Two FA Cup semi-finalists in disappointing league form meet as Watford take on Everton at Vicarage Road, where the sides – both led by Spanish managers – will be greeted by a rousing reception to the tune of Z-Cars.
The important thing for Watford as they headed to Arsenal for their last match was not to concede an early goal, but that objective failed as they were behind within four minutes and were unable to compete with their third-placed opponents for the remainder of the game, with forays forward proving extremely few and far between. There was little for the front two to feed off, while the defence struggled to cope against the fluency that Arsenal showed in the final third.
It is a huge occasion coming up for Hornets next week as they attempt to reach the FA Cup final for the first time since 1984, but they must look to ensure that their Premier League campaign does not fizzle out. Goals continue to prove a problem as only bottom club Aston Villa have scored less, so they will be hoping to exploit the weaknesses of an Everton defence that has found the going tough for some time, with Odion Ighalo sure to remember the manner in which he floored John Stones when the clubs met on opening day.
Stones has been back in the spotlight in recent days as he continues to receive public backing from key figures within the game in spite of a shaky performance for England against The Netherlands, before he was partially at fault for the goal which saw them lose at Manchester United in the club’s most recent outing. It was a soft one to concede as they came away with nothing from a game in which they more than matched a side battling to achieve Champions League football.
Indeed, that is what a side like Everton should be aiming for rather than languishing in mid-table, as they currently do. It has been a story of underachievement for Roberto Martinez and his players, with the considerable efforts of top scorer Romelu Lukaku constantly undermined by frailties at the back. Gerard Deulofeu was their brightest spark at Man Utd, and he can again be expected to play a major part here up against Nathan Ake, who is not a natural left-back.
Watford have midfielder Valon Behrami back available after illness, and have no new injury problems to contend with.
Experienced duo Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar are both major doubts for Everton, but Gareth Barry returns from a two-match ban.
Last Meeting: It was an easy 3-0 win for Everton as they continued their surge up the Premier League table in February 2007 and kept Watford marooned at the bottom. A mistake from goalkeeper Richard Lee led to the first as his spill allowed Manuel Fernandes to turn the ball in from close range, and shortly after Andrew Johnson converted a penalty to make it two. The result was sealed by Leon Osman’s excellent strike in second half stoppage time.