Why Everton have more than a Sporting chance
Despite an ungodly injury crisis that threatened to derail their season and at times left David Moyes with as many as 10 first team players unavailable, Everton were able to finish in second place in Europa League Group I.
Since their last European fixture, the Toffees have welcomed back some of their injured stars, and have also managed to steadily climb the league table.
In fact, the Goodison Park outfit look in such good fettle, they can afford to look on the remainder of their European campaign as something to relish, rather than as the burden it seemed before Christmas.
If the Europa League is a pleasant accompaniment to EvertonÃ¢ÂÂs domestic season, it represents a more than welcome distraction from matters back home for their opponents tonight.
Sporting (don't call them Sporting Lisbon, fool) are currently going through somewhat of a transitional period, following the departure of coach Paulo Bento in November.
Domestically, Sporting are experiencing a particularly bad season, and morale is very low at the moment after recent defeats to Porto (5-2), Academica (2-1), Benfica (4-1) and a scoreless draw at PaÃÂ§os de Ferreira saw them knocked out of both domestic cup competitions and fall further behind Benfica, Braga and Porto in the race for the Liga.
However they have fared slightly better in Europe, having finished top of their Europa League group ahead of Hertha Berlin and Heerenveen after being eliminated from the Champions League by Fiorentina on away goals at the qualifying stage.
Moutinho's verdict of Sporting's season: it stinks...
The Europa League represents SportingÃ¢ÂÂs last chance of silverware this season as they are out of both domestic cups and 4th in the league table, many points behind the leaders.
Since the arrival of new coach, Carlos Carvalhal, Sporting have experimented with both 4-2-2-2 and 4-1-3-2 formations, having previously employed a classic 4-4-2 diamond formation under Bento.
The likelihood is that they will opt for the former against Everton.
Among their number will be perenial Everton target Joao Moutinho, former Tottenham and Portsmouth star Pedro Mendes and one-time Atletico Madrid forward Florent Sinama-Pongolle, whoÃ¢ÂÂll be sure to get a hot reception thanks to his Liverpool connections.
Everton will certainly need to perform better than they did against Sporting's Portuguese rivals Benfica earlier in the campaign, but given their improved form and Sporting's ongoing malaise, they should have a good chance of progression.
Expected line-up:GK: Rui PatricioDL: GrimiDR: Joao PereiraDC: Daniel CarriÃÂ§oDC: TonelDM: Miguel VelosoDM: Pedro MendesMC: Joao MoutinhoMC Marat IzmailovST: LiedsonST: Sinama-Pongolle
Three to watch:
Name: Joao PereiraClub: Sporting LisbonDate of Birth: 25/02/1984 (25)Place of Birth: Lisbon (Portugal)Nationality: PortugueseHeight: 5ft 8inWeight: 10stPosition: Right BackSquad number: 21
Although Pereira started his career at Benfica, it was at SC Braga that he really made a name for himself.
His form in the first half of this season was enough to earn him a move to Sporting last month and lead the Portuguese press to call for his inclusion in the national squad for the World Cup.
A typical modern full-back, Pereira has a very determined and aggressive style of play and, although he is defensively solid, going forward is his real strength.
His lack of experience at the top level is sometimes displayed through a lack of composure, and he has displayed a tendancy to lose his rag.
An example of this came in the sixth minute of the recent match with Benfica, when he was sent off for a reckless two-footed lunge on Brazilian forward Ramires.
Name: Miguel VelosoClub: Sporting LisbonDate of Birth: 11/05/1986 (23)Place of Birth: Coimbra (Portugal)Nationality: PortugueseHeight: 5ft 11inWeight: 12st 7lbsPosition: Defensive MidfielderSquad number: 24
Veloso has spent his whole professional career at Sporting, bar a brief loan spell with CD Olivais e Moscavide in 2005.
Veloso is a current Portuguese international and is being coveted by some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Inter Milan were rumoured to have been looking at him in January and a move at the end of the season looks a distinct possibility.
The 23-year-old provides a good barrier in front of the Sporting defence, and certainly knows how to defend, although his game is based more on interceptions and distribution of the ball than hurriedly chasing down opposition midfielders and making crunching tackles.
Although he is excellent technically and has great positional sense, Veloso sometimes disappears from a game and is a little sluggish Ã¢ÂÂ which could be something Everton look to exploit.
The Toffees will also need to watch out if Veloso gets a chance to pull the trigger - he has decent long range shooting ability and has been known to score spectacular goals.
Name: LiedsonClub: SportingDate of Birth: 17/12/1977 (32)Place of Birth: Cairu (Brazil)Nationality: PortugueseHeight: 5ft 9inWeight: 10stPosition: StrikerSquad number: 31
Liedson is currently enjoying his seventh year at Sporting, after arriving at EstÃÂ¡dio JosÃÂ© Alvalade in 2003 from Brazilian side Corinthians.
Liedson has since picked up a Portuguese passport and has been playing for the national team since September 2009, scoring twice in his first six international appearances and helping Carlos QueirozÃ¢ÂÂs team qualify for the summerÃ¢ÂÂs World Cup.
The striker works hard for his team and is both a great scorer of goals, and a scorer of great goals.
Despite standing at just 5ft 9in, he is very good in the air and is also competent in the tackle, which combined with his work-rate means opposition defenders rarely get a moment to hesitate in possession.
He could probably improve on his hold-up play, and also has a suspect temperament.
This was proved recently in his fist fight with Sporting football director, Sa Pinto, which ultimately saw Pinto lose his job at the club.
With thanks to Paulo Almeida and all at Championship Manager