Stoke City v Everton, the Everton Forum Match Preview
Lurking behind the mystery blanket of distraction that is Tuesday’s Transfer Window Deadline Day lies Everton’s next fixture when the blues travel to the Bet365 Stadium on Wednesday 1st February for an 8pm kick off against Stoke City.
Whilst the mood of the travelling supporters may somewhat hinge on how Everton got on in the market the previous night, Evertonians should go down in fine fettle given Everton’s recent run of form.
The toffees are unbeaten in their 3 league games in 2017 having taken 9 points out of 9, scoring 8 and letting in 0 (zero).
But the question is, can they do it on a fairly cold but dry (with light cloud) Wednesday evening in Stoke?
The Potters currently sit 9th in the Premier league, 8 points behind the blues and are also yet to taste Premier League defeat in 2017.
Although Stoke’s recent league form isn’t to be sniffed at by any means, it’s worth pointing out that they beat two poor teams in Sunderland and Watford and managed to draw with Manchester United, despite having 1 effort on target to United’s 8. On top of this, a shock FA cup defeat was also dished out at the Bet365 by Championship heroes Wolverhampton Wonderers.
Looking at Stoke’s main threats, the recent resurgence of one of Everton’s old torments, Peter Crouch takes most of the headlines. The former England target man had scored in 3 successive league games prior to the visit of Manchester United, whilst also laying on 2 assists for his team mates in those matches.
It’s likely that Crouch will look to target the full backs in the air so this might be something a dominating defender like Ashley Williams or Ramiro Funes Mori need to take control of.
In addition to Crouch Stoke boss Mark Hughes might call upon new signing Saido Berahino after his move from West Bromwich Albion this month. Hughes confirmed that the striker will be in the squad and stated he looked ‘sharp’ in training, however having not featured for WBA for months i’m dubious as to whether he’ll start the match.
Stoke have decent wing threats in the form of Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri; two players Everton fans will be familiar with after unsuccessful alleged transfer pursuits in recent times. Both players do unquestionably have quality and will certainly test the Everton backline but can struggle for the level of consistency.
In truth, Stoke aren’t a bad side. They aren’t great by any means, but they’re a run of the mill mid-table team and their league position reflects where they are.
Blues boss Ronald Koeman has no fresh injury concerns.
January signing Morgan Schneiderlin is closer to fitness and may be rewarded with a start, whilst James McCarthy is in a similar boat following his return from a hamstring injury.
Koeman stressed that Joel Robles, having not conceded a league goal this year, will keep his shirt for the time being so the initially favoured Maarten Stekelenberg will have to make do with the bench.
Speaking of the bench, it’s likely to feature some younger players than usual given that the squad of senior players has already been cut by 5 fringe members, plus there’s the Bolasie and Calvert Lewin injuries and potential for Kone to also leave the building.
Tactically it will be interesting to see if Koeman sticks with the 3-5-2 formation that he’s employed to great success recently or whether he has something specific in mind to help handle the threat posed by Stoke.
My hunch is that the boss will stick with what’s worked lately, even if the personel may feature one change with Schneiderlin slotting in for Gareth Barry. The two double acts; Tom and Ross + Rom and Kev should remain in place as both seem to be showing exciting synergy, resulting in good attacking play that had been all too often lacking earlier this season.
Overall this is a good test for Everton. It’s a game I think we should win, but also one I wouldn’t be that surprised if we dropped points.
If we can pick up another win, hopefully after a couple of nice signings on Tuesday, I see no reason why we can’t challenge the top 6.
Prediction 1-2 to the blues.
Oh, and the match is refereed by Craig Pawson who has refereed Everton once this season; the 1-0 defeat at Southampton.