Everton FC: Picking the Ideal Toffees Lineup to Win at Stoke
Everton went from falling six points adrift in the race for fourth place to regaining a coveted Champions League berth in just 88 seconds on Sunday, thanks to a pair of crucial late strikes against Tottenham.
If David Moyes' side can maintain their current position for the remaining 22 games of the season, European football will return to Goodison Park.
The next hurdle to navigate is a trip to the generally hostile Britannia Stadium, home of one of the Premier League's most effective long-ball merchants, Stoke City.
Since the Potters returned to the top flight in 2008, Everton have seen an initially impressive record slowly begin to sour.
After winning three of the first five contests and avoiding a loss in the other two, the Toffees have suffered defeat in two of their last three games against Stoke, struggling to penetrate a well-organised defence.
In fact, over the past five meetings between these two outfits, Moyes' side have managed just two goals whilst conceding four.
Stoke come into this fixture in impressive form, with four wins from an unbeaten run of six games, and the Potters haven't lost at home in the Premier League since February.
Everton have only lost twice this season themselves, although a barrage of draws has slowed their Champions League form.
(4-4-1-1) Tim Howard; Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka (c), Sylvain Distin, Leighton Baines; Kevin Mirallas, Darron Gibson, Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar; Marouane Fellaini; Nikica Jelavic.
Everton will feel their attacking play has morphed considerably in the past few months, from being overly reliant on crosses—a scenario Stoke generally thrive against—to becoming a far more rounded unit. However, Moyes will clearly have to field an attacking team if he hopes to secure a win.
The Toffees' manager is renowned for tinkering with his side to cater for opponents, yet given the overall level of performance against Spurs, injuries permitting, there's no reason to change last weeks personnel.
Stoke are obviously a direct and physical unit, who pose many questions at set-pieces—an area Everton haven't appeared especially convincing on over the course of this season. This will presumably be the main area of focus at the training ground.
When picking his side, Moyes will be most concerned with his choices on the right, although he may also mull over some possibilities in the central areas of defence and midfield. Much of the rest of the side selects itself.
At the back, Distin has performed well at centre-back, fending off Johnny Heitinga for the past few weeks. Regardless of form, he would have been the obvious choice for this game, given his extra height.
Fellaini dropped back into a deeper berth during the latter stages of the Spurs game, just before Everton managed to score. There will be times the Belgian will revert to this more-favoured role, although there's no immediate reason to break up Gibson and Osman, who have performed well together.
As mentioned, the bigger calls come on the right. If fit, Mirallas will start, although he’s been substituted through injury in three of his past four starts, never making it past half time. This includes Sunday’s clash with Spurs when he was taken off as a precaution. Steven Naismith will play if the Belgian misses out.
What changes would you make to Sunday's team?
At right-back, Tony Hibbert is the best defender in this position and was impressive against Manchester City, yet injury ruled him out against Spurs. In his place, the more attacking attributes of Coleman returned, and he gave his best performance of the season in Sunday's memorable win.
The Irishman has been guilty for several defensive lapses in recent games, yet whether or not Hibbert regains fitness, it would be harsh to drop Coleman after such an impressive display.
Saturday's game is one of the toughest away trips on the calendar. Whilst Everton must prepare for their opponent and negate their threat from set-pieces, if they concentrate on their own strengths and maintain their recent performance levels, the Toffees have every chance of taking the points.
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