West Ham United vs Everton: Roberto Martinez’s resurgent Toffees take on the Hammers

Roberto Martinez and his Everton side will be overflowing with confidence as they prepare to travel to the Boleyn Ground in order to face West Ham United on Saturday afternoon – but they will also know that they will have a tough game on their hands.

The signs couldn’t be much better for the Toffees, after a recent run of form has seen them move up the Premier League table and also advance to the Capital One Cup quarter-finals – courtesy of a win over Norwich City on penalties.

It was last Sunday’s flurry of goals at Goodison Park that will have the fans purring in anticipation, however, after Martinez’s side dismantled struggling Sunderland 6-2 – a hattrick from Arouna Koné amongst the highlights in a game where Everton really showcased their attacking potential.

“They are going to be challenging to finish in the top five”

– Roberto Martinez

Martinez knows, however, that Sunday’s trip will far from be a walk in the park, as he paid the London club a high compliment in suggesting that they are a “top five side.” Speaking about the Hammers’ strong results – and great performances – this season, Martinez described Bilić’s side as “very impressive” suggesting that the Toffees would definitely have to prepare properly and “make sure we’re ready” for the game this weekend.

Martinez is not wrong in his assessment. West Ham’s season has already included wins over Manchester City,  Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool – and the Hammers have lost just three games all campaign. Bilić’s impact has been instantaneous and they are a threat for any team – despite their poor record in fixtures against Everton.

The Toffees will take heart in Watford’s 2-0 win over West Ham last weekend – a result that ended a seven-match unbeaten run for Bilić’s side – and will be encouraged by the fact that West Ham haven’t won a game in this fixture for the last 14 encounters.

With both teams pushing for the Europa League places – West Ham sitting fifth, just below Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference, and Everton just four points adrift in ninth – three points for either side would be a big boost to their chances. Expect a lively, competitive affair when the teams come out on Saturday afternoon.

Squad news

For West Ham and Bilić, they will have to take to the field without James Collins, after his red card in the defeat to Watford last weekend left him suspended. Pedro Obiang and Diafra Sako are also doubts – both with thigh problems – but Winston Reid could return after his spell on the substitutes bench, while Alex Song is also thought to be almost back to full match fitnress.

The visitors have issues of their own, with captain Phil Jagiela still out with a knee injury – a problem that could keep him sidelined for two months. Replacement Ramiro Funes Mori looks set to continue in his place. Steven Pienaar and Tony Hibbert will not play a part in the game, and Bryan Oviedo has a hamstring issue, but Muhammed Besic, Tom Cleverley and Leighton Baines have all been in training this week.


Everton vs Sunderland: Terrific Toffees run riot at Goodison

As the wreaths were removed from the field and the minute’s silence broken by the fans in the stands, Everton and Sunderland got set to play out an entertaining affair on a misty, drizzly day at Goodison Park.

Roberto Martinez’s Toffees were looking to build on their midweek Capital One Cup success against Norwich and they did exactly that, goals from Gerard Deulofeu, Romelu Lukaku, a hattrick from Arouna Koné and an own goal from Sebastian Coates  enough–despite Jermain Defoe’s strike on the stroke of half-time, and Steven Fletcher‘s header just after—to give them 6-2 win, and all three points.

It was a bright start, a sign of things to come, from both teams, with the first chance falling to the away side. Fletcher was alert to a ball forward, winning the flick on and receiving the ball back from Adam Johnson. The Scot cut the ball nicely across the area, but Patrick van Aanholt’s shot clattered against the inside of Tim Howard’s right-hand post. The Black Cats were left bemoaning their luck—in sharp contrast to their fortunes in the 3-0 win against Newcastle United last weekend.

Chances at both ends

Sunderland, buoyed since Sam Allardyce arrived at the club, looked sharp in the early stages, Fletcher linking well with Defoe up front. However, with the game extremely open in midfield, there were chances for both teams. First, Gareth Barry streamed forward, the Sunderland players allowing him the time to carry the ball 40 yards before offloading it to Ross Barkley. His snap shot flashed just wide, but Everton were beginning to look dangerous.

