Everton managed a much-needed win at home against Newcastle United on Thursday, but now have a break from league action until April 3rd, when they face West Ham United, due to the looming international break and their involvement in the quarter finals of this season’s FA Cup competition. The Blues have drawn a short straw in terms of recovery, kicking off at 12.30pm in South London, where they face Crystal Palace.
The cup is a welcome distraction from the team’s continuing battle to avoid an unprecedented relegation from the Premier League and fans can dare to dream of a visit to Wembley Stadium, should they get past Patrick Vieira’s outfit. Let’s take a look at this weekend’s opposition in more detail.
Many tipsters favourites for the drop before the season kicked off, Palace have exceeded expectations under their vigorous new manager. Bereft of the guiding hand of seasoned veteran Roy Hodgson and shedding numerous core squad members, prospects for the incumbent looked bleak, but Vieira has guided his team to a comfortable mid-table position. They have an unfortunate habit of leaking late goals, otherwise they’d be sitting higher than eleventh place. They enter Sunday’s match on a five-game unbeaten run, including holding defending league champions Manchester City to a goalless draw last time out. Since a New Year’s Day 3-2 defeat to West Ham United, the Londoners have lost only to Liverpool and Chelsea.
Style of Play
Vieira has implemented a radical shift in Palace’s approach, shifting to a 4-3-3 formation and a possession game, whereas under Hodgson they were strictly a counter-attacking outfit, looking to use the pace of unpredictable attacker Wilfried Zaha to hurt opponents on the break. The Ivorian has still been a key player for the Eagles this season, but they have other dangerous options in attack, so it’s no longer a matter of “stopping Zaha”, as was the case previously.
Exciting additions such as Michael Olise, Jean-Philippe Mateta and Odsonne Edouard have freshened up the team in forward areas. In addition Palace have on-loan Chelsea midfielder Connor Gallagher, who’s added energy, creativity and a goal threat from central midfield.
Defensively, the team has added well with Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen proving resolute at the back and also capable distributors of the ball. At home the Eagles tend to control possession and are active pressers, ranking fifth in the league in final third turnovers. They are also adept at winning penalties, with five so far this season.
Gallagher has been a revelation under Vieira, emerging as a potentially elite box-to-box midfielder. The youngster can run all day, leads the team in pressing with 26.03 per match but possesses quality and good football brain also. He’s finishing chances at a higher than expected rate, showing a clinical nature in front of goal. He’s looking a complete midfielder at this stage and is surely one of the signings of the season. Zaha, Palace’s talisman is, at 29 still the maverick he’s been for years, difficult to mark, a dangerous dribbler and possessing quality in front of goal.
This game is a free hit for an Everton team who have to make league survival an absolute priority. Saying that, the Toffees do not play for two weeks after this match, so can afford to field the strongest side possible, whilst taking into account that they don’t want to push players who ran themselves into the ground less than 63 hours earlier. Allan will be serving the first game of a three match suspension for a red card on Thursday, leaving Lampard will a big gap in the midfield, considering he’ll also be without cup-tied Donny van de Beek and Dele Alli.
With a a paucity of options in the centre, the manager may revert to a 3-4-3 formation, which won’t please many fans, but it’s tough to see how he can put out three central midfielders from the options available. Likely, the ex-Chelsea man will deploy a low-block and look to hit Palace in transition. Teams such as West Ham, Burnley, Brentford and Norwich City have had some success using this approach at Selhurst Park in recent weeks and besides, Lampard needs to find a way to grind out results away from home in the team’s remaining games this season, as every point could be vital.