Match day. Feels like a long time since we last had to play a midweek match. Everton visits today and this is a big clash because both sides are chasing that elusive Champions League spot. Only 4 points separates us and them, not the safest of margins when there are still 6 matches left to be played. This match is the 2nd toughest remaining one for us, after the upcoming Manchester United match.
Everton are in good form themselves, winning 4 of their last five Premier Leagues matches. The only other one which they failed to win was a very credible away draw at Sp*rs. Marouanne Fellaini and Steven Pienaar returned to the squad as of the last match and that will only add to the difficulty of this fixture for us. David Moyes have been touted as one of the challengers for manager of the season and it’s easy to see why.
While, they have remained a relatively small squad, Everton have managed to hold their own in the chase for a top four finish. They have been lucky with injuries and possess threats from all over the pitch. In Leighton Baines, they have a full back in the ilk of Cashley Cole (in his prime). Able to bomb forward and provide defensive cover in equal measure, we have to ensure that he doesn’t get to do the former as often as he does.
For that reason, Theo Walcott has to start. Our highest salary earner’s pace will ensure that Baines be more wary about his positioning. The same tactic is normally used when we play Chelsea and I hope the same is done today to negate one of Everton’s attacking options. That may come at the expense of Gervinho, who until the last match, has done reasonably well. It’s unfortunate for him but we need to adjust according to opponents.
Over on the other side, the Everton threat comes from Kevin Mirallas. The Belgian has impressed, every time I’ve seen him play. Pace in abundance, coupled with good dribbling skills, his runs will have to be watch. Once he gets into his stride, he will be hard to stop. For that reason, I hope Ignacio Monreal gets a start. The Spaniard is more alert comparatively to Kieran Gibbs and thus, could do a better job of sticking to Mirallas.
The much tougher threat to negate from Everton is Fellaini. We can’t have him winning headers and flicking the ball on. We don’t quite have the height in midfield to battle high balls against him and I’d rather not see the central defenders being pulled further forward and out of position. Which is why, I might suggest that Francis Coquelin gets his first start since that loss to Blackburn in the FA Cup. The Frenchman may not win a single header against Fellaini but he’s more alert to react to the second balls.
Having seen them play, it’s difficult to find any specific flaw or weakness within this Everton side. Only one aspect screams out to me and that is the earlier mentioned “small squad”. It means these players have played a lot of matches and we’re coming to the phase of the season where the fitness levels will drop. We have to use that to our advantage, one way is to play with a high tempo and don’t allow Everton to slow down the game.
For that part to materialise, it would be better to have Tomas Rosicky back into the starting line-up. While Jack Wilshere was not up to mark in the previous match, I’m hard pressed to remember the last time he was exceptionally poor in consecutive matches. I will have no concern if Wilshere starts but in order for us to play at a higher tempo, Rosicky’s presence will be crucial. The Czech just makes the team work harder, his pressing game provides the lead for others to follow.
In other team news, Lukasz Fabianski received a kick on Saturday and is in doubt for today’s match. Opens a path to reintroduce Wojciech Szczesny back into the fold. It would be interesting to see how the younger Pole respond after being dropped for poor performances. That said, I’m not sure how much being out for 5 games would cause a young man to improve himself. On the other hand, Fabianski really has no luck with these things. Whenever he gets match time, he doesn’t get to sustain the run because some injury will prop up. The opposite happens when he stays fit.
There’s no two ways about it today. We have to win this match because of two aspects. One, is to keep piling on the pressure to Chelsea and Sp*rs. To keep increasing the lead we have on them before they next take to the field. The other aspect would be to ensure that Everton will have no chance to overtake us. Whether or not they claim fourth spot, depends on the other teams.
Onwards and upwards. Let’s go for the 6th win.