The Blues are in for a weekend of rough and tumble, with Stoke City due at Goodison on Saturday for another crunch Premier League clash.
With the internationals out-of-the-way, we are now on a straight run to the end of the season. Nine games stand in the way of Everton and European football, with a strong finish to the season offering opportunities of Champions League football and the prospect of visits to Milan, Munich and Madrid. Before those dreams can become reality, Everton face tough opposition in the form of Tony Pulis’ Stoke City, knowing that victory is essential to build on the euphoria of the win over Manchester City a fortnight ago.
Like many Premier League teams, Everton do not enjoy playing Stoke and in recent years have failed to win any of the last four encounters between these two founder members of the Football League. In fact, in these four games, an Everton player has failed to register a goal, with Peter Crouch and Ryan Shawcross scoring own goals in the last two meetings, both at the Britannia.
Stoke currently find themselves in mid-table, but will have one eye on the relegation places, with the bottom half of the Premier League concertinaed and only 7 points separating Stoke and Wigan in the final relegation spot. The Potters are also enduring a terrible season away from home, with just one victory to their name. Everton need to seize of these deficiencies to ensure the three points remain on Merseyside.
David Moyes will be faced with some difficult decisions prior to kick off. Tim Howard is unlikely to return, meaning Jan Mucha will retain the goalkeeping jersey. Early reports suggest Phil Jagielka has an outside chance of a return to the team. Definitely missing are Maroaune Fellaini and Steven Pienaar, with both serving the first game of a two match suspension. Nikica Jelavic is likely to come into the team following his goal against Manchester City and will partner Anichebe in the Everton attack. The vacancy on the left hand side will prove harder to fill, options open to Moyes include Naismith, Barkley and Oviedo, with the Scot likely to get the nod.
Expected starting XI: Mucha; Coleman, Baines, Distin, Heitinga; Gibson, Osman, Naismith, Mirallas; Anichebe, Jelavic.
Other crunch games this weekend, see Arsenal at home to Reading and Tottenham travelling to Swansea. Both those games kick off at 3pm, and the Blues must insure they pounce on any slip ups from the two North London teams.