After the high of booking a place in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley against Liverpool, Everton are back to reality with a Premier League fixture against West Bromwich Albion. The success against Sunderland has presented David Moyes with a quandary over whether to stick with the side that blew past the Mackems or make changes to the line-up to play the Baggies.
Moyes has tinkered with the XI in recent weeks, with Phil Jagielka slotting in to the back four in place of John Heitinga, while Phil Neville started in central midfield against Swansea City with Marouane Fellaini a substitute. Both Heitinga and Fellaini were instrumental in Everton’s 2-0 win over Martin O’Neill’s Black Cats and could be forgiven if they were still a little tired from the exertion and the emotion of the night.
Jagielka has proven more than capable of partnering Sylvain Distin, while Neville was one of Everton’s stand-out performers against Swansea and performed well at right-back against Sunderland. Moyes also has other options in these positions, and whether or not he even makes any changes remains to be seen.
One player who ordinarily would be guaranteed to return to the side is Steven Pienaar, the on-loan winger who is unavailable for the FA Cup after playing in the competition for parent club Tottenham Hotspur. To assume Pienaar will walk back into the side against West Brom, however, would be to do a disservice to Magaye Gueye. The French winger was perhaps Everton’s most surprising selection at Sunderland, but one who responded with the best performance of his Everton career.
When the team news broke it would have been understandable to assume Gueye was included by default, with Pienaar unavailable, Seamus Coleman injured and Royston Drenthe in the Netherlands on compassionate leave, depriving Moyes of most of his options on the left wing. The last men standing really were Gueye and Victor Anichebe. Moyes plumped for the former and witnessed a sterling effort that created Everton’s first goal and menaced the Sunderland defence all evening. Dropping Gueye now would be harsh in the extreme on the 21-year-old, even with Pienaar waiting in the wings.
It is of course possible that Pienaar will return to the side in a position other than his usual left wing station, since he can play on either side or centrally. Pienaar however is the player who usually makes Everton tick and their most dangerous attacking outlet in conjunction with left-back Leighton Baines. At home to a sturdy West Brom the Toffees may need that craft in its most effective position.
Gueye could also switch positions, and has featured on the right of midfield as well as his natural left, but Moyes may be wary of disrupting the momentum of Everton as a team and Gueye as an individual by shunting players across the field. That said, with a Wembley date on the horizon, the Premier League is distinctly low in Everton’s priorities.
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