The action was lively and end-to-end, Sunderland streaming forward again, trying to make the most of a strong opening 15 minutes in which they were arguably the better side. Defoe, picking the ball up on the edge of the area from a squared van Aanholt pass, managed to get his shot away, forcing a save from Howard with his feet. The rebound fell straight to Johnson, but his scuffed shot tumbled its way onto the post again, before Fletcher’s follow up was quickly smothered again by Howard—leaving Allardyce’s side wondering how they hadn’t taken the lead.

Everton take a foothold

Despite all Sunderland’s pressure, however, it was the home side that broke the deadlock on 19 minutes after some poor defending. A headed ball down in midfield found Koné, before his raking ball over the top of the back four found Deulofeu in acres of space. Keeping his composure well, the ex-Barcelona man cut inside before slotting the ball home—via a slight deflection—past Costel Pantilimon to give Everton the lead.

Just a short time later and Sunderland still hadn’t learned their lesson, Deulofeu finding himself in an almost identical position, this time holding the ball up and squaring it across the box, just missing the onrushing Lukaku. Sunderland breathed a sigh of relief and minutes later were appealing for a penalty. Fletcher’s volleyed shot from distance bounced up and hit Barry on the arm—the referee rightly turning down Sunderland’s protests.

Just after the half hour mark and Everton had doubled their lead with a delightful move. Barkley, given far too much time in midfield, slotted a ball into Koné’s feet on the edge of the area. A quick give-and-go with Lukaku inside the box—wonderfully executed—provided the chance, and Koné lashed the ball into the back of the net from close range. A great move from the Toffees and a vital second goal.

A difference to the team talk

Without warning, Sunderland’s bright start had evaporated with some slick Everton football—and all of a sudden the pressure was all on Allardyce’s side. Two goals up and in control, Everton switched the ball from side to side with ease, Sunderland struggling to get out of the own half.

Then, perhaps typical of the way the game had been played in the first half, a bit of encouragement for Sunderland against the run of play in stoppage time. Defoe, latching on well to a ball up front, brought it down nicely and got his shot away, over the reach of Howard and into the back of the net. With the last kick of the half, and out of nowhere, Defoe had given his side a way back into the game.

End-to-end action

Just ten minutes into the second half and Defoe became the difference again—this time as the instigator rather than the goalscorer. Picking up the ball from a lumped ball forward, Defore held the ball up well before giving it to van Aanholt. His cross seemed nothing more than a hopeful punt inside the area, but Fletcher rose tallest to bully Ramiro Funes Mori and head the ball home. From looking completely out of the game, Sunderland were right back in it at 2-2.

Barely had the fans managed to catch their breath, however, before Everton once again had their noses in front. Deulofeu, minutes after having a penalty appeal rightly turned down after getting in behind the Sunderland defence, swung a teasing ball into the area towards Lukaku. The Belgian, looking like heading the ball home, forced Coates to try get a touch, and he steered the ball past his own goalkeeper. Breathless action as the Toffees took a 3-2 lead.

Beyond doubt

On the hour, Sunderland capitulated, and this time Lukaku managed to get his goal. A long ball forward by Deulofeu—-once more causing all sorts of problems—again split the Sunderland defence, and the big Belgian kept his cool to move around the goalkeeper and slot it home.

Moments later and Everton had made it five in explosive fashion, streaming forward on the counter with Barkley. Held up, James McCarthy played a lovely little reverse ball into Koné’s feet, and he added his second of the game to surely put the result beyond doubt, and end Sunderland’s resistence at 5-2.

Everton, confidence flowing as it does with a three-goal lead 25 minutes from time, started to stroke the ball around with ease – the highlight of which was a move in which 40+ passes were exchanged. Things could have been made all the worse if the referee would have spotted Koné being clattered inside the area—a definite penalty with the Ivory Coast man on a hat-trick.

Six of the best

However, he need not wait long as Everton added their sixth in 76th minute, in emphatic fashion. Lukaku, picking the ball up on the right, played an incredible outside-of-the-boot cross, in exhibition style, right onto the head of the onrushing Koné. His header crashed into the back of the net as the roof exploded from the top of Goodison Park. A short time later Lukaku was removed to standing ovation—as was Deulofeu earlier in the half, replaced by Kevin Mirallas—for fan-favourite Leon Osman.

