The FourFourTwo Preview: Everton vs Crystal Palace
The touchingly tearful reunion of James McCarthy and James McArthur.
- Everton 4-1 Wolfsburg (EL)
- WBA 0-2 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 3-6 Chelsea (Prem)
- Everton 2-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Leicester 2-2 Everton (Prem)
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Palace 0-0 Burnley (Prem)
- Newcastle 3-3 Palace (Prem)
- Walsall 0-3 Palace (LC)
- Palace 1-3 West Ham (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-1 Palace (Prem)
In Bob Martin's first season at Goodison, Everton aimed for the twinkling stars of the Champions League but only succeeded in joining the ever-circling holding pattern of the Europa.
With the group stage underway, not only must the Toffees grow accustomed to the Thursday-Sunday timeshift – the Europa's psychological jetlag – but they've also got to shoehorn in a Tuesday trip to Swansea in the League Cup before Saturday lunchtime's Mersey derby: four games in 10 days which will test the depth of Everton's squad.
Worryingly for Martinez, it's not as if the first XI has started the season that well. Last Saturday's 2-0 win at West Brom was the first time this season the soft-centred Toffees hadn't conceded at least two goals - but they'd have been hard pushed to, considering West Brom only managed one shot on target.
In the two home league games, last season's first-choice back six – Coleman, Jagielka, Distin and Baines protected by Barry and McCarthy – leaked eight goals to Arsenal and Chelsea. At The Hawthorns John Stones replaced Distin in central defence. Although Europe may mean some squad-shuffling, with the Frenchman nearing 37 you'd expect the Barnsley kid to become first choice soon – especially as his patiently accurate distribution suits Martinez's methods: at West Brom he completed 50 of his 52 passes.
Neil Warnock's sides tend to follow a different template: at home to Burnley last weekend, Palace centre-back Damien Delaney completed a rather more terse 11 out of 19, mostly hoisted up the left wing in the general direction of Wilf Zaha. Warnock will tell you the fans won't mind as long as it causes excitement, and the Eagles sure soared under the direct wingplay of Tony Pulis. But Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton only had to field three accurate efforts, with Julian Speroni's late penalty save preventing Palace propping up the league.
Still, Warnock will hitch up his tracky bottoms and send his side out to startle Everton. In this, Palace have previous: their 3-2 win at Goodison in April did as much as anything to spoil the Toffees' top-four tilt – after Martinez's men had motored to six straight victories, it was the first of three defeats in four league games. Furthermore, the Londoners have won three of their last five league visits to Goodison; last season's was the Eagles' only win against the Toffees since the fourth month of Tony Blair's premiership.
Working with the reduced budget that partly prompted Pulis's departure, Warnock has recruited well: Zaha adds zip, McArthur will keep things ticking over in the middle and Kevin Doyle will chase lost causes up top. He and Martinez may be very different characters – one born in 1940s Yorkshire austerity, the other a cosmopolitan child of the 1970s – but each has to maximise his resources in his own special way. How well each man does that will determine more than just this result.
Everton's team will depend partly on the effects of Europa exertions, but Samuel Eto'o should be available after recovering from the groin twinge that kept him out at West Brom. Distin and Tony Hibbert add options in defence, but don't expect to see Arouna Kone (knee) or Bryan Oviedo (broken leg).
Palace won't be rushing Marouane Chamakh back into action: Warnock expects him to return against Leicester next weekend. Joe Ledley has recovered from the ankle injury he managed to pick up in the dugout last weekend: "I don't know how that happened," quoth the Yorkshireman, who is preparing to send fringe players like Jonny Williams, Peter Ramage and Paddy McCarthy out on loan.
Key battle: Seamus Coleman vs Wilfried Zaha
Although Everton got back to winning ways at West Brom, Coleman was unusually cautious in his distribution: of his 46 attempted passes, 24 went backwards and only 16 forwards (by comparison, of Leighton Baines' 66 passes 29 went forward and only 22 back). He may have to err on the side of caution in order to combat Zaha, a key Palace out-ball against Burnley – although Jason Puncheon on the other wing contributed more take-ons (6 vs 3) and chances created (4 vs 1).
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Everton 2-3 Palace (PL, Apr 14)
- Palace 0-0 Everton (PL, Nov 13)
- Everton 4-0 Palace (PL, Apr 05)
- Palace 1-3 Everton (PL, Aug 04)
- Everton 1-1 Palace (LC, Sep 01)
Martinez is too polite and Warnock too savvy to be confrontational over each other's tactics, but their post-match comments reveal a sneaking mutual admiration. After Swansea lost 2-0 at Palace in September 2008, the Spaniard said: "We lacked the mental strength to regain our composure and pattern of play."
By the time of the return match in March, Martinez had done his homework – "We knew we were going to face a very defensive Crystal Palace" – but couldn't help a 3-1 loss.
"They worked hard to stop us playing. They only had three shots on goal but scored three times." Warnock, in response, chuckled: "You can't help but play football on such a superb pitch. You either let them have the ball and defend or have a go at them and put pressure on and that's what we did." Swans subsequently dropped out of the play-off race.
On the only other occasion their paths crossed, in an August 2011 Premier League match, Martinez's Wigan easily dispatched Warnock's struggling QPR 2-0 – but then went on a nine-match losing streak. The Spaniard will be hoping not to incur the curse of Warnock again.
Facts and figures
- Jason Puncheon has played twice at Goodison Park in the Premier League and scored on both occasions.
- Everton are the second top scorers with 9 goals, but they have conceded the most (10).
- Everton have won their last 4 Premier League games on a Sunday, keeping a clean sheet in the last 3.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Intriguing clash of styles which Martinez will want to put to bed before half-time, but as the hosts tire Palace may find joy down the wings. 1-1.