With the end of the season nearing, spirits may be flagging on the pitch and this is what Stoke City gaffer Tony Pulis has been warning his players about. The Potters have endured an extra-long campaign that started in July 2011 with the Europa League qualifiers, and have played in fifty-three fixtures to date this season. Everton manager David Moyes is well-aware of this fact and will be counting on his players to try try and run the home side ragged when they visit later this afternoon.
Stoke held Arsenal to a very creditable 1-1 draw over the weekend while Everton have been rampant in front of goal lately, hitting four per game in their last three Premiership fixtures, a new club record. Stoke conceded almost 2/3rds of the ball possession to the Gunners on Saturday and will be wary of repeating the same against the Toffees who seem to have rediscovered their goalscoring touch since the signing of Nikica Jelavic and the return of Steven Pienaar over the transfer window.
Everton's biggest incentive remains to finish ahead of crosstown rivals Liverpool, they currently are seventh and ahead by two points. Stoke on the other hand are aiming to finish in the upper half of the table - they lie 14th but just three points separate them and 10th placed West Bromwich Albion.
Team News -
Everton should name an unchanged side from the weekend, with Moyes reporting no new injuries apart from the regular 'knocks and bruises'. Once again fans will be clamoring to see the younger players like Ross Barkley and Apostolos Vellios being given more minutes, but one can hardly tell nowadays what is going on in Moyes' mind behind the icy-blue stare. Sylvain Distin did his best Leighton Baines impression on Saturday bombing up and down the left wing and plonking in crosses and we should see more of the same today.
Pulis has suggested giving Danish national goalie Thomas Sorensen in the build-up to the European Nations Cup this summer, so he could possibly start. Salif Diao and Mamady Sidibe remain out for Stoke, while Andy Wilkinson will face a late fitness test.
Keys To The Game -
The Toffees have struggled lately against Stoke, having scored only once in their last four fixtures against the Potters. Expect Moyes to go on the offensive as he attempts to correct that statistic and takes advantage of the scintillating form his side is currently in. Jelavic should be supported by Marouane Fellaini again, with Pienaar on the left and Leon Osman on the right. Darron Gibson will be shoring things up the middle as he remains unbeaten in the Premiership as a Toffee.
Stoke play a 4-1-4-1 similar to Fulham's, and Everton had no issues whatsoever tearing that up on Saturday. Glenn Whelan is the man charged with linking up defense and midfield and Fellaini will be shadowing him very closely all evening today. Upfront will be the towering Peter Crouch, who was on target against Arsenal with a header, and will pose a similar threat for the not-so-tall pairing of Phil Jagielka and Johnny Heitinga. Both Jermaine Pennant and Jonathan Walters tend to play just off of Crouch and will be relying on layoffs and passes headed down in their direction.
Match Facts -
Oddly enough (or not), Everton have not won a single game this season against a team wearing red.
If Everton score four goals again they will tie a record set by the Manchester United team of 2000 - four straight 4-goal games.
Stoke won the corresponding fixture earlier this season 1-0 at Goodison Park.
The Potters have only won one of their last eight games in the Premier League.
Stoke at home have been a solid prospect - they went unbeaten at the Britannia against the 'Top Six' clubs.