The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs Everton
Mark Hughes attempts to patch up Stoke's defensive wounds as they meet his former club (remember that?), while Everton smell blood.
Let's start off by insulting just about everybody: it's a testament to the Premier League's poor standard this year that Stoke are 12th. This isn't a dig at Stoke as a unit, and in fact the league's currently-diminished quality is leading to exciting battles for first, fourth and 17th, but a note that the Potters are haemorrhaging goals on the road (well, not literally on the road... or literally at all, in fact) yet still command a healthy league position.
- Spurs 3-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Newcastle 5-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 2-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Stoke 0-2 Man Utd (LC)
- Hull 0-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Everton 0-1 S'land (Prem)
- Swansea 1-2 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 4-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-1 Everton (Prem)
Halfway through the season, they sit two points off the top half. With 21 points they stand to finish on 42, which in previous campaigns would signify a mopping of brows for narrowly avoiding relegation; this time around, it'll be a popping of whatever cut-price champagne corks go with a mid-table finish. We may see 30 points as a surviving total.
It means Stoke don't have to cast too many nervous glances over their shoulders. But their new tendency to mentally capitulate in unfortunate circumstances does need addressing. While Tony Pulis' Crystal Palace were making Manchester City work for a win, Hughes' Potters were rolling over to have their tummies tickled as soon as Tottenham took the lead.
And while Stoke were deeply unfortunate to have two men sent off at Newcastle, they don't help themselves: two days later, Charlie Adam and Steven N'Zonzi went unpunished for, respectively, a reckless studs-up challenge and throwing a punch.
Things are much rosier in Everton's garden, although they did allow Southampton within their battlements a number of times in their 2-1 win. Being in the Champions League places at the halfway stage is something David Moyes never managed after they finished fourth in 2004/05, and the Toffees theoretically have the traditional strong finishes of both the club and Roberto Martinez still to come.
Their defence has been better than many expected under the Spaniard, conceding the fewest goals in the league and losing only two games. The question is whether they have the staying power.
Stoke will give a late fitness test to square-jawed leviathan Robert Huth (knacked knee), while Thomas Sorensen, 37, will continue to deputise for finger-foiled Asmir Begovic. Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson return from suspension, but Andy Wilkinson needs his heel to heal.
For Everton, Arouna Kone and Da-doo-ron-ron Gibson are long-term casualties, while Phil Jagielka also misses out, resting up with a hamstring problem. At least he'll catch the new series of Sherlock. Gerard Deulofeu's injury means we won't get to see if a talented Barcelona sprite can do it on a wet and windy Wednesday in Stoke, although his impeccable performance in the 4-0 win at Goodison Park in the reverse fixture suggests he probably could. Tim Howard returns from suspension, giving Joel Robles the opportunity to rewatch in his mind the horror show that was his attempted save against Gaston Ramirez on Sunday.
Player to watch: Seamus Coleman (Everton)
Leighton Baines has been among the top candidates for the Premier League's best left-back for several seasons, but his friend on the opposite flank is now being counted among the best right-backs.
Coleman arrived at Goodison Park for a five-figure sum, making Swansea's signing of Michu look like so much money tossed into the wind. Since then the Irishman (that's, uh, not Michu) has been a distracted glow-worm – bright in intermittent spells – until this season, when he has shone for all to see. He has just proposed to his girlfriend of nine years, too, which is nice.
With great positional awareness in attack, a hammer of a shot (which Southampton found to their cost last weekend) and a fondness for taking on a defender or seven, the newly-betrothed Coleman is cause for Stoke left-back Erik Pieters to be on his guard.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Everton 4-0 Stoke (Prem, Nov 13)
- Everton 1-0 Stoke (Prem, Mar 13)
- Stoke 1-1 Everton (Prem, Dec 12)
- Stoke 1-1 Everton (Prem, May 12)
- Everton 0-1 Stoke (Prem, Dec 11)
Hughes is as prickly as ever, questioning referees' decisions in the 5-1 defeat to Newcastle (when he may have had a point) and the 3-0 loss to Tottenham (not so much). He wasn't alone, though: club chairman Peter Coates railed against officials after both matches. In fairness, you'd be paranoid if everybody was out to get you.
Hughes is playing down expectations in the transfer market, warning fans that they may face "a long window" in their search for more attacking options, as nobody is lined up at the moment.
Martinez may also have a difficult January ahead of him. Baines will most likely be the subject of another Man United bid. Martinez has, however, called the 37 points Everton have already amassed "an outstanding return", probably because he's used to getting around that many across a whole season.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Stoke have only won 2 of their last 16 league games against Everton (D5 L9).
- In the reverse fixture in November, Everton scored more goals (4) than they had in their last 5 meetings with Stoke in the Premier League combined (3).
- Stoke have had draw/draw results in their last 5 home draws.
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The Everton bandwagon keeps on rollin'. 1-2.