Newcastle United head coach Steve McClaren is wary of the threat Everton and in particular Romelu Lukaku will pose his side on Boxing Day.
Lukaku has 16 goals to his name so far this season and has scored in each of his last seven Premier League appearances after starting to fulfil the promise Chelsea first saw in him and for which the Toffees paid a club record £28million in July last year.
However, his rich vein of form has come as no surprise to McClaren, who first came across the then teenager during his spell as manager of Dutch club FC Twente.
The 54-year-old said: “He’s a top striker. I remember watching him when he was at Anderlecht and we played them when I was at Twente. A winter friendly, it was. He was about 16, 17 and he was a player then.
“I’ve seen him just go on and on, and he’s done well since leaving Chelsea. He has a long way to go, but he’s certainly a handful and scoring goals and playing in a good team.”
Lukaku had helped Everton put together an unbeaten run of eight games before their progress was rudely interrupted by surprise leaders Leicester, who won 3-2 at Goodison Park last Saturday.
They currently sit 10th in the table, a point behind city rivals Liverpool, but McClaren knows their ambitions will be significantly loftier.
He said: “They are a good team with good players, good individual players. There’s a great balance to their team. They were beaten last time by Leicester, the first time in nine, I think, so they’re in good form, difficult to beat, having a good cup run.
“[Manager Roberto] Martinez has done a terrific job over there the two or three years he’s been there and and they’re a strong, strong team. Everton are quite capable of not only getting into the top 10 but definitely challenging for the Europa League.”