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Everton look to keep in touch with the top six with win at Stoke

Toffees looking for fourth straight league win against Mark Hughes’ Potters

Stoke City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

With all the hype surrounding deadline day it is perhaps easy to forget there is a full programme of Premier League fixtures this week, with Everton making the trip to the Bet365 Stadium to face Stoke.

The Toffees’ early FA Cup exit means there was an 11-day break between their last match at Crystal Palace and Wednesday’s game in the Potteries.

Lets hope the long wait hasn’t stunted some of the momentum gained from that last-gasp victory at Selhurst Park, Everton’s third league win in a row and fourth in five games.

After a frustrating autumn that saw the club slide down the table things finally seem to have clicked, with the team finally playing the way their manager wants them to, .

Ronald Koeman seems to have stumbled on a formation that suits the players he has at his disposal and brings the best out of them.

Stoke City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

The result is a fine run of form that has got the club looking up towards the top six rather than down towards midtable.

Manchester United are now just five points ahead of the Toffees in sixth place, with just a further five points separating Everton from Liverpool in fourth.

Finishing any higher than seventh will be a tough challenge given the calibre of teams currently occupying those positions.

But if the team can maintain their level of performance and stay relatively injury free, they are well capable of pushing them all the way.

The opposition

Stoke are now into their ninth successive season in the Premier League and have established themselves as a solid mid-table side.

They have rarely been involved in any relegation battle during that time, never finishing lower than 14th and have finished ninth for the past three seasons.

That is exactly where they find themselves now, a safe distance from any trouble at the foot of the table but not really close enough to trouble the top six.

As mentioned by Mike in his tactical preview, Stoke are masters at collecting points from lower-ranked sides and snatching results against mid-table teams, meaning defeats to the top sides don’t damage their overall league position.

They have lost just four of their last 17 league games since mid-September, with three of those defeats coming against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea.

They are always well backed in the transfer market by owner Peter Coates, founder of the club’s shirt and stadium sponsor bet365.

Therefore manager Mark Hughes has once again been busy this month, with the headline deal a £12m move for West Brom striker Saido Berahino.

Given his lack of first-team football so far this season Berahino is unlikely to start on Wednesday. That honour will probably go to former Liverpool striker Peter Crouch.

The former England international has scored three times in his last five games and is currently on 99 Premier League goals. I think we all know what will happen next.

Team news

Idrissa Gueye has returned home from the Africa Cup of Nations but is unlikely to be thrown straight back into the side.

Everton have no fresh injury concerns, with Joel Robles once again expected to start ahead of Maarten Stekelenburg in goal.

Morgan Schneiderlin could make his first start in midfield ahead of Gareth Barry.

Stoke have Wilfried Bony and Mame Biram Diouf available after AFCON. But, like Gueye, they are likely to start the game from the bench.

January signing Berahino is also expected to be named among the substitutes.

Final word

If Everton really want to make a push for the top six then this sort of game – a rainy Wednesday night in Stoke – is where they should be picking up points.

They made it look easy last season with three first-half goals completing a comfortable win.

But that was just their second victory in eight games at the Bet365 Stadium so I can’t see it being that straightforward this time around. Therefore I wouldn’t be too disappointed with a hard-earned point.

Predicted starting XI: Robles, Baines, Williams, Funes Mori, Holgate, Coleman, Davies, Barry, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku.