The FourFourTwo Preview: Sunderland vs Everton
The clash of the calamity clubs – Everton and Sunderland have made more mistakes leading to goals than any other Premier League clubs, with six and five bloopers respectively. Do pack your corset.
- Palace 1-3 S’land (Prem)
- S’land 0-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- So’ton 8-0 S’land (Prem)
- S’land 3-1 Stoke (Prem)
- S’land 0-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Everton vs Lille (EL)
- Everton 0-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Burnley 1-3 Everton (Prem)
- Lille 0-0 Everton (EL)
- Everton 3-0 Villa (Prem)
The Table never lies, they say, and as we stand a quarter of the way through the season, one look at The Table tells us that if Sunderland beat Everton at the Stadium of Light on Sunday afternoon, they will have gone from the relegation places to within a sniff of the Euro zone and the top four in the blink of two games.
This unexpected about-turn in form speaks volumes for Sunderland's resilience. Or it speaks volumes about the quality of the Premier League this season. It might be both, it's hard to be sure anymore.
The truth is that Sunderland's scrappy and fortuitous win at Crystal Palace shouldn't have fooled many people into thinking the Black Cats are anything other than nervous participants in the Premier League again this season.
The return of Steven Fletcher as a sly predator is a much-needed bonus but the meltdown at Southampton and the self-inflicted implosion at home to Arsenal hint at the team's soft underbelly.
But, as The Table tells us, that win on Monday followed by another on Saturday would take Sunderland into another international break in a far happier place. Even a draw would suffice, you'd think.
However, Everton should offer stiffer resistance than Palace, particularly given they've fared far better on the road than at Goodison Park of late, with six wins and two draws in their last 10 away days.
They arrive on the back of a turgid goalless draw at home to Swansea (their first 0-0 in 37 games) in which they never suggested they would trouble the scoreboard.
With Gareth Barry forced to drop into defence and Ross Barkley criminally wasted out on the left, they played at plodding pace and lacked the spark or invention to break down a team set up to protect a tedious draw.
"It was like going into the cinema expecting to see an outstanding film and you don't get it," harrumphed film buff Roberto Martinez. Two successive wins before that had pointed Everton in the right direction and they themselves harbour loose and whispered ambitions of chasing down a Champions League place this season.
For them, 9th place could become 6th with a win at the Stadium of Light, which would put them within touching distance of the top four, rubbing shoulders with Swansea, West Ham and Southampton. The Table doesn't lie, but it has a very mischievous sense of humour.
Sunderland’s Patrick van Aanholt is out with a dislocated shoulder. Lee Cattermole picked up his fifth yellow of the season and is suspended, which was as inevitable as it will be damaging to Sunderland's chances. Billy Jones remains sidelined with a hamstring problem, but Jack Rodwell should be back to face his former club.
For Everton, Antolin Alcaraz’s own shoulder injury, dislocated in collision with the immovable Wilfried Bony, may need surgery and should rule the Paraguayan out for a lengthy spell. None of their other injured troops (Gibson, Oviedo, Stones, Miralles and particularly Kone) are close to a return. Barry damaged an ankle in Thursday night's Europa League victory over Lille and will be assessed ahead of the trip to the North East.
Player to watch: Ross Barkley (Everton)
Shoved out left onto the edges of the action against Swansea, Everton clearly missed the craft and creativity of the Gazza clone, whose return to the side after knee ligament injury saw Everton record back-to-back wins.
Toothless against Swansea, Everton need Barkley's threat and ability to feed Samuel Eto'o, who this week suggested his team-mate can become "this unique player that everyone dreams of".
Like Wayne Rooney, he said, which may actually be the stuff of nightmares. Fitness permitting, Barkley is the key component, though Sunderland's propensity for comical own goals may be as influential a factor.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- S’land 0-1 Everton (PL, Apr 14)
- Everton 0-1 S’land (PL, Dec 13)
- S’land 1-0 Everton (PL, Apr 13)
- Everton 2-1 S’land (PL, Nov 12)
- Everton 4-0 S’land (PL, Apr 12)
Irked that Everton opened the season by conceding 13 goals in five games, Martinez labelled his team “a little bit soft defensively”. He’ll be mildly content that they kept a clean sheet against Swansea, particularly as they did so with Barry playing at centre-half, but now concerned that a team he described as being "ready to hurt anyone" going forward couldn't even bruise the Swans.
Clearly a work in progress, then, but will Martinez even be the man to continue that work? He is supposedly in the crosshairs of Inter Milan, who may soon be on the lookout for a new coach, so possibly not.
By contrast, Gus Poyet is going nowhere, arguably in more ways than one.
The Uruguayan called for patience after the recent defeat to Arsenal. "There is an advantage for people who have a squad that is together and you add quality and what you are missing," he said, "and another team where you start from zero every single year, and every year you have to see if you have the characters."
What he meant by that was that he'd like to have as long rebuilding Sunderland as Arsene Wenger has had at Arsenal. Eighteen years and counting? 2031? Good luck with that.
Facts and figures
- Romelu Lukaku has scored 3 goals in 4 Premier League appearances against Sunderland.
- Since August 2011, Steven Fletcher has scored 11 headed goals in the Premier League, a total only Peter Crouch can match.
- Sunderland have not failed to score in a Sunday home game since losing 1-0 to Man United on the final day of the 2011/12 season (have scored in 9 consecutive games since then).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Sunderland 1-2 Everton, all of them own goals.