The FourFourTwo Preview: Everton vs Cardiff
A welcome tonic for the Toffees to get their European bid back on track.
Now out of the FA Cup, following a spirited but unsuccessful outing at the Emirates, Everton can now knuckle down for 11 league games to ensure European football returns to Goodison Park for the first time since 2009/10.
- Arsenal 4-1 Everton (FAC)
- Everton 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-0 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 3-1 Swansea (FAC)
- Spurs 1-0 Everton (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Spurs 1-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-4 Hull (Prem)
- Cardiff 1-2 Wigan (FAC)
- Cardiff 0-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
Roberto Martinez has insisted the Blues will not be ‘settling for sixth’ place in the Premier League – with Everton now nine points adrift of a top-four spot – but just two wins from six league games has allowed old flame David Moyes and his ailing Red Devils to overhaul them, albeit having played one match more.
The Merseysiders have blown hot and cold in recent weeks, winning three and losing four of their last seven outings in all competitions, and it took 81 minutes to finally break West Ham down with 13 of their 22 attempts failing to find the target.
One bright spark from the cup defeat to Arsenal was the return to fitness and form of Ross Barkley, who has not started a league game since February 1 after suffering a broken toe. “He looked powerful, fresh again after the injury. Overall, I thought his contribution was very good and he was back to his normal self," beamed Martinez.
Everton have won nine times and lost just once at home in the league this season, as well as possessing the fourth-best home defence in the division with only 10 goals conceded. So taking anything other than three points from a Cardiff side with just one league win and 10 defeats from 14 away trips this term (including losing the last seven in a row) will be deemed an abject failure.
They will, however, be running into a Bluebirds side buoyed by victory in their do-or-die fixture with Fulham; bagging boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the first of the five “big results” he wants to save their skins. And midfielder Jordon Mutch believes the vital victory over the Cottagers has blown the fight for survival wide open with everyone in the bottom half still vulnerable, mathematically at least.
“It's got the teams just above us looking behind themselves now," he said. "Hopefully we can use this win as a springboard to go into the next game and pick up a positive result to push on up the league.”
Having already won twice away from South Wales in the FA Cup, Solskjaer’s next challenge is to secure his maiden league win on the road; a tough ask when City have failed to score in eight of their last 10 trips.
Saturday will be the first league meeting between the sides at Goodison Park since Everton thrashed Cardiff 8-3 in April 1962, which coincidentally was the last time the Bluebirds won back-to-back top-flight league games.
Martinez is refusing the temptation to rush captain Phil Jagielka back from a hamstring injury, and will only recall the defender when he is fully fit. Steven Pienaar will also hope to be available after picking up a knock at Arsenal, but Lacina Traore, Antolin Alcaraz, Bryan Oviedo, Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson remain sidelined.
Cardiff defensive trio Ben Turner, Andrew Taylor and Mark Hudson are nursing injuries.
Player to watch: Ross Barkley (Everton)
The England youngster was looking back to his best at the Emirates last weekend in the FA Cup having recovered from a toe injury sustained in the home win over Aston Villa last month. “I thought he was a real threat, especially on the counter-attack," said Martinez. "He had two or three incidents that, if we had been a little bit sharper, we could have taken advantage of.”
A return to anything like the scintillating form the 20-year-old was in back in December will go a long way to pushing Everton over the line in their quest for European football. Barkley stole the show in the league game against Arsenal, making more attacking-third passes than any other Toffee as well as creating 3 chances and completing 3 of his 4 take-ons. He was just as influential against Cardiff when Everton travelled to Wales in August, completing 4/9 take-ons and firing in 4 shots, more than anyone else on the pitch.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Cardiff 0-0 Everton (Prem, Aug 13)
- Everton 2-0 Cardiff (LC, Jan 80)
- Cardiff 1-0 Everton (LC, Jan 80)
- Cardiff 1-2 Everton (FAC, Feb 77)
- Everton 8-3 Cardiff (Div 1, Apr 62)
Solskjaer enjoyed taking on Everton as a player. In 10 tussles with the Toffees for Manchester United, the Norwegian was on the winning side nine times (drawing the other) and scored seven goals; West Ham (8) are the only team he netted more against.
The man who scored 126 goals in 366 appearances for United is hoping to pass on his experiences to the Bluebirds’ current strikeforce, with Fraizer Campbell the club’s top scorer with five and no other forward finding the net more than once in 2013/14.
"I know what they think and what they feel, and what they want from their training," he said. "It is about practising - I have started putting crosses in for them myself. I understand what kind of situations will benefit them, and that is what we are doing. They will practise what they do in a game. At times we take them to work separately - you nurture them and give them some TLC because as a striker you want that.”
Martinez initially said it would be “foolish” for Everton to look too far ahead in terms of qualifying for Europe, but then decided he had not yet given up on the Toffees qualifying for the Champions League. The Spaniard is well aware he will need to significantly bolster his squad in the summer to cope with the demanding schedule.
"To be able to compete in Europe would stretch us massively in terms of the squad. Europe has different demands and that has to be reflected in the numbers you have and the type of player you bring in too,” he said. "Sometimes you need to bring in experienced players at an international level."
Facts and figures
- Everton have lost only 1 of their last 22 home games, as they’ve recorded 13 Win/Win doubles on the Half-Time/Full-Time market.
- Cardiff have lost 7 consecutive away matches including 6 by at least 2 clear goals.
- Cardiff have suffered five 0-2 defeats on the road this season.
- 7 of Everton’s 11 home games against bottom-six teams since the start of last season have had at least 3 goals.
Best Bet: Everton (-1.5) Asian Handicap @ 2.05
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More than comfortable for Everton; the fit-again Romelu Lukaku once again proving the difference. 2-0.