Arguably one of the most entertaining Premier League games this season; an explosive affair with eight goals and plenty of end-to-end action. The Toffees march on with three points safely under wraps and a run of potentially good fixtures ahead.

As the fans stream out of Goodison Park this afternoon, they will know they have been given a real post-Halloween treat.

Everton vs Sunderland: Toffees looking to build on cup success

As Everton prepare to face Sunderland at Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon, they will be looking to push forward in the Premier League after progressing to the Capital One Cup quarter-finals in midweek.

Cup success

Spanish boss Roberto Martinez will be delighted with his side’s victory over Norwich City on Tuesday night – the Toffees progressing  4-3 on penalties after the sides could not be separated (1-1) in 90 minutes plus extra time.

It is an added boost of confidence for a side that have won just one of its last five games, with defeats against  Arsenal and  Manchester United in recent weeks – despite some promising performances.

“In the derby they were very good”

– Roberto Martinez

Martinez, speaking ahead of the visit from Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce, has spoken at length on the impact a new manager can have on a team’s performances, describing the Black Cats 3-0 Wear-Tyne derby win over Newcastle United as being “very good”. Indeed, Allardyce’s arrival has prompted a renewed sense of belief in Sunderland – who are struggling in 18th place in the league table, with just six points – but Martinez remains confident that all at Goodison “know the strengths of [the] Sunderland side”.

Weathered the storm?

Everton have had a tough run of fixtures to open their league campaign, and despite coming through relatively unscathed – with a good 3-1 victory over champions  Chelsea and sitting 11th in the Premier League table – Martinez knows that now is the time for performances to approve, and for the points to accumulate.

Sunderland’s visit will far from be an easy one for the Toffees, with confidence high after their comprehensive derby victory last weekend. Despite that, Sunderland’s vulnerabilities are there to be highlighted; the Black Cats still only have six points to their name this season, and still sit just inside the relegation places.

That there is an improved atmosphere around the Sunderland camp is undeniable, but the Everton faithful will remain confident that the Toffees can take a valuable three points on Sunday afternoon.

Squad news

Everton will have to face the visit of Sunderland without some major players, as captain Phil Jagielka remains sidelined with his knee injury, and influential right-back Seamus Coleman is a major doubt because of a stomach illness.

Roberto Martinez will welcome the return of Gareth Barry from suspension while Tim Howard will likely return as the manager reshuffles his squad after the victory over Norwich midweek.

Midfielder Gareth Barry returns from suspension while goalkeeper Tim Howard will be among the players to come back in after manager Roberto Martinez shuffled his pack for the win over Norwich. Muhammed Besic and Leighton Baines both returned to training on Friday.

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce will have some important, late decisions to make on a number of injured players. Olva Toivonen (groin), Younes Kaboul (gron), John O’Shea (hamstring) are doubtful, while Fabio Borini remains a concern after his ankle issues. None of the four players have been in training this week.

Everton vs Norwich City: Toffees go looking for cup success

The games are coming thick and fast as we enter the testing winter period for English football, with no time for Roberto Martinez‘s Everton to rest on their laurels. The Toffees are back in action at Goodison Park on Tuesday night, as they prepare to face Norwich City in the Capital One Cup.

Martinez’s side fell to their third Premier League defeat of the season on Saturday evening, coming unstuck in a 2-1 defeat to in-form Arsenal – but there were plenty of positives to take from the game – and Everton gave a competitive display that bodes well for future fixtures.

Looking forward

The Toffees have had a tough start to the campaign but have come through relatively unscathed – 11th in the the league table and just four points adrift of the Europa League places. With Sunderland ahead at the weekend, a midweek win in the cup against Norwich could build the players’ confidence and prompt the start of a useful run of results.

