The late season fixture congestion continues for Everton, with a trip to Wales to take on an in-form Swansea City on Saturday. The Swans and Toffees are jostling for places in the middle of the table currently - Swansea can tie Liverpool at seventh with a win while Everton can leapfrog them into eighth with three points of their own.
After a scintillating run of nine games unbeaten midway into March, David Moyes' men have come upon harder times, with just one win in their last five games. It will be interesting to see if Moyes once again relies on his controversial rotation policy with the FA Cup quarter-final replay coming up at Sunderland on Tuesday. His decision to rest up players before the first go-around against the Black Cats drew widespread ire among fans and backfired badly as Everton were manhandled at Anfield and then could only draw at home against Sunderland.
More after the jump.
At this point it appears there is little to play for in the Premiership for Everton, who might as well focus on the FA Cup as being their sole means of gaining anything meaningful this year. The squad depth has once again proven woeful and make Everton look more like a Championship side than one playing in the top tier. Personally I feel Moyes would be best served to blood some more youngsters with little at stake apart from pride in the last handful of games. Youth like Shane Duffy, Ross Barkley, Jose Baxter, and Conor McAleny could all use the experience while Francisco Jr. and Apostolos Vellios should be given a chance to play so as to gauge whether they can be relied upon to provide a different aspect to the miserable, one-dimensional attack. I have long been a cautious supporter of David Moyes, but if he keeps repeating the same patterns over and over again and expecting different results, then he is going to lose even more support than he already has just in the last two weeks alone.
Under first Roberto Martinez and then Brendan Rodgers, the Swans have earned the nickname 'Swansalona' with their brand of fluid, attacking football. While it's not the same tiki-taka peddled by Spanish giants Barcelona, it's still attractive and a pleasure to watch. Testament to that is the fact that as of January 2012, midfielder Leon Britton had the highest accuracy of any passer in the world for this season, with his 93.3% bettering Xavi of the aforementioned Barcelona who is at 93.0%. Swansea have won three on the trot, and haven't conceded a goal in the last 321 minutes of action. They have been excellent at the Liberty Stadium, where only Manchester United and Norwich City have been able to come away with wins this season.
Darron Gibson trained this week and could possibly play while Jack Rodwell and Seamus Coleman are out injured.
Ashley Williams should return from illness to his spot in the backline while Wayne Routledge will be standing in for Nathan Dyer who is serving the last game of his 3-match suspension.
Keys To The Game
Fan favorite Tim Cahill has had a very rough season, and is definitely expendable as a defensive midfielder. Royston Drenthe should start on the right wing with Steven Pienaar on the left. Nikica Jelavic has been good alone upfront, but could dearly use some more support, which has been sorely lacking while Cahill has been busy backtracking. If indeed Gibson is fit, then pushing Marouane Fellaini up into the hole behind the striker could be very beneficial. Johnny Heitinga has arguable been Everton's best player the last month or so, which is good news but a horrific reflection on this team's resources. Phil Jagielka hasn't looked great since returning from injury but could be used alongside Sylvain Distin in defence so that Heitinga can pair up with Gibson as holding midfielders.
Britton and Joe Allen form an excellent partnership in the middle of the park, and their ball control and distribution has been fantastic, allowing Scott Sinclair to be his wily best on the left and Dyer (usually) with his breakaway speed on the right. The Swans outplayed Manchester City at their own game, winning the possession battle at the Liberty Stadium en route to their 1-0 victory where they even spurned an early spot kick. On-loan Gylfi Sigurdsson has five goals in the last six fixtures while Danny Graham leads the team with 10 Premiership goals this season - Everton have been shameful in that department, with five players tied for the lead with a meager three goals each.
- Everton last traveled to Wales in 1982, when they beat Swansea 3-0. Everton are unbeaten against Swansea with ten wins and four draws over the years.
- The Toffees have scored thirteen goals in the last seventeen Premiership games, with only one instance of scoring more than once in that span.
- Everton lead the League with 368 fouls committed so far this season. Swansea have the least, with only 240.
- Everton have sixteen different scorers this season, tied for top with Manchester United and Arsenal.
- Swansea are third-last in number of shots, and second-last in number of shots on goal.