December 6, 2014 - 7:45 BST, 2:45 EST
TV Info - Live Soccer TV
There is little doubt that the Toffees hit a season low with their lifeless 2-0 loss at Hull City on New Year's Day.
The loss dropped Everton to 13th place, 15 points from fourth while only four points from a relegation spot. Thankfully, those concerns can be momentarily pushed to the side when West Ham comes to Goodison Park for the third round of the FA Cup.
Surely, Everton supporters will have Roberto Martinez's last season at Wigan Athletic on the mind as the domestic cup opens, hoping that he can work some magic in the knockout competition with a struggling team.
John Stones will be ready to play alongside Phil Jagielka against the Hammers, Roberto Martinez said on Monday.
Rob Urbani at EvertonFC.com reported that Martinez said,
John [Stones] and Kevin Mirallas have provided really positive news for us and they will both be in the squad....There are the longer-term injuries - Tim Howard, Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert and Darron Gibson – who will not be available.
Additionally, Antolin Alcaraz will miss out through red card suspension, Christian Atsu is away with Ghana at the African Cup of Nations, and James McCarthy will be unavailable due to a continued hamstring issue.
West Ham has perhaps come back down to Earth a bit since the last time these teams played, but there is no doubt that the Hammers' season thus far is still a roaring success.
Sam Allardyce's club sits in seventh place in the Premier League, just two points away from a Europa League spot and four points away from a Champions League spot. West Ham has done well to beat lesser teams this season, but has struggled to pick up points against top teams. Against clubs above them in the table, West Ham has only three points out of a possible 18. If the Hammers want to make it to European competition, that record will have to improve.
Of course, Everton is nowhere near being above West Ham, and surely the Hammers will see this as a winnable match, even after their loss at Goodison Park in the league in November.
Goals from Romelu Lukaku and Leon Osman fired the Toffees to a 2-1 victory over West Ham on November 22, the last victory before Everton's putrid run of form that has seen them take only four points from their last eight league matches.
For this match, West Ham will be without Alex Song, Cheikhou Kouyate and Diafra Sakho, with Andy Carroll and James Tompkins also doubtful.
Without Sakho, the team's top scorer, and Carroll, Allardyce may be forced to go with a strike partnership of Enner Valencia and Carlton Cole.
After missing out on the November matchup, Stewart Downing ought to be available to play. The England player has revived his career at West Ham, playing centrally behind West Ham's two strikers with tremendous success.
He has four goals and six assists this season.
What to Watch For
Through the hectic festive period, Martinez shuffled the lineup regularly, due to both fatigue and poor form. The shifting of the squad has been a constant this season, often forced by injury as well.
The lack of chemistry and momentum has shown on the pitch. With the schedule light for the rest of this month, Martinez must choose a top XI and stick with it for a time. It is no wonder that the attacking players have no confidence, as they must feel that after one poor match they will find themselves stapled to the bench.
The return of Stones will hopefully help the defense improve, but unless the midfield and attacking play improves as well, it likely will not matter.
Gareth Barry certainly looks like he could use a break, but with McCarthy out, Martinez will surely keep him in the lineup alongside Muhamed Besic. With West Ham's two striker look and the form of Stewart Downing, the Toffees must have two defensive minded players coming from deep in the midfield.
The Final Word
Unless the Toffees have a second half turnaround of epic proportions, the Premier League season is going to be a loss this season. There is too much talent on this team to be legitimately dragged into a relegation battle, but not enough to make a push for a Champions League or Europa League spot from where things stand now.
So, if there is to be anything worth celebrating this season, it will be from the FA Cup or Europa League. Though Martinez would never admit it publicly, he surely knows this is true, and will be working toward success in these competitions even harder because of it.
Will it make a difference? It is tough to say. Over the last month, teams have been pressing Everton high, fully aware that they will only ever try to pass out of the back. This has led to a team with struggling defenders and uncertain attackers turning the ball over regularly--a recipe for failure.
To find a change in fortunes, Martinez must not only find a way to instill confidence in his players, but also encourage them to occasionally change their style of play if it is necessary. If he can do that, there is reason to be optimistic for both this match and the rest of the season.
If not, it may mean an early exit from the FA Cup for Everton.