Everton will attempt to put the embarassing 3-0 loss to a depleted Southampton side behind them on Friday when Stoke City visit Goodison Park. The match will be the first of three Premier League fixtures in the span of a week, and it will be the only one of those three played at home.
Manager Roberto Martinez gave a Christmas Eve injury update and revealed that James McCarthy and Kevin Mirallas will undergo late fitness tests before taking to the pitch against the Potters. Here's what the boss said about McCarthy and Mirallas' chances of playing:
"Kevin Mirallas has got a great chance to be involved over the next two games. We don't know yet if the Stoke game is going to be too early but he has an opportunity, which is fantastic news. James McCarthy is very similar to Kevin. I do think he will be involved one way or another over the next two games."
Martinez also said that Darron Gibson, Tony Hibbert, and Leon Osman will miss the match against Stoke, as well as Sunday's trip to Newcastle.
In better news, John Stones is returning to full fitness and could start against Stoke.
Mark Hughes' Stoke City side currently occupy the 13th place on the Premier League table. The Potters have managed only one win in five outings, and were beaten at home by Chelsea on Monday night.
Stoke, much like Everton, are looking to rebound with a win after recent results have found them in the bottom half of the table and struggling to meet the demands of a disappointed fanbase. A win at Goodison Park would see them move ahead of the Toffees in the standings.
Striker Jonathan Walters leads the team in goals scored with 6, followed closely by the lanky Peter Crouch and Mame Diouf. Steven Nzonzi and tough Charlie Adam lead the Stoke midfield. The former subject of Everton transfer rumors, Ryan Shawcross, heads up the defense. Underrated Bosnian Asmir Begovic minds the net.
What to Watch For
This is a critical match for both sides as a win could push either team towards the middle of the table, and a loss could inch either toward the relegation zone. Roberto Martinez will have to choose the lineup carefully with three fixtures in a week, but this should be his strongest team as the manager will want to win at home.
If James McCarthy and John Stones return to the starting eleven, it could be a big boost for the Blues. The aging defense struggled against Southampton.
Martinez seems determined to play Ross Barkley out wide, but maybe he will get another look in central midfield after the result at Southampton. The youngster excelled in that role against QPR.
Romelu Lukaku has been noticeably absent from the highlights for most of December, and needs to get back to scoring goals. Expect to see Samuel Eto'o, Steven Naismith, and even Arouna Kone helping out up front throughout the next week.
The Final Word
I think Everton will get back to winning ways against Stoke, but it won't be easy. My prediction is an Everton win on Boxing Day, 2-1.
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