Two teams with contrasting hopes for the end of the season, face off against each other as Everton host Swansea at Goodison Park this weekend.
A last minute goal by Seamus Coleman last weekend saw Everton keep their hopes of European football next season fully intact. The win against Cardiff was only their 3rd in 7 games, however, after defeats to teams around them (at the time of playing) – Chelsea, Tottenham, and Liverpool – ended their unlikely chances of qualifying for the Champions League. Sitting in 6th place, 2 points behind Tottenham with 2 games in hand, Everton have their destiny in their own hands and a return to Europe will be a successful season for Roberto Martinez.
Swansea on the other hand are looking nervously over their shoulders, the Welsh club are 4 points ahead of 18th placed Sunderland whose cup exploits mean they have 3 matches in hand. The form of the Swans doesn’t offer any confidence for fans either with 2 wins in 15 Premier League games – and just 1 in 5 since Garry Monk was appointed interim manager on 4th February. Last weekend’s defeat to West Brom, who were previously on a run of 7 matches without a win under Pepe Mel, was met with discontent from fans and the pressure will be on the inexperienced Monk to turn things around.
Like many seasons before, Everton have struggled to find the back of the net on a regular basis. This was meant to be different with the loan signing of Lukaku, but after an impressive start – 8 goals in 9 games – the following 12 games have only seen 2 goals.
The influence Lukaku has on the Everton team has been plain to see his 3 match injury lay-off. Everton lost to both Chelsea and Tottenham in games where they were the dominant, and arguably the better team, but failed to take advantage. Lukaku has created 4 chances in the last 131 minutes of play against West Ham and Cardiff, whilst getting 2 assists in his two starts that preceeded his injury.
Returning with a winning goal against West Ham, Lukaku has had 7 shots since then and being a constant hassle in the box – both using his strength in the air and utilising his great ability to find space – is something Everton massively missed during his absence. While Lukaku will need 7 goals to match his tally from last season, he was on 13 at this stage last season having played fewer minutes, the popular young striker can be the difference between winning and losing.
“It’s a team effort.” – the words of Garry Monk trying to downplay the return of Michu and the expectations that will land at his shoulders. That may be difficult after his performances as a Swansea player.
Since his arrival, Michu has played a part in 32% of Swansea’s goals – 47% of the goals when he has featured – so his influence on the side was always going to be missed. In the 16 games he’s missed, Swansea have scored 23 goals compared to the 20 during the 13 matches he has been a part of, 1.44 and 1.54 per game respectively. A small difference, but one that could’ve seen a few extra points on the board.
Having only returned last weekend, Michu is unlikely to be 100% match fit thus may only make an appearance off the bench. The calmness in front of goal the Spaniard possesses will still be present and with the possibility of chances being few and far between, being composed when faced with an opportunity will be important. Michu’s late runs into the box has also been hugely missed and, like mentioned previously with Lukaku, these are hard to defend as the centre-back relies on a midfielder tracking back to avoid being pulled out of position and allowing the opposition – Bony or Michu himself – to take advantage of the space.
Phil Jagielka has a ‘50/50’ chance of playing after missing the last 3 games, but Pienaar is set to miss out for a few more weeks. Long-term injury absentees for Everton include Traore (Hamstring), Kone (Knee) Gibson (Knee), and Oviedo (Broken Leg).
Nathan Dyer and Jonjo Shelvey could return for Swansea after being monitored in training on Friday. Kyle Bartley is set to miss out once more though.
With Everton so impressive at home, Swansea will have to replicate one of their away performances seen against Valencia and Napoli. That will be a tough ask though for the Welsh club and considering the desire shown by Everton with their recent late winners, the only outcome is a home victory.
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