“We need to win for the confidence of the team”

– Gerard Deulofeu

Gerard Deulofeu, Everton’s Spanish attacker, who, despite not managing to guide his side to a share of the spoils on Saturday, had a good game against Arsenal – providing an assist for Ross Barkley‘s goal, and missing a chance for an equaliser late on – believes it is imperative that Everton win “for the confidence of the team, and fans.” Citing his belief that “Everton need to win a cup”, the ex-Barcelona man highlighted the fact that the Toffees need to bounce back after disappointment in recent weeks – and this might be the perfect opportunity for them to do just that.

Alex Neil‘s Norwich side have lost three straight games in the Premier League, including a heavy 6-2 defeat at the hands of struggling Newcastle United – and a 1-0 loss at home to West Bromwich Albion – in recent weeks.  At present they sit just three points above the relegation zone, and Martinez will like his side’s changes against a club that have shipped 21 goals in the league this season.

Squad news

The Everton faithful will believe a quarter-final is more than on the cards come Tuesday night, but they will have get past Norwich without captain Phil Jagielka – after suffering a knee injury in the loss to Arsenal – and without Gareth Barry, who is suspended.

Youssouf Mulumbu is out with a metatarsal injury for Norwich, and Gary Hooper is doubtful with an ankle problem. For Martinez, Tom Cleverley (ankle) and Steven Pienaar (hamstring) could potentially return.


Arsenal vs Everton: Toffees look to bounce back against confident Gunners

Roberto Martinez’s Everton side will know that to take points away from the Emirates Stadium on Saturday evening will be a big ask. Arsenal have been in fine form of late and the players will be high in confidence as they prepare for the Merseyside club’s visit.

Bouncing back

After the Toffees slipped to a disappointing 3-0 defeat against Manchester United last weekend, the focus from Martinez has been on his players giving a “reaction” to the result; performing at their highest level in order to prove that their last game was merely a speed bump on the road to success this season.

On an emotional day at Goodison Park – where shortly before kick-off it was announced that ex-Everton manager and fan-favourite Howard Kendall had sadly passed away, Everton were as lethargic as their fans were subdued, and ultimately got caught napping in what was a comfortable performance from the Manchester side.

After an inquest into what went wrong last weekend, Martinez has rightly been keen to rally his troops and turn the focus on the trip to the Emirates this weekend – but he knows that a game against one of the Premier League‘s in-form sides will be by no means easy.

A tough test

“Arsenal are really well organised, a creative attacking force”

– Roberto Martinez

The Spaniard was quick to offer praise to the opposition this week, as he impressed upon the team the need for Everton to play at their best if they are to come away with a good result. Martinez described Wenger’s side as  “really disciplined and well organised” in their impressive 2-0 midweek Champions League win against Bayern Munich, and highlighted their “creative… attacking force going forward” in the 3-0 win over Watford.

Despite Arsenal’s impressive league campaign so far – which sees them sit second in the table behind Manchester City – Martinez will know his side are capable of holding their own, having only lost two games themselves in the league this season. The Everton boss will be hoping his side can hit their previous standard that saw impressive results such as the 3-1 win over stuttering champions Chelsea last month.

Of course history is against them: Everton have not won a fixture at Arsenal since their 2-1 win in January 1996 – thanks to goals from Graham Stuart and Andrei Kanchelskis. However, football is never played on paper, and the Everton faithful will believe they can get their Premier League campaign back on track come Saturday evening.

Provisional squads:

Arsenal: Cech, Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerin, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott, Macey, Gibbs, Giroud, Campbell, Debuchy, Chambers, Gabriel, Flamini.

Everton: Howard, Robles, Jagielka, Stones, Funes Mori, Coleman, Browning, Galloway, Oviedo, McCarthy, Barry, Barkley, Cleverley, Gibson, Osman, Lennon, Naismith, Deulofeu, Mirallas, Kone, Lukaku.

Dortmund flying high: What a difference a month makes

Just less than a month ago, after suffering a 1-0 defeat to FC Augsburg – courtesy of Raúl Bobadilla’s second-half winner – Borussia Dortmund sat bottom of the Bundesliga table, licking their wounds. Critics were calling it a crisis, the players looked devastated despite the relentless positive comments being voiced from manager Jurgen Klopp, and the Champions League places seemed a mere pipe-dream.

Despite the knee-jerk reactions – and even some ridiculous suggestions of a relegation battle from some corners – there had been signs throughout Dortmund’s difficult patch that they would weather the storm. In particular: their form in Europe. Die Schwarzgelben blitzed through Group D, winning four of their games while drawing and losing one (their only loss coming in a dead rubber against Arsenal in their penultimate game of the Champions League group stages). Strangely, it was not Europe’s toughest competition that was causing them problems, but Germany’s tough top flight.

Sure enough, Klopp’s side have turned a corner, winning their last four Bundesliga games. Alongside champions Bayern Munich and their nearest rivals, the highly-entertaining Wolfsburg, over the past month they have had the best Bundesliga form. Encouragingly, they have scored 13 goals in those four fixtures – dispatching SC Freiburg (0-3), Mainz 05 (4-2) and VfB Stuttgart (2-3) in the process.

More importantly though, was last weekend’s 3-0 demolition job over Schalke 04 in the Revierderby last weekend. Dortmund finally looked back to their best and if it wasn’t for Schalke’s defence – and goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther – the deadlock would have been broken much earlier, as Klopp’s side looked like they were set to rue a number of missed chances.

To much relief from the Dortmund fans inside the Signal Iduna Park, eventually their relentless pressure paid dividends as they found the net on 78 minutes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the man who opened the scoring, after the Schalke defence failed to deal with a long ball forward. For some bizarre reason, out came a batman mask – Marco Reus proving to be his partner in crime, Robin.

Moments later the fans had something else to cheer, and the stadium erupted as Henrikh Mkhitaryan poked in a Güdogan cross – finally ending his long drought in front of goal. Reus, so often Dortmund’s saviour this season, topped the game off with a tap-in after a mistake from Wellenreuther to send the fans into raptures.

Dortmund are now tenth, and eyeing up the Champions League places, just eight points adrift. It is both indicative of how tight the Bundesliga is this season – its competitive nature throwing up many strange results – and highlights the problem with making knee-jerk decisions in the middle of the season. Klopp’s Dortmund have rallied as the unit they are, and are now looking forward to further successes.

A tough first leg in their Champions League last 16 game against Juventus ended in a 2-1 defeat, but do not be surprised to see them qualify with a solid home performance next time out. Meanwhile, the DFB Pokal awaits, with a game against Dynamo Dresden on Tuesday night.

Die Schwarzgelben have picked themselves up and now once more look like the force they one were. Teams in the Bundesliga and in Europe will be sure to watch their backs.

Wilfried Zaha: An Eagle flies home to the nest

As much as Deadline Day is built up and hyped to the rafters by media outlets and footballs fans alike, the surprises are in fact in short supply. Wilfried Zaha returning to Crystal Palace on a permanent transfer after a disappointing two years at Manchester United was not one of them. His move to the Eagles for £3m, just a fraction of the £20m United paid for him in January 2013, however, says it all.

On the surface, it would appear that Zaha was never given a chance at Old Trafford; indeed, he only made two appearances for the club and spent the vast majority of his time out on loan at Palace and Cardiff City. It is a situation that looks strange when you see Zaha play: a 22-year-old winger with bags of pace and plenty of skill to boot. So why was he not given more chance to excel for the Red Devils?

Sadly, it seems a case of the player’s own attitude holding him back from fulfilling his potential. For whatever reason, Zaha was never fully comfortable at United, whether it was in the final days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure, or David Moyes’ fateful season in charge. Constant reports surfaced of his lack of maturity or drive in training; famously, he was the only player in the entire squad that chose not to attend a voluntary training session under Louis Van Gaal. Not the best way to endear yourself to your new manager.

It is indicative of how bad the relationship between Zaha and the club has deteriorated, that United sold him for a staggering loss of £17m after just two appearances in the same amount of years. Zaha is still young and the suggestion that he could bounce back in his career would not be a ridiculous assumption. That Van Gaal and United did not feel that the risk was worth the rewards is astonishing: it is clear that the club wanted to cut ties with a fractious individual that was causing too many problems.

Noises coming out of Selhurst Park, however, have always been overwhelmingly positive; never once has there been the suggestion that Zaha is an immature individual not willing to show some effort. Did his ego swell when he made his big-money move to an elite club? Perhaps. The idea that a player has ‘made it’ has the potential to diminish the hard work put in to get there in the first place.

That being said, Zaha now returns home – an Eagle flying back to his nest. Selhurst Park has always been where he feels at ease, and after moving there on a permanent basis he now has the opportunity to re-start his career. Being just 22-years-old, Zaha potentially still has a bright future ahead of him – if he knuckles down.

Rejection from United does not mean that he will never play for a big club, as indeed some critics have suggested. The football world is a fickle one and opinions change with the wind. Right now Zaha would be considered a risk; he is raw and lacks the drive to make it at the top level. However, that is not to say that two or three solid years for the Eagles won’t make all the difference. Now settled, the young Englishman now has the opportunity for a fresh start – and who is to say he won’t make the most of it?

Manchester United: Picking a side for the visit of Leicester City

Revenge will be in the minds of the Manchester United fans – and perhaps even the players – as they pour into Old Trafford tomorrow, after last September’s incredible capitulation against Leicester City – the Foxes eventually running out 5-3 winners.

Much has changed since then, with Louis van Gaal’s side losing just two of their 17 Premier League games since the visit to the King Power Stadium. Leicester, on the other hand, have won just two, and are in danger of the relegation zone.

Here is a suggestion of how the Red Devils should line up tomorrow:

United line up vs Leicester.

Now, as far as squad selection goes, United have been as unpredictable as it gets. Injuries have not helped, of course, but Van Gaal’s attempts to enforce a 3-5-2 formation upon the side have not yielded pleasant rules. The fans against QPR the other week shouted ‘442, 442!’ from the stands in response to their side’s lack of creativity and penetration, and United must return to their comfort-zone fast. With the formation fixed*, let’s have a look at how the player selection fits:

*Disclaimer: Van Gaal will probably not go with this, and instead will stick with his favoured 3-5-2.

With Michael Carrick today confirmed as sidelined for four weeks through injury, the defensive midfield spot opens up once again, offering the chance for Daley Blind to move out of his place in defence – where he has played at both centre-back and left-back this season – and thus operate in a position where he is more suited, dictating the play and moving the ball forward.

Against Leicester, who offer a minimal threat going forward, it will be important to push forward up the field. Having Luke Shaw and Rafael on either side will offer the chance for Van Gaal’s side to move forward and attack Leicester’s flanks. The manager may decide to go with Antonio Valencia on the right, who will look to dart to the byline using his considerable pace and get some good crosses in the area.

The most obvious advantage of switching the formation, is to offer each individual the chance to play in their favoured position. In recent weeks, we have seen the considerable talents of Angel Di Maria completely wasted as he has been played as an out-and-out striker. I propose that United move Rooney forward, leaving the Argentine to pick up the ball in a deeper position and shall what he’s capable of with it at his feet.

United have struggled up front in recent weeks and despite the tens of millions of pounds worth of attack – that the media never cease to remind us all of on a daily basis – goals are a problem. As such, it’s hard to pick a strike-force, but I suggest that Van Gaal moves Wayne Rooney forward to support either Robin van Persie or Radamel Falcao. The United captain has proved his goal-scoring worth over the years, and although he is wonderful at dictating play from further back, his services are needed in front of goal.

In the no. 10 role, it is time for Juan Mata to prove himself over the remainder of the season. At home is where he normally shines, and despite being virtually anonymous in recent weeks he has shown glimpses of what he’s capable of – particularly when played in the right position. Allowing him this freedom just behind the two strikers will mean he can pick the ball up and either link up with the United forwards, or take the ball on himself. Either way, the Spaniard will be much more effective there.

It seems unlikely that United shall have as much of a problem with Leicester on Saturday, as they had in the reverse fixture – but, with this unpredictable United side still unsure of themselves this season, one would not count out Nigel Pearson’s Foxes.