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Everton v. West Bromwich Albion: Match Preview

The Toffees return to play in the Premier League with a match against struggling West Brom.

Romelu Lukaku celebrates his goal against West Ham United.
Romelu Lukaku celebrates his goal against West Ham United.
Julian Finney/Getty Images

January 19, 2015 - 8:00 p.m. BST, 3:00 p.m. EST

TV Info - Live Soccer TV

With the club's elimination from the FA Cup, Everton has four weeks of Premier League action ahead. After the weekend's matches, the Toffees sit in 13th place, three points above the relegation zone and 13 points behind Liverpool in seventh place.

With the next Europa League fixture a month away, Roberto Martinez, the players, and the supporters have only one focus -- moving up the table.

The easiest match in that stretch is Monday's against West Brom.

Team News

Tony Hibbert and Sylvain Distin could both make returns after injury layoffs. Though it seems unlikely either would start even if fully healthy, Martinez said on Saturday that both have real chances of making the matchday 18.

Martinez added:

James McCarthy and Darron Gibson are not too far away, and Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar are progressing well but they have a bit more of a longer-term recovery programme.

Tim Howard is well within the six to eight-week programme but won’t be available for the Monday game.

Aiden McGeady will be suspended after his needless red card against West Ham United during the week.

The Opposition

West Brom went through a brutal spell during November and December, in which the club picked up only seven points from 10 matches.

Survival specialist Tony Pulis became manager on January 1, after the sacking of Alan Irvine. Under Pulis, the Baggies defeated Hull City at home on January 10.

Pulis has become known for his ability to keep clubs from conceding goals, but West Brom's 29 goals against is already a tolerable 11th in the Premier League. The Baggies' issue is scoring goals.

West Brom has scored only 20 goals in 21 league matches, 9 of which have come from Saido Berahino. When Berahino has struggled (no goals in November and December), West Brom has struggled. When Berahino has scored, West Brom has had moderate success.

The bad news for Everton is that Berahino has a goal in each of the Baggies' last two league matches. The good news is that if the Toffees can shut down the 21-year-old, they will likely win.

Only one player other than Berahino, defender Craig Dawson, has more than one Premier League goal this season.

Center-back Jonas Olsson will miss out with an Achilles injury, and defender Jason Davidson is away with Australian at the Asian Cup.

What to Watch For

A month ago, Martinez changed up his starting XI in a home match against a poor QPR side. He played Ross Barkley as a holding midfielder alongside Muhamed Besic. The result was a stunning performance from the young Englishman.

Could Martinez make the move again in a similar situation?

It would make sense to do so. Gareth Barry has shown his age and perhaps is still struggling through an injury. He could surely use a break.

West Brom played a 4-4-2 against Hull City last weekend, so Everton will have a numerical advantage in the midfield. Against a lesser side, such as West Brom, the best way to exploit that advantage will be to play a possession-style game, to which Barkley's passing and movement would be a boon.

Of course, the concern is that against two strikers, more defensive-minded players will be needed to keep West Brom's attack at bay. If Barkley can help Everton keep the ball though, the Toffees will rarely have to defend. Given the poor form of every West Brom striker not named Berahino, Besic and the defenders ought to be able to keep the Baggies out.

The Final Word

This match certainly lacks the intrigue that Everton's most recent matches have had. The Toffees are not playing a recent champion or starting a cup run. This is a league match against a club that will be thrilled just to stay in the Premier League at the end of the season.

But, the sad truth is that these are the kinds of matches that the Toffees have not done enough in this season, and that they need to win move from relegation threatened to mid-table.

After two encouraging performances, there's no reason to think that Everton will not find a way to win this match, but the club's unpredictable nature this season will certainly have supporters sweating until the final whistle.