The FourFourTwo Preview: Sunderland vs Everton
The latest stop on Sunderland’s Premier League farewell tour.
When Gus Poyet said Sunderland needed “a miracle” to stay up after Monday’s 5-1 humiliation at Tottenham, he was right. They may have two games in hand, but staying up is looking more impossible by the game.
- Spurs 5-1 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 1-2 West Ham (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 S'land (Prem)
- Norwich 2-0 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 0-0 Palace (Prem)
- Everton 3-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Fulham 1-3 Everton (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-3 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 3-2 Swansea (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 Cardiff (Prem)
If the Black Cats’ four-game losing streak wasn’t bad enough, they face Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea in their next three games, with Manchester United following a potential bald-men-over-a-comb scrap against Cardiff. Winless in seven and as many points from safety, the Wearsiders are staring at a return to the Championship for the first time since 2006.
February’s League Cup final already seems so far away. Poyet’s men have been toothless in attack all season, but particularly so since their 3-0 drubbing of local rivals Newcastle on February 1; in their seven-game doom streak they’ve netted only four times.
It doesn’t help that strikers Steven Fletcher (in and out through injury), Fabio Borini (unsettled position) and Jozy Altidore (er…) have mustered only seven league goals between them in 72 appearances. Actually, only Adam Johnson (8) has managed more than three.
Over in the blue half of Merseyside, things are good. Things are vey good, in fact – but getting serious. Last weekend’s emphatic win over Arsenal means a place in the top four is theirs to lose, but with both Manchester clubs and Southampton away still to come, it's still an uphill struggle for the Toffees to avoid coming unstuck in their battle for the Champions League.
Romelu Lukaku’s goals have taken the headlines – perhaps rightly so given that they’ve won 12 points for Martinez’s men this season, with only Luis Suarez (13) and Daniel Sturridge (18) earning more.
But it’s thanks to quality and cohesion throughout that Everton have been one of the top flight’s most enjoyable sides to watch.
In Martinez’s first season, the Toffees are going places they never did under David Moyes – at least from a points perspective. A win would see them break their all-time record of 65 in the Premier League, set in 2007/08 (when they finished fifth). It seems there’s plenty more to come.
A lack of injuries is at least one plus point for Poyet, who is without only back-up goalkeeper Keiren Westwood (shoulder) and striker Fletcher (ankle), the latter of whom could yet return this weekend with some TLC.
Everton, on the other hand, have stars several crocked on the sidelines. Leon Osman could return after an eye laceration, but Steven Pienaar (knee) and beanpole striker Lacina Traore (both hamstring) won’t make it. Bryan Oviedo (leg), Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson (both knee) are long-term physio-botherers. Phil Jagielka will partake in a behind-closed-doors friendly to assess his fitness after recovering from a hamstring problem.
Player to watch: Leighton Baines (Everton)
It really isn’t difficult to understand why Everton fans adore Baines. The England left-back is still one of – if not the – key provider of goals for the Toffees, and proved it again against Arsenal.
It was his superb pass to Steven Naismith that sparked the Toffees’ opener, one of 3 chances he created in the first half, and a total no player had beaten by full-time. He was Everton’s top passer in the attacking third too, completing 15/20 efforts as he looked to make things happen in the opposition penalty area.
You can pretty much find statistics like this for the 29-year-old on a weekly basis. He might not quite have hit the brilliant heights of last season, but the reliable left-sider is looking good value for a strong World Cup.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Everton 0-1 S'land (Prem, Dec 13)
- S'land 1-0 Everton (Prem, Apr 13)
- Everton 2-1 S'land (Prem, Nov 12)
- Everton 4-0 S'land (Prem, Apr 12)
- S'land 0-2 Everton (Prem, Mar 12)
Latino tongue-lasher takes on Iberian Mersey idol. The duo no doubt hold each other in high regard heading into only their second-ever meeting; Poyet for his opposite number’s managerial achievements, and Martinez for the top-level playing career he never had.
The pair’s first encounter came on Boxing Day this season when Sunderland strolled away from Goodison Park with a 1-0 win courtesy of Ki Sung-Yueng’s first-half penalty. But the Black Cats probably won’t be so happy this time.
After Monday’s tonking, Poyet admitted there was "no place to hide". Martinez, on the other hand, hailed Everton’s 3-0 win over Arsenal “a really good memory for everyone”. Expect somewhat contrasting team talks.
Facts and figures
- Everton have not won here since 2008/09 with draws in this fixture in 3 of the past 4 seasons.
- Sunderland have the worst home record in the league this season as they’ve scored just 14 home goals.
- Everton have been level at half-time in 15 of their last 21 away matches and have been ahead at the break in just 1 of their last 8 away wins.
- 6 of Sunderland’s 7 home games against top-half teams this season have had at least 3 goals.
Best Bet: Over 3.5 Goals @ 3.25
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Everton to avenge their shock defeat in December. 0-2.