Sunderland vs. Everton: Complete Premier League Preview

Matt CheethamCorrespondent IApril 18, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10:  Marouane Fellaini of Everton scores the equalizing goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Sunderland at Goodison Park on November 10, 2012 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Everton travel to Sunderland this Saturday for a game of significant importance at opposing ends of the Premier League table.

Chasing European qualification, a win would temporarily put the Toffees fifth and not quite out of the Champions League picture.

Sunderland require the points for contrasting reasons, needing to put greater distance between themselves and the relegation zone.

With both sides eager for all three points, this clash should prove one of the more entertaining spectacles across the weekend's action.


Form and Previous Meetings

FA Cup heartache against Wigan seems to have solidified Everton's league campaign. The Toffees are currently unbeaten in six top-flight matches, with four of those results being wins. 

Having been so dismal for such long periods of 2013, Paolo Di Canio launched his Sunderland career in style—at the second time of asking—recording a momentous 3-0 away win at Newcastle.

It was his new side's first taste of victory since January.

Head-to-head, Everton boast a formidable record over the Black Cats, unbeaten during David Moyes' tenure and not experiencing defeat in the previous 19 clashes, which includes 14 wins.

Recently, things have been slightly more even on Sunderland soil, with three of the last four encounters ending all square.


Team News and Key Players

Everton should be travelling with a relatively full-strength squad. Leon Osman, who missed the game at Arsenal on Tuesday, may be the only casualty, with his injury status not yet revealed.

Sunderland will be without long-term absentees Wes Brown, Lee Cattermole and Steven Fletcher, but welcomed back Carlos Cuellar against Newcastle. Craig Gardner will serve the second of a two-match suspension.

Stephane Sessegnon seemed to galvanise his teammates against Newcastle with an inspirational showing in which he scored a goal and proved his side's primary attacking weapon throughout. The Benin international will once again be the host's key man on Saturday.

For that reason, Marouane Fellaini could prove vital for the Toffees. The Belgian impressed in his preferred deeper role against Arsenal and may again play there against Sunderland, which would see him come up directly against Sessegnon.


Potential Starting XIs

Depending on Osman's fitness, Everton may well opt to go in unchanged from their game against Arsenal on Tuesday, which would see Barkley once again starting behind Anichebe in attack.

Considering the Nigerian's below-par display at the Emirates and Nikica Jelavic's fine showing on his last visit to the Stadium of Light—in last season's FA Cup quarterfinal—Moyes may even consider starting the Croatian.

If the shape is the same as against Arsenal, Fellaini will once again play deep and be responsible for disrupting Sessegnon. The Belgian was pivotal in this position during the memorable FA Cup win last season where he had considerable success against Sessegnon.

Having secured such an emphatic win at Newcastle surely there's little reason for Di Canio to alter things too much.

David Vaughan's stunning late strike could perhaps nudge him closer to selection and see the Italian use him in midfield and switch Larsson to a flank, replacing McClean.

Other than that possible change, it seems more likely the Italian will keep his side the same, with Danny Graham once again leading the line.


Statistics via EPL Index