It is quickly becoming a season to forget for Sunderland, a slow start developed into a worrying and demoralising beginning to the campaign for the Black Cats – resulting in the sacking of the ticking time bomb that Paulo Di Canio was as manager. It has been more than a month since Sunderland’s last taste of victory in the league, when they claimed a 1-0 win over Manchester City; and although things have improved under Gus Poyet, the Wearsiders still lie at the foot of the table in bottom place. However it hasn’t all been doom and gloom as Poyet’s side secured a place in the Capital One Cup semi-final with a dramatic extra time victory at home to Chelsea.
It’s been stark contrast for Roberto Martinez’s Everton side, who appear to be formulating a strong challenge for Champions League qualification. The last two games for the Blues have ended in victory despite not performing to their best – an aspect which is considered as a sure sign of a really good team. The win away to Swansea on Sunday was provided by two goal of the season contenders from Seamus Coleman and a new-look Ross Barkley.
For the Boxing Day hosts, fullback Leighton Baines is back in contention after recovering from a fractured toe. Also back in the reckoning is striker Nikica Jelavic after missing the Swansea victory with a minor hamstring injury. Tony Hibbert has overcome his knee injury and although Steven Pienaar and Sylvain Distin suffered knocks in Sunday’s game they should be fit and ready for the encounter on Thursday.
For the visitors, John O’Shea is being assessed after suffering a shoulder injury at home to Norwich last Saturday. He partnered Wes Brown at the heart of their defence against the Canaries but definitely won’t be Thursday as Brown begins a three-match suspension after he was sent off in that fixture. Keiren Westwood also has a shoulder injury and he will remain out, as will Carlos Cuellar with a hip injury.
Goalkeepers: Howard and Robles.
Defenders: Alcaraz, Baines, Coleman, Distin, Heitinga, Hibbert, Jagielka, Oviedo and Stones.
Midfielders: Barkley, Barry, McCarthy, Mirallas, Naismith, Osman and Pienaar.
Forwards: Jelavic, Lukaku and Vellios.
Goalkeepers: Mannone and Pickford.
Defenders: Bardsley, Celustka, Diakite, Dossena, O’Shea and Roberge.
Midfielders: Ba, Cabral, Cattermole, Gardner, Giaccherini, Johnson, Karlsson, Ki, Larsson and Mavrias.
Forwards: Altidore, Borini and Fletcher.
In the two Premier League games Romelu Lukaku has played against Sunderland he has scored three goals.
Everton had a run of 16 games without defeat against the Black Cats until they lost to Sunderland in April at the Stadium of Light.
1962 was the last time the Blues managed an unbeaten home calendar year; the third time they managed the feat after 1894 and 1939.
Out of their last 36 league games, Everton have only lost two.
The last time Everton lost a Premier League game on December 26 was in 2005.
Everton are two points short of Wigan’s total points from the entire 2012/13 season under Roberto Martinez.
From the Blues’ last 11 league goals; five of them have come from their fullbacks with Bryan Oviedo scoring two and Seamus Coleman the other three.
Sunderland have picked up the fewest away points in the league alongside Crystal Palace with three.
The Black Cats have also had more red cards in the Premier League than any other side with five.
From their last 12 games on December 26 including this one, Sunderland have only played away from home twice.
In order to maintain their top four challenge, Everton must win this fixture against bottom of the table Sunderland. The importance of this encounter for the Toffees, in some senses, is bigger than victories at Swansea and Manchester United because if the Blues fail to claim victory tomorrow then there will have been no point in winning at the Liberty and Old Trafford. Perhaps it won’t take the best Everton performance to defeat the Black Cats but complacency will scupper the Blues’ winning form.