After last week’s stumble at White Hart Lane Everton will look to bounce back at Goodison Park against Tony Pulis’ resolute West Brom.
Though not the most attractive match on paper, Saturday’s game is pivotal given the position of the two sides in the table.
Everton remain, as they have been since Boxing Day, firmly rooted in seventh place. And although Ronald Koeman’s side are rightly looking upwards towards the top six, West Brom are still a threat to the Toffees’ hopes of at least finishing ‘best of the rest’.
Pulis’ side are enjoying a fine season and go into this game just four points behind Everton in eighth.
A victory on Merseyside will narrow that gap to just one point and leave Everton with a real fight on their hands in the final ten games of the season.
Conversely, if Everton can claim victory on Saturday then the gap will become seven points and surely too much for the Baggies to overhaul.
The match is also significant for the Blues after what happened last weekend in the capital and the need to bounce back quickly.
Sunday’s 3-2 defeat at Tottenham was certainly a reality check for all concerned.
Tottenham – a side Everton are looking to match and even overtake in the next few years – showed just how far ahead of the Blues they currently are with a dominant display and deserved victory.
Everton’s weaknesses were cruelly exposed and perhaps forced some of the more excitable among us to reign in our hopes for this season.
We certainly shouldn’t give up on catching the top six, but holding onto seventh should be an immediate priority and would still be considered a success given the rebuilding job that has been required this campaign.
If you want goals and excitement then Everton v West Brom is not the fixture you want if recent seasons are anything to go by.
The last three fixtures between the two sides at Goodison Park have yielded just one goal.
In those games West Brom have only mustered 17 efforts at goal with just three on target; one of those from Salomon Rondon enough to take all three points on a gloomy February afternoon last season.
Everton, in contrast, fired in 58 efforts towards the West Brom goal in 270 minutes, with just 18 on target and no goals to show for it.
Frustration is certainly the byword when the Baggies boing into town.
Last season’s game was ridiculous and one of the low points of Roberto Martinez’s reign.
Bobby’s toothless Toffees had 33 shots on goal but failed to score, while West Brom netted with their only shot on target at the other end.
Don’t expect anything different from West Brom on Saturday either. Pulis has once again built a well drilled, organised and aggressive outfit.
Offensively it is a forward line with pace in wide areas with powerful centre forwards in the middle.
It’s no surprise that 16 of their 36 goals this season have come from set pieces, while only six sides have conceded less than the Black Country outfit.
Pulis and West Brom fans will argue, with some justification, that the ends justify the means, even if it isn’t always easy on the eye.
Victory on Saturday would put them on 43 points, equalling their tally for the whole of last season, while a further six points would equal their highest ever points haul in the Premier League.
Should West Brom reach 55 points it would also represent their best top-flight points haul since 1985.
Pulis will also point out the huge gap in finances between the likes of West Brom and the top clubs, meaning he has little choice but to find different ways of winning matches.
Like Everton West Brom go into this game off the back of a poor result last weekend, with Crystal Palace inflicting the Baggies’ first defeat in six.
They also collect more of their points at home than on the road, winning just one of their seven away matches and failing to keep an away clean sheet since the opening day of the season.
Like Everton found at Tottenham last weekend, West Brom’s trip to Goodison could be the acid test of their abilities. By five o’clock on Saturday we may know a lot more about what both sides’ ambitions are for the rest of the season.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin returns to the squad after recovering from an ankle injury suffered at the start of January.
That just leaves Mo Besic and Yannick Bolasie as the team’s only long-term absentees.
After drafting in Gareth Barry at White Hart Lane last weekend I expect Ronald Koeman to take a more positive approach this time around.
Ademola Lookman and Kevin Mirallas are two of the options available to the Dutchman as he looks to find a way to unlock that stubborn Baggies’ rearguard.
West Brom’s only absentee is Matt Phillips with the winger sidelined due to a hamstring injury
Everton’s resurgent home form has been one of the highlights of Ronald Koeman’s reign so far and another home win here could prove highly significant.
Despite plundering 15 goals in their last four league games at Goodison I suspect Saturday will once again be tight and tense.
Recent history tells us that West Brom shouldn’t be underestimated, but Everton are certainly good enough to take the points – even if it’s just by the odd goal.
Predicted starting XI: Robles, Baines, Funes Mori, Williams, Coleman, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Barkley, Lookman, Davies, Lukaku.