Everton vs Cardiff City

, 14 March, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
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With the road to Wembley leading to a dead end for the second season running, Everton's focus returns fully to the Premier League this weekend for the visit of Cardiff City, the first of two successive home games against the clubs from South Wales.

Having slipped back into 7th place last weekend as Manchester United took advantage of their FA Cup duty, it's a chance for the Blues to establish some momentum following four defeats in their last eight matches in all competitions. European qualification is now the goal for Roberto Martinez's side and rediscovering some consistency is going to be key to achieving it.

They meet a Cardiff side still very much in the midst of a relegation dogfight and trying to find its feet under the fledgling tenure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. They come into this weekend sitting in the drop zone, four points off the bottom, having won just two of their 10 League games since turn of the year.

If there have been a couple of silver linings to their recent form they would be last weekend's 3-1 victory over Fulham and the fact that they ran Tottenham very close at White Hart Lane the week before but they come to Goodison Park hoping to escape with a point.

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Though Everton will start as favourites, if this season has demonstrated anything it's that nothing comes easily, particularly to Roberto Martinez's side when they're not scoring goals. The reverse fixture between these two sides was a case in point — though the Blues would surely have won that contest had they been awarded a stonewall penalty for Gary Medel's clear foul on Leighton Baines — and while they've come a long way since those tentative draws that began the campaign, Everton continue to battle carve out enough clear-cut chances.

That was the situation against West Ham United in the last Premier League game at Goodison Park a fortnight ago but there's no doubt that a repeat of that 1-0 scoreline would surely go down just fine among supporters and players alike. Points are what matter now as the Blues bid to finish as high as possible.

Martinez said in the week that he would continue to monitor the progress of Phil Jagielka and Steven Pienaar after the former missed a second successive game last Saturday with a hamstring injury and the South African left the Emirates pitch with an unspecified injury of his own.

It's possible — even likely, perhaps — that he won't risk either player this weekend and that would probably mean another outing and learning opportunity for John Stones alongside Sylvain Distin at the back and, perhaps, a start for Leon Osman or Aiden McGeady in place of Pienaar on the left side of midfield.

The fact that Gerard Deulofeu started the West Ham game might suggest he will again get the nod with Kevin Mirallas on the other side of midfield, while Ross Barkley certainly made his case for inclusion from the start with his performance against Arsenal last weekend. In goal, Tim Howard is due to return after sitting out the Cup defeat in favour of Joel Robles.

With Martinez still refusing to rule out Champions League qualification — and he will continue to do so while it is mathematically possible — every game becomes akin to a cup final where the three points are paramount. This will not be an easy task, though, and Cardiff are likely to defend deep and pack men behind the ball in an attempt to frustrate Everton into a pattern of unproductive dominance of possession.

If the Blues can cut loose and rack up some goals, though, it would go a long way to lifting morale on the pitch and in the stands, building confidedence for the final straight of 10 games that could yet define Martinez's first season in charge.

Referee: Roger East
Kick-off: 3pm

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