Everton vs. Crystal Palace: 5 Talking Points Ahead of Wednesday's Clash
Both teams have vastly contrasting reasons for the win, which is sure to make for a thrilling encounter and each side will be champing at the bit to get on the pitch.
The Toffees are chasing elite football, whereas Palace are looking to capitalise on a good run of form.
And with the Premier League season drawing to a climactic close, there's no better time to produce a fine performance.
So, it's time for Bleacher Report to take a look at five major talking points ahead of their midweek matchup.
Everton Need to Maintain Their Mentality
Following their emphatic and masterful 3-0 demolition of Arsenal at Goodison Park towards the beginning of April, many started to genuinely believe that Roberto Martinez's troops might actually be good enough to beat the Gunners to fourth spot.
The fact that they held their nerve to dispatch a beleaguered Sunderland a few days later only served to strengthen that view.
Much like their Merseyside rivals Liverpool, the Toffees have surprised quite a number of pundits this season. And deservedly so.
Midway through March, the Blues were a disappointing eight points behind Arsenal in sixth place. There and then, fans were without much hope of usurping Wenger and company.
But a series of important wins, combined with a string of Arsenal capitulations has led to them securing fourth spot—for now.
Although the season only has a short distance left to run, there's still plenty of time for the Everton faithful to witness an implosion.
And that's why it's vital they maintain their matchday mentality.
But the signs are there that the Toffees have the right attitude for games such as this one. Speaking to evertonfc.com before the big match, Roberto Martinez highlighted that aspect of their approach and praised their capacity to get a win over Sunderland so soon after the Arsenal win:
For us to be able to adapt in the manner that we did after the performance on Sunday, that was probably the most pleasing aspect. To have that character, that concentration that focus to find a way to get a positive result or getting the three points was immense.
No doubt Wednesday will be yet another big test of that mentality.
Martinez's Plans Rely on Champions League Cash
But they possess something that both of those teams do not—momentum.
And with a seven-match unbeaten streak, they are one of the form sides in the league and should rightly be considered as favourites to get maximum points from most of their remaining matches.
Nonetheless, this is still a rare opportunity.
Normally Everton are without the same pull in the transfer market that the likes of Arsenal or City maintain, and Martinez will need to rally his troops to take full advantage of the position they now find themselves.
Qualifying for the Champions League group stages for the first time in their history would certainly add to their appeal in the transfer window and would bestow upon them the cash necessary to finally break into the top four on a more regular basis.
And with Chris McKenna of the Daily Star reporting that Liverpool are set to swoop for Everton's 20-year-old starlet Ross Barkley, the importance of nailing down European football becomes yet clearer still. If the Toffees can secure fourth spot, rivals such as Liverpool will no longer be able to laud their superiority over them as much, or stifle their growth by snatching their best talent.
For now, of course, they'll focus on the immediate challenge of getting the three points. But, rest assured, the importance of a win in the long-run will certainly be in the back of their minds.
A Palace Win Could Guarantee Safety
It's a cruel time of the season where weaknesses are exposed and frailties get punished.
Yet, Crystal Palace have managed to start playing some of the best football of their careers in recent weeks. As a result, they look to have dissipated any fears about heading for the drop.
Recalling to mind their glorious 1-0 giant-killing of Chelsea at the end of March, the Eagles have already showed that they can mix it with the best.
Of course, it's no coincidence they've kept their best until last, as their performances have no doubt been a product of their compromising position in the bottom half of the league.
All of which adds weight to their self-imposed tag as late season threats.
And with the Eagles sitting just three points off the magical 40-point mark, they will have just as much reason to go for the win as their opponents. And with three straight wins behind them going into the midweek matchup, they rival Everton in terms of momentum, too.
On-fire Palace winger and their top scorer in the league, Jason Puncheon is sure to pose a massive threat having bagged a trio of strikes in their last two matches. And although Everton will try to contain him, it's always more difficult to hem in a striker in form.
Should John Stones start, his personal duel with Puncheon is likely to be a fiercely contested encounter with neither man in the mood to back down.
History Will Influence Everton's Approach
The Blue half of Merseyside has not come so tantalisingly close to the big time since their aggregate heartache against Villarreal in a Champions League qualifier back in 2005.
And contrary to popular belief it's easy to see how this will play into their hands.
While they don't have the necessary know-how for the high-stakes that's beginning to envelop them, they do have the passion and desire to make history for themselves—a factor that's also fuelled Liverpool's dash to the summit of the table.
As long as they can embrace their situation and put in a similar type of performance that saw them overcome United and Chelsea earlier in the season, they should easily fire a few goals past Palace 'keeper Julian Speroni.
After all, they've scored 13 goals in their last five outings and look set to transform the club into the institution it once was.
As detailed by the Liverpool Echo's Kristian Walsh on Monday, Everton have enrolled themselves once more in the "School of Science." And, under the tutelage of Martinez, they have set new records and look ready to write a new future as well.
If they turn up with as much energy and heart as they did for the visit of Arsenal, with their high-pressing, counter-attacking game, Martinez's charges should have nothing to worry about.
The chance to seize three points against Tony Pulis' plucky performers will set them up nicely for the visit of City, where even a point would do for the moment.
After that, they'll have their sights set firmly on making history.
Pulis' Side Have Shown Character and Should Survive the Drop
Although they might just spring a surprise this week, the odds are well and truly stacked against them.
Nonetheless, a loss on Wednesday would not be the most disastrous result of their season. Though it might halt their momentum, they would still have ample opportunities left to make up for it.
With winnable fixtures against West Ham and Fulham before the end of season on May 11 to bring them up to, and possibly past the 40-point mark, they have a much easier run-in than fellow relegation candidates Sunderland and Norwich.
Encouragingly for Eagles fans, many of the teams around them are not hitting the right notes at the key juncture in the campaign. Hull City seem too busy worrying about a change of name for marketing reasons than they do with setting things straight on the pitch. They've lost four of their last six matches.
And Paul Lambert's Aston Villa have fared just as poorly, losing four games on the trot.
So, with the combined fortune of playing well and watching the rest of the relegation candidates churning out below-par displays, the signs look good.
Having apparently never lost that same drive and coolness under pressure that saw them navigate safely through the Championship's playoffs, they should have enough in their locker to stay on course for a second consecutive season in the top-flight.
That wouldn't be a bad way for the club to prepare for its 110th anniversary now, would it?
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