Everton travel to West Ham United this weekend sitting in sixth place. While still in contention for a European spot, the margin for error is minimal with third and eleventh places on the table only separated by six points. The busy holiday period is a the time when distances are created between teams, and Everton will be without talismanic Belgian Marouane Fellaini who is suspended for three games.
The Hammers will also be missing a lynchpin for the game on Saturday, with Mohamed Diamé out with a hamstring injury. Facing a squad assembled by 'Big' Sam Allardyce is always a tricky proposition, and West Ham have proven to be capable of an upset or two at home after holding defending champions Manchester City scoreless here and then beating Chelsea handily.
Team News -
Apart from Fellaini, David Moyes will also be missing Kevin Mirallas, team captain Phil Neville, Tony Hibbert and Victor Anichebe. Being away from the home, we can expect Moyes to name a defensive lineup with Thomas Hitzlsperger pairing with Darron Gibson in the middle of the park, and Leon Osman supporting Nikica Jelavić upfront.
Big Sam is facing all sorts of selection headaches of his own - star player Diamé is injured, as are on-loan striker Andy Carroll, George McCartney, Ricardo Vaz Tê and Alou Diarra. Yossi Benayoun and Jack Collison are returning from long-term injuries and are unlikely to feature.The injury woes have been so bad that West Ham named just six players on the bench last weekend.
Keys To The Game -
With or without Fellaini, for Everton the formula for success remains playing a full, ninety-minute game. The addition of Hitzlsperger to the middle should help with a bit of grit, and the onus is once again on Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines to provide the creative spark for the team. Osman in his advanced role will have to be unselfish, but at the same time needs to take the chances presented - he hasn't scored since the end of October, and would dearly love to get that monkey off his back. James Collins and Winston Reid have been solid in the middle of defence and will give Jelavic another physical workout, albeit not as blatant as last week.
For West Ham, Matthew Jarvis has settled in since his transfer and his link-up play with Kevin Nolan will decide the Hammers fate on Saturday. The captain Nolan has scored five times his term, and his work ethic is admirable as he chases down anything in the box. He is especially dangerous from set pieces and crosses, and between Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin, they will have their work cut out.
Match Facts -
- Everton have scored in fourteen straight games - longest streak in the League this season.
- Everton have conceded in twelve straight too - also the current longest streak in the League.
- The Toffees have hit the woodwork 13 times this season, second only to Real Madrid's 17 in Europe.
- West Ham last beat Everton in 2007, a 1-0 win nine matches ago.
- Big Sam's side have picked up the most cards in the League, 37 yellows.
- The Hammers currently stand at 99 losses at Upton Park in the Premier League.