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Everton v. Manchester City: Preview

Everton returns to Premier League action with a tough fixture against joint-leaders City. Is there any way the Toffees can pull out a result?

Everton has another chance to make Goodison Park a fortress once more when Manchester City comes to town on Saturday.
Everton has another chance to make Goodison Park a fortress once more when Manchester City comes to town on Saturday.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

While a home draw against West Ham United in the FA Cup is not exactly a result worth celebrating, it is still the best that Evertonians have seen in a month.

Supporters will hope that the club can keep up the momentum found in the last half hour of that game in this weekend's match. To have any chance of getting a result against Manchester City, they will probably need that momentum and more.

Team News

Sylvain Distin will be unavailable after sustaining an injury against West Ham on Tuesday, but Leighton Baines should be available. Antolin Alcaraz will also be available after missing out on Tuesday due to a red card suspension. James McCarthy, Steven Pienaar, Darron Gibson, Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert are all still dealing with long-term injuries.

The Opposition

As Tom noted yesterday, Manchester City may get back three of their most important players for Saturday's match. Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Vincent Kompany could all return when last year's champions come to Goodison.

City has been in fine form over the last two months. The club has picked up eight wins and two draws over its last ten league matches, beat Sheffield Wednesday to move on in the FA Cup, and made it to the Round of 16 in the Champions League.

Impressively, the Citizens have achieved much of this without Aguero, perhaps the Premier League's best striker, since his injury the last time these teams played, on December 6.

This run of good form has pushed Manchester City into a tie for first in the league, with both teams even on points, goal differential and goals for.

What to Watch For

City has scored 44 goals in 20 league matches this season, joint-most in the Premier League, and may get back its top striker for the match at Goodison. Is there any hope that Everton, which has given up the second-most goals in the Premier League this season, can hold Manchester City at bay?

The good news is that the Toffees will likely have their first choice back-four together for this game, with Leighton Baines and John Stones both back from injury. It has been without the center-back combination of Phil Jagielka and Stones that the defense has struggled most, so there is some hope there.

Roberto Martinez will likely turn once again to Muhamed Besic and Gareth Barry to hold down the midfield in front of the back-line. Fans can complain about Barry all they want, but with injuries to Gibson and McCarthy, Martinez is left with little choice against a team with such a strong attack. Ross Barkley does not defend enough to play such a deep-lying position against the league's top scoring team.

The players in the attacking midfield trio, on the other hand, will be anyone's guess. Aiden McGeady's contribution to Romelu Lukaku's equalizer against West Ham surely did not go unnoticed by Martinez. The team could use to have two true wingers against a talented side like Manchester City, as pace will help the team transition from defense to offense.

Of course, it seems just as likely that Martinez continues trying to force square pegs into round holes by putting Steven Naismith or Barkley on a wing opposite Kevin Mirallas.

Up front, Romelu Lukaku must start after what was one of his best matches of the season, even without his late equalizer.

The Final Word

Above, I asked if there is any chance that an oft-leaky Everton defense can hold back City's explosive attack. A healthy defense corps gives the Toffees their best chance, but I still do not foresee it being enough.

Though there was definite improvement in the team's overall play during the last half hour against West Ham, Everton is still far from at its best. The sloppy midfield play that has plagued the club for much of the season will put constant pressure on the defense. Even a top defense in the league would struggle to keep out City if forced to defend for long periods, and Everton surely does not have a top defense currently.

Of course, this is not to say that Martinez's boys could not surprise and come out sharp and prepared against a talented Manchester City side. Still, anything short of that will likely result in more dropped points at home.