Sunderland vs Everton

, 11 April, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
Match Preview

Everton can take another tantalising step towards Champions League qualification this weekend as they travel to the Stadium Light knowing that a seventh consecutive League victory would not only set a club record for the Premier League era but also move them above Arsenal into that coveted 4th spot.

The Blues' hopes of breaking into that long-elusive elite club are also truly in their own hands now following Manchester United's exit from this season's Champions League quarter finals — had they surprised everyone by winning the competition, the Red Devils would have qualified for next season as holders and taken the spot from the team that finishes 4th.

The opponents standing between Roberto Martinez's men and another win are Sunderland who, as they did when the teams last met on Boxing Day, will start the day bottom of the table. Then, Everton were just two games from going an entire year without being beaten on home soil, but an early red card for Tim Howard, a goal for the Black Cats from the resulting penalty, and a stubborn defensive stand earned a stunning win for Sunderland. Proof, if it were needed, that no match in England's top flight is ever routine or easy.

Martinez will approach this game from that perspective. Gus Poyet's side have sunk to the foot of the table on the back of four straight defeats, and looked doomed as they were thrashed 5-1 by Tottenham on Monday night, but while they have games in hand over their rivals and any hope of survival, their fans hope they will be fighting tooth and nail.

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Four goals scored and 17 conceded since they beat Newcastle at the start of February illustrate how poor they have been in recent weeks, though, and it's clear that, if the Blues can perform like they did in the second half at Fulham or in Sunday's transcendent win over Arsenal, then another three points will be in the offing. Even though they've struggled to rack up goals recently, the Wearsiders have the talent in their ranks to score when they're motivated but they will struggle again if Everton's defensive form of late continues.

There will at least be continuity on that front as Phil Jagielka is not expected to return to first-team action for another 10 days. Barring any late injury problems, that will mean John Stones and Sylvain Distin continuing a centre-back partnership that has been in place for the duration of the current winning streak, between Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman.

Both fullbacks were given license to push forward in the latter half of the Fulham game, with Gareth Barry (who needs to avoid a booking to get past Sunday's yellow-card amnesty and thereby prevent picking up a two-match ban) and James McCarthy dropping back and the centre-backs splitting to the sides offering a solid defensive setup behind a dangerous attacking unit. Martinez may look to re-use that strategy at times if it looks as though Sunderland are being well contained.

In the attacking midfield areas, it is again the choice between the myriad options at the manager's disposal. Leon Osman is a doubt after picking up a gash to the eye last Sunday and could be rested, with Ross Barkley and Steven Naismith doing more than enough against the Gunners to warrant inclusion again this time round. Martinez has shown a desire to rotate in this area of the line-up, though, and given Deulofeu's exploits the last time the Blues were in the northeast, or Aiden McGeady's contribution at Craven Cottage, it wouldn't be surprising to see either of that duo start.

With two home games to follow, Everton have a huge opportunity to put another nine points on the board before the potentially tricky trip to Southampton later in the month. Arsenal are on FA Cup semi-final duty this weekend ahead of their home clash with West Ham in the League on Tuesday but win at Sunderland and then beat Crystal Palace on Wednesday and the Blues can take ownership of 4th place. They just have to maintain the focus, the intensity and the discipline that they have shown in increasing amounts over the past six games.

Kick off: 3:07pm
Referee: Lee Probert

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