The biggest story of the week for Everton fans will be about a man who is not even featuring in this week's tussle at Goodison Park. Fans will be getting a Christmas present they quite enjoyed two years ago in the form of a two-month rental of US star Landon Donovan. This was followed swiftly by the stocking-stuffer that Ross Barkley has signed a new contract that will keep him with the Blues until 2016. It almost doesn't matter who we will be playing this week, the hubbub is all focused elsewhere and this might be good for the team to just buckle down and play.
For the record, the opponents are Norwich, and their away form is woeful - 1 win and 2 draws this season in their 7 games away from Carrow Road in the Premiership, with a -8 goal difference. They are however climbing up the table and stand three points ahead of the Toffees, albeit having played a game more. The breakdown for this game follows the jump.
Things have gone from bad to worse for Everton in the last few weeks, with some woeful performances in front of goal against Stoke City and Arsenal. The mood in the stands has gone from disappointment to resignation to disgruntlement as the colder weather has come in. While Donovan coming back to the team is good and fine, there is still a hectic holiday schedule to be played before that, and the players will do well to focus on the tasks at hand.
This marks the beginning of a crucial stretch of games for the Toffees as they do not face any of the 'big guns' for the next few weeks: Norwich City, Swansea City, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Bolton Wanderers represent fifteen points that would go a long way towards securing a comfortable top ten berth.
The Canaries are by no means an easy team to play against, and present a solid aerial threat. Strikers Steve Morison and Grant Holt each have six goals. Ex-Celtic & Borussia Dortmund player Paul Lambert is the coach and has been praised highly for his performances since taking over the reins at Norwich. He played as a defensive midfielder himself, and from the little I have watched of Norwich, he packs the midfield and plays one striker upfront. After a good start to the season, the team has drifted a little, but still find themselves in eight place coming into this match.
Everton could still be missing midfielders Jack Rodwell, Royston Drenthe and Leon Osman, all facing late fitness tests. Defensive rock Sylvain Distin is fit again, and his experience will be required to combat the Canaries long-ball tactics. Conor McAleny could also get another shot on the first team; he was full of running on his debut last weekend.
Defender Leon Barnett is fit again and could come back into the middle of the defence. On-loan Manchester United defender Richie de Laet is still injured and will miss the game. Former Everton striker James Vaughan will also miss this game with a long-term knee injury.
Keys To The Game
Both teams favor a 4-5-1 format, and it will be interesting to see which coach is desperate enough to gamble on something different. For Everton, they will need to convert their possession into goalscoring chances. Having registered absolutely no shots on goal in over three hours of football, Moyes will breathe a sigh of relief to see one on target, even if it rolls gently into the goalkeeper's arms.
Leighton Baines can be counted upon for his incisive runs down the left - it is the effectiveness of the finall pass in the last third of the pitch that has hurt Everton. Either the pass gets played ahead or behind the open player, or else it's being passed when the player is already heavily covered. A little bit of luck wouldn't hurt either.
Norwich have an attacking approach to the game, and will be looking to score early and keep attacking after that rather than parking the bus in front of goal, much like Blackpool did last year. The team is composed of many young and unsung players and their teamwork is very visible on the pitch. Midfielder Wes Hoolahan is the man to watch with his quick runs, his ball distribution has been impressive.
Coaches David Moyes and Paul Lambert both hail from Glasgow, and both have played for Celtic.
This game will be Lambert's 300th as a manager.
The two sides last met at Goodison Park in 2005, with Everton winning 1-0.
Everton have been held scoreless on four occasions and have failed to keep a clean sheet in any game at home.
Norwich City lead the Premiership with ten headed goals.