this summer.

With Rodriguez missing, Richarlison comes back into the fray to partner Calvert-Lewin. The Brazilian wasn’t involved in pre-season as he was busy playing for Brazil at the Tokyo Olympics.

He played in a central role up front for his country, finishing on five goals for the tournament as they claimed the gold medal. With that in mind, it would be foolish of Benitez to consider Richarlison in any other position but centrally.

Consequently, Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend are handed roles on the wing, being presented with their competitive Everton debuts.

Gray signed in a £1.7m deal from Bayer Leverkusen, while Townsend was acquired on a free transfer following his release from Crystal Palace. Both of them will be keen to assert themselves quickly in Merseyside.

AND in other news, Everton must swoop for “exceptional” 19-goal beast who Rafa said is on “another level”…

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