Stoke City vs Everton

, 31 December, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
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Sylvain Distin is expected to be fit
Everton kick off 2014 with a trip to Stoke hoping to make it nine points from 12 from their four League games over the busy Festive period.

The Blues start the New Year in 4th place, two places and four points better off than this time last year having played a game less. Sunday's win over Southampton capped a good year for the club, with Everton finishing 2013 with the best defensive record in the Premier League for the calendar year, testament to the continuity under Roberto Martinez.

With things so tight in the top eight, every point is vital but optimism in the camp will be high after Martinez's side shrugged off five changes to the starting XI against Mauricio Pocchetino's Saints and record their 10th win of the season.

Even allowing for Stoke's poor run of form since the end of November, a sequence of four defeats and two 0-0 draws that began with a 4-0 hammering at Goodison Park, the Britannia Stadium is never an easy place to go, though. Everton will be heartened by the fact that the Potters have conceded eight goals in their last two games but they will also be mindful that Chelsea came a cropper on this ground three and a half weeks ago.

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The defensive pairing of Sylvain Distin (who is expected to play despite feeling his hamstring on Sunday) and Antolin Alcaraz, a debutant at the weekend in place of the injured Phil Jagielka, will need to be as solid as they were against Southampton and they will be aided by the likely return from suspension of Gareth Barry. He is expected to slot back into his linchpin role against James McCarthy to re-form one of the most formidable central midfield partnerships in the Premier League.

Elsewhere in the side, there is scope for the reinstatement to the starting XI of Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas, both of whom started the last match on the bench but came on in the second half to help lift the Blues to victory. Martinez might bench one or both of Steven Naismith and Bryan Oviedo if he feels he needs to bring both wide players back in. Meanwhile, having started two games in the space of three days, Leon Osman is the obvious candidate to be rested to make way for Barry. Joel Robles continues in goal for the suspended Tim Howard. Tim Howard is also back from suspension following his red card against Sunderland.

It's fair to say that, though they have ground out impressive victories and were hugely unfortunate not to get anything from the Sunderland game on Boxing Day, the Blues haven't been performing at full throttle since the two away games at Old Trafford and the Emirates.

Barkley's star remains on the rise but Mirallas is still to really get going and Romelu Lukaku, whose size and strength will be crucial attributes against a notoriously physical outfit, has only one goal in his last six. Service to the big Belgian will be key, as will retention of possession and the involvement down the flanks of Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines.

Everton haven't beaten Stoke on their own patch since 2008 and that thrilling winner by Tim Cahill; indeed, they lost this fixture on New Year's Day 2012, so plenty more incentive for Martinez to spur his troops on to another victory to maintain the pressure on those clubs around them in the chase for Champions League qualification.

Kick off: 3pm
Referee: Andre Marriner

Quotes or other material sourced from ToffeeWeb Match Reports

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