Date: 25th December 2013 at 2:32pm
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With the festive season in full swing, the games are coming thick and fast and in the Boxing Day clash Everton take on Sunderland at Goodison Park. Everton continued their fine form with a 2-1 win over Swansea to extend their unbeaten streak to 10, and have only lost once in the 17 league games. It is a stark contrast to the Black Cats who have struggled this season and on the weekend the poor form continued with a 0-0 draw against Norwich which saw Sunderland remain at the foot of the table. It shapes up as a big game for both sides with Sunderland aiming for a surprise result to help in their quest for survival, and for Everton, well they need the 3pts to continue to mount their title challenge, they are currently 2pts behind leaders Liverpool, so a win could see them top the table.

Vital Quotes:

Everton manager Roberto Martinez on his journey as Everton manager thus far

‘I’ve been involved in the Premier League long enough to know that you can’t really set aims for the season until you enter the final 10 games. When you’re in a position to fight for the final 30 points available, then you can sit down and say what you are fighting for. At the moment we are still in the same process we have been in all season – which is trying to fulfill our potential. We are not there yet, there is a lot still to work towards.’

Seb Larsson on the trip to Goodison

‘Everton are doing well; ever since I’ve played in the Premier League it’s always been a tough place to go, [they are] a good team, a solid team. They’re flying in the league and playing some good football, they’ve got a lot of good players so it won’t be an easy game against them. We know we’ll have to play really, really well to get something but at the same time we are capable of doing that against the top teams and we’ve shown that against [Manchester] City and Chelsea this year.’

Everton Team News:

Everton will receive a late Christmas present as they are set to regain the services of star Leighton Baines as he has overcome a broken toe, although given the form of the side, as well as Oviedo, it will be interesting to see whether Martinez throws the fullback right into the XI, or reintroduces him slowly into the frame. Both Distin and Pienaar picked up knocks against Swansea, however they will be ready to face Sunderland. Nikica Jelavic is also questionable as he missed the trip to Swansea with a hamstring problem. Gerard Deulofeu (hamstring, 6wks), Arouna Kone (knee, season) and Darron Gibson (knee, season) are the only definite absentees.

Possible Starting XI: Howard, Baines, Distin, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, McCarthy, Mirallas, Pienaar, Barkley, Lukaku

Player to watch: Ross Barkley

The young Everton star’s stock just seems to keep rising as he scored the winner last weekend against Swansea. Barkley’s ability on the ball, as well as his ability to beat his man makes him a very dangerous player already, and once he gets a bit of experience under his belt and improve his decision making, Barkley will be one of the best in the league. Barkley, playing in the number 10 role will again be a very big part of the play against Sunderland.

Sunderland Team News:

Sunderland do have some big issues, especially conceding their defence. Wes Brown will start the first of his 3 match ban after picking up a red card against Norwich. His partner at the back John O’Shea is also doubtful as he struggles with a shoulder problem. Carlos Cuellar is also expected to miss with a hip problem. Kieran Westwood is also expected to miss the game through injury.

Possible Starting XI: Mannone, Celustka, Roberge, Diakite, Bardsley, Cattermole, Johnson, Ki, Giaccherini, Dossena, Fletcher

Player to watch: Steven Fletcher

The Scotsman may be in a form slump right now, but it only takes one chance to break out of the slump and he has the quality to do so. With chances most likely being at a premium against a tight Everton defence, Fletcher will need to take what he is given and put in a real hard working shift if Sunderland have any hope of getting a result.

Match Facts & Stats

1. With Sunderland’s 1-0 win over Everton in April, the Black Cats broke a winless run of 16 games against Everton

2. Goodison has not been a happy hunting ground for Sunderland, Everton have won 6 straight home games against Sunderland, scoring 20 goals in those games.

3. Everton have 34pts after 17 league games, a win against Sunderland would see Everton surpass the total points tally that Martinez at Wigan acquired last season

4. Throughout the 5 major European leagues, only Roma and Bayern Munich can better the 1 defeat Everton have suffered this season

5. Martinez was often criticised over the defensive aspect of his Wigan side, however Evertona re currently the tightest defence in the league conceding 16 goals in 17 games this season

Match Prediction:

All signs point to an Everton win, Sunderland are woeful at the moment, especially away from home, and well Everton have been brilliant at Goodison, however, this league shows time and time again, that there are no easy games and I am sure Sunderland will turn up and fight for everything. However, with the lure of potentially being equal top of the table with 3pts, and the way Everton are playing, it is hard to look past an Everton win. I don’t think it will be as easy as many would think but I think Everton will win 2-0 with Lukaku and Mirallas scoring the goals. COYB!!!! A WIN AND WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!!!!!!