These two teams head into this 3 o’clock kick off looking for three big points as the festive period starts to really kick into high gear. This is the start of what will prove a busy few weeks for these players and both teams will have clear objectives heading into the congestion. Swansea will be looking to consolidate their mid-table standing as they sit happily in tenth position with twenty points already on record. Swansea have often struggled after their Europa League exertions but a week off since their last game should see them ready for action when the Toffees reach Welsh soil.
Everton head into this one with a totally different mindset; beat Swansea and Everton could find themselves as high as second if results go their way. The Blue half of Merseyside will be hoping the other Welsh team in the Premier League, Cardiff City, do them a favour by getting a result at Anfield in the days early kick off – any kind of result at Anfield tied with an Evertonian win would see the blue half of Merseyside sitting in the top four on Christmas Day. But it’s not just Liverpool under threat from Everton, Martinez has skillfully guided his new look side into striking distance of the other big guns with Chelsea just two points further up the road and Manchester City just one point better off.
In terms of form, these two have had contrasting fortunes at home with Swansea struggling at the Liberty stadium with teams tending to visit in defensive and resilient mood. Swansea have only registered two wins at home all season, with four draws and and two losses making up the rest of their results. Worryingly for the Swans, Everton have looked good on the road with three wins already registered alongside four draws and just the one loss – a 3-1 reversal to Manchester City at the imposing Etihad Stadium.
Swansea City head into this one with a lengthy injury list but a couple of those could be fit for the clash with Everton. Flores and Britton are both doubts with knee and ankle injuries respectively but both central players could be fit for the weekend after they undergo late fitness tests at the Liberty Stadium. One player who certainly won’t be fit is Nathan Dyer who suffered a serious ankle injury under a hefty challenge from Bassong last weekend – initial scans revealed no obvious fracture which is good news for the pacey winger. Vazquez and Monk will also miss this game but both are expected back just before the end of the year. Goalkeeper Vorm is ruled out after deciding to go with surgery to fix a long standing knee irritation.
Everton aren’t in much better shape heading into the busiest part of the season with Deulofeu suffering a serious hamstring tear in last weekend’s win over Fulham – the Barcelona loanee is expected to be out for up to six weeks which should mean he’s back around the end of January. One great piece of news for Evertonians is the impending return of Leighton Baines who has worked tirelessly to ensure his return coincided with at least some of Everton’s festive period – he’ll miss this match but the English left back should be available for the Boxing Day visit of Sunderland. Former Wigan striker Arouna Kone remains sidelined for an extended period whereas Tony Hibbert is vying for a place on the substitutes bench but the veteran will need a late fitness test to prove he’s ready. Central midfielder Gibson remains Everton’s long term injury worry and he’s still expected to miss the whole season with an ACL injury.
A Swansea win would see them maintain their solid mid-