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Everton at Crystal Palace: Match Preview

The Toffees look to regain some semblance of form when they travel to Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace.

James McCarthy crouches dejectedly after Everton's 3-2 home loss to Crystal Palace earlier this season. Will the reverse fixture mark the Irishman's return to the lineup?
James McCarthy crouches dejectedly after Everton's 3-2 home loss to Crystal Palace earlier this season. Will the reverse fixture mark the Irishman's return to the lineup?
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

January 31, 2015 - 3:00 BST, 10:00 EST

TV Info - Live Soccer TV

Referee - Roger East

Assistant Referees - Richard West and Mark Scholes

Fourth Official - Robert Madley

Perhaps it is a mark of how poorly this season has gone for Everton that the club is level on points with Crystal Palace, a club which Tony Pulis departed right before the season began and which fired Neil Warnock a month ago.

Everton heads to Selhurst Park in a definite rut, after a missed penalty by Kevin Mirallas and a generally lifeless performance against West Bromwich Albion left the club with a disappointing 0-0 draw.

With the club only four points out of a relegation spot and matches against Liverpool and Chelsea on the horizon, the Toffees could sorely use three points from Saturday's match.

Team News

Tim Howard, Leon Osman, and Steven Pienaar all continue to be sidelined with long-term injuries, but there is good news on the injury front is well.

Kevin Mirallas should be available after departing at halftime with a sore hamstring against West Brom.

Roberto Martinez gave news on other players, via Rob Urbani at EvertonFC.com:

James McCarthy has been doing really well. He, Darron Gibson and Sylvain Distin joined the group, which is really positive. We are going to measure those three and all have opportunities to be in the squad for Saturday.

The Opposition

Palace endured a dreadful spell from October to December, picking up only eight points over the entire three month period. But, Alan Pardew's side has taken seven points out of nine in the new year, with wins at home against Tottenham and at Burnley. The Eagles added to their good league form with an FA Cup victory over Southampton last weekend.

So, Crystal Palace certainly enters the match as the hotter club.

In terms of player news, there is good news and bad news for Palace heading into Saturday's match against Everton. The good news is that Jordan Mutch, the club's new signing from QPR, will be ready to play. The bad news is that new signing Shola Ameobi is not yet ready to play, and Yannack Bolasie and Mile Jedinak are away at the African Cup of Nations and Asian Cup respectively.

The Eagles will miss the threat of Bolasie on the wing, but likely miss Jedinak's constant presence in the midfield and goal scoring threat even more.

Up front, Pardew has three options, Dwight Gayle (who leads the club with five goals), Marouane Chamakh, and Yaya Sanogo. None of the three have had particularly remarkable seasons, with Sanogo only arriving on loan from Arsenal this month and Chamakh having only one league goal this season.

But, Gayle scored twice against Burnley two weeks ago, and Chamakh scored twice for Palace in the club's FA Cup tie last weekend, so both will be playing with some confidence.

What to Watch For

Roberto Martinez is caught in a dilemma in terms of squad selection. The club has had no continuity in its lineups for much of this season, and the resulting lack of chemistry has shown at times. But, last weekend's West Brom match was the last game in a series of matches in which essentially the same lineup was kept together, yet the players looked flat and nonthreatening.

If there is a place that a shakeup is most likely, it is in the center of midfield. With McCarthy and Gibson looking set to return, Martinez will have more options at that position than we have seen in months. If both players are fit, who should we expect to see in the center of the park?

For better or worse, I would wager that Gareth Barry and McCarthy reform their partnership in the center of midfield. Barry has struggled at times this season while Muhamed Besic has excelled, but Martinez has made clear his commitment to Barry, who has played the third-minutes on the team.

Regardless of who occupies that space, the center of midfield will be crucial for Everton against Palace. If Pardew continues to play with two strikers, the Toffees will have a numerical advantage in the middle-third. To take advantage of this, the passing from the holding midfielders must be excellent, helping Everton keep possession of the ball for long spells.

Of course, there will have to be creativity from those midfielders as well, otherwise the Eagles may be content to allow Everton possess in harmless areas and attempt to strike on the counter.

The Final Word

After some promising moments against West Ham in the FA Cup, Everton have returned to looking like a side totally bereft of confidence. There is no doubt that the Toffees have more than enough talent to pick up all three points in this match, but that is a refrain that has been echoed time and time again this season, which usually has been followed by an utterly disappointing performance and dropped points.

Another common refrain has been the sentiment that this team has too much talent to be dragged into a relegation fight. While this remains seemingly true, with Liverpool and Chelsea fixtures approaching, the players and supporters alike would breathe a deep sigh of relief if the Toffees could pick up three points here.

Will the players step up to the challenge? We will find out on Saturday.