Fulham vs Everton

, 29 March, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
Match Preview

After recording their fourth Premier League win on the bounce with that superb 3-0 victory at Newcastle on Tuesday evening, Everton have vaulted themselves back into the Champions League picture.

Six points behind Arsenal with a game in hand and the Gunners still to visit Goodison Park next weekend, all of a sudden there is a glimmer of hope that the top-four finish that looked destined to elude the Blues once more could be a possibility.

The manner of Everton's destruction of the Barcodes is really what has unbridled much of the mostly cautious optimism among Evertonians in recent days. Coming on the heels of three consecutive home wins, all earned in a fashion that arguably fell short of top-four standard, Roberto Martinez's masterstroke team selection at St James' Park and the ensuing magic from the likes of Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu has instilled a belief among fans and team alike that we might just have the ability and the momentum to dislodge Arsenal from their perennial spot in the Champions League qualification places.

There is an awfully long way to go, of course, and the kind of pitfall that has undone Everton teams in the past lies in wait at Craven Cottage this Sunday. Not only have the Blues stumbled in this kind of match where the expectation of victory has either weighed on them too heavily or let complacency creep in but they have had their problems when playing the team propping up the division on a couple of occasions already this season.

A 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace represented another of those frustrating draws that, in the final reckoning, may yet prove responsible if we miss out on the top four, while the home defeat to Sunderland, albeit in the mitigating circumstances of Tim Howard' sending off, was equally damaging.

Fulham, vulnerable but scrapping for their lives under new manager Felix Magath and possessing the advantage of Craven Cottage, the tight environs of which have been a perennial problem for Everton teams down the years, could prove to be equally difficult to overcome if Everton are not on the top of their game.

Martinez is aided by a relatively clean bill of health for his squad, though, with Steven Pienaar the only short-term absentee likely to be missing. The manager confirmed in his pre-match press conference that Phil Jagielka is now fully fit but it remains to be seen whether he plays it ultra-cautious regarding his readiness and keeps John Stones in the line-up. The young defender had to have 10 stitches in a gash above his eyebrow on Tuesday but that won't keep him out of the team if he is needed.

Martinez's squad-rotation policy where the attacking midfield players is concerned makes predicting his starting XI something of a challenge. Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu starred at St James' Park in front of Leon Osman and all three made a case for continuing in the team given how well they worked as a triumverate in concert with Romelu Lukaku up front. The Spanish winger also enjoyed himself on his first visit to this ground in the Carling Cup back in September where, despite utterly dominating Fulham for much of the match, the Blues still lost 2-1.

Kevin Mirallas and Aiden McGeady will be champing at the bit after missing out entirely against Newcastle and that kind of hunger can only stand Martinez in good stead over the remaning eight games.

The nub of Everton's situation, though, is that the heroics and thrill of Tuesday's win will mean nothing if they can't put struggling Fulham away and take three points back to Merseyside ahead of the visit of Arsenal. Arsene Wenger's side face a huge challenge against Manchester City at the Emirates but then have a relatively smooth run-in after their trip to Goodison so the Blues are going to need to amass as many points as possible.

A performance of the intensity, focus and incisiveness with which they beat the Toon will be the order of the day.

If they can register a fifth consecutive League win, it will be only the second time they have managed the feat in the Premier League era and it would certainly keep both their momentum alive and keep the pressure on the teams around them to pick up points themselves.

Kick off: Sunday, 1.30pm BST
Referee: Anthony Taylor

Quotes sourced from ToffeeWeb Match Reports

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