The last time Everton and Newcastle met the Toffees were completely outplayed at Goodison Park. That was in September, when a stunning Hatem Ben Arfa goal gave the visitors a victory achieved with ease and left Everton 19th in the early Premier League table, and caused scenes at the final whistle similar to those witnessed against Reading, when a hail of boos rained down on the defeated home players. Newcastle were dominant at Goodison that September afternoon, in control without having to seriously exert themselves and could boast far and away the best individual player on the day, Cheick Tiote, who did not misplace a pass all game and stood head and shoulders above an Everton midfield containing Marouane Fellaini and Mikel Arteta.
When the two sides do battle again on Saturday Arteta may feature but Fellaini definitely will not after the Belgian was ruled out for the rest of the season due to an ankle injury. With Tim Cahill also absent Jack Rodwell is a probable starter and he and Arteta will have to get the better of Tiote in a way Arteta, Fellaini, and John Heitinga failed to do last year, and the way Arteta and Rodwell failed to do against Reading also. Given that Arteta has been out of form for much of the campaign and Fellaini will not to be seen in action again this term, the spotlight falls on Rodwell in a way it has not yet in his short career. Arteta’s form shows little sign of improvement – at least not enough to justify his £75 000 a week wage packet, since, for that price, beating the first man from a set-piece should not be too much to ask – and Rodwell is left, by the injuries to Cahill and Fellaini, as the player asked to drive Everton’s midfield, a great deal of pressure on the shoulders of someone who does not turn 20 until next week.
Rodwell’s long-term future may let lie away from Merseyside, since Sir Alex Ferguson tried to steal him away in January, but for the short-term the England U-21 international is likely to get the chance to solidify his reputation as one of the finest young midfielders in the country. Considering the respective injuries and losses of form of those around him Rodwell deserves as much, but his success or failure could be the defining feature of Everton’s late season.