Everton vs Fulham

, 13 December, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
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At some point — I'm not sure when; maybe April if we're still in the top four! — this battle-hardened Blue will dare to believe that this is finally Everton's time. As someone on one the threads here at ToffeeWeb quipped, "[T]his is Everton and we are waiting for the usual kick in the balls" and after 27 years of following this team through thick and too much thin, it's hard to let your hope run too far ahead of your head.

That hesitancy doesn't mean that, like every Evertonian alive, I'm not enjoying this renaissance in the club's fortunes under Roberto Martinez. On the contrary, I'm absolutely loving it and every game now is akin to a kid waiting for Christmas. All of a sudden, Everton are being taken seriously again, and not merely for their pluck and fighting spirit but for their style of play and their ability to go toe-to-toe on their home grounds with the reigning Champions and the established Premier League leaders and take four points from six.

As a banner taken to Old Trafford last week proudly proclaimed, "The School of Science: Re-opened 6th June, 2013".

That may be slightly harsh on Martinez's predecessor, who is fast disappearing in the Evertonian's rearview mirror, because the Blues did play some lovely football at times last season. It was never done with sufficient consistency, though. Nor did the players have the self-belief they are building under the new regime and it's quite amazing to see how far this team has come in terms of the evolution of its playing style and approach in such a short space of time.

Hubris is the mother of complacency, though, and it's complacency that has often been one of Everton's biggest enemies just when they looked like they could put a run together that would propel them into the top four. There was more than a touch of it at Crystal Palace a month ago; the Blues played with the expectation of victory rather than the hunger and drive to ensure it and paid the price with two dropped points.

Those wonderful performances and terrific results at Old Trafford and the Emirates went a long way to making amends for that display and the other five draws that Everton really should have won this season — what better way to make up the points you should have won in the games you aren't expected to win? — but the visit to Goodison Park this weekend of relegation-threatened Fulham and two more eminently winnable home games after that before the end of the year put the Blues' short-term destiny in their own hands. In the same time frame, many of our rivals will face off against — and take points off — each other creating a huge opportunity for Martinez's men to make giant strides forward in their quest for the Champions League.

For this weekend, the manager will have to do without the services of star midfield performer, James McCarthy, who picked up a one-game ban with his fifth booking of the season against Arsenal. In many ways, it's probably a good thing that he serves his suspension over a home game and gets it out of the way before the busy festive programme without it hanging over him.

The beneficiary of his absence could be Leon Osman, who started both of the last two games on the bench while there are plenty who feel that the hero of weekend, Gerard Deulofeu, should be handed another start after his star turn against Stoke City a couple of weeks ago. It's conceivable that he could play on the opposite flank to Kevin Mirallas with Steven Pienaar playing more centrally alongside Gareth Barry but Osman would, naturally, provide a more experienced and more defensively-minded presence should Martinez not feel inclined to field Mirallas, Ross Barkley and Deulofeu in the same starting XI.

One more argument in the Spaniard's favour is the manner in which he terrorised Fulham in the League Cup at Craven Cottage back in September in a match that Martinez might still be wondering how his side lost. And that was while Deulofeu was a lot greener than he is now with the benefit of Premier League action and goals behind him.

With no other injury or disciplinary problems, that midfield area is likely to be the only area to see changes, though. The defence will probably remain unchanged as Leighton Baines continues his recovery and Romelu Lukaku will lead the line again as he seeks his first goal for three matches.

There are no easy games in the Premier League, even if Fulham's awful record at Goodison Park — Everton have a 100% record against them there — suggests otherwise but the formula for the Blues is fairly simple. Play the way they did at Arsenal on Sunday and they have every chance of winning; Fulham, despite having been re-energised by Rene Muelensteen's first win last weekend, will not be able to live with an Everton team that plays with the intensity and dominance that they display for long periods at the Emirates.

One thing is certain, though: there will be no room for complacency or a simple expectation of victory. Now is the time for professionalism and ruthlessness.

Kick off: 3pm
Referee: Anthony Taylor

Quotes or other material sourced from ToffeeWeb Match Reports

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