Everton meet Stoke City on Sunday on the back of two consecutive Premier League victories and with the intention of becoming the latest side to capitalise on the Potters’ Europa League commitments. Tony Pulis’ team have won only once after featuring in continental action this season, in August, suffering four heavy defeats and two draws from the other games.
In recent years, when Stoke have come to Goodison Park, it has been a destructive and stout performance by the visitors. Last season a Yakubu goal gave Everton a slender victory while a year earlier Stoke battled to a 1-1 draw. Fine margins decided both results. This season, however, Stoke have the added expense of the Europa League, a competition Everton know well and desire to again be part of. But it appears to have hampered Stoke’s league form. Stoke lost 5-0 to Bolton in their last post-Europa League match, 3-1 to Arsenal in the one before that, 2-0 to Swansea City in early October and 4-0 to Sunderland in mid-September. Whatever the reasons behind these results – and the Europa League is just one possible explanation – it is a pattern Everton must prolong to hold on to hope of playing in the tournament themselves next season.
After Apostolos Vellios’ goal against Bolton last week much of the tactical speculation has centred on whether or not the young Greek striker will supplant Louis Saha in the starting line-up against Stoke. Vellios’ extra height could prove useful against the gargantuan Stoke defence, but in an Everton side lacking inspiration, Saha’s (admittedly lately rarely-seen) skill for producing something from nothing could be even more important. The most likely scenario is that whichever striker starts will play little more than an hour before being replaced by the other. While there are a number of Evertonians who would prefer to see both starting, with Vellios leading the line and Saha playing off the 19-year-old, that would be a deviation from the norm under Moyes.
Whoever starts against Stoke will have to be physically ready to hold out against two combative central defenders, and will also need plenty of support from his midfield colleagues. If it arrives Everton should be enjoying a third triumph in a row come Monday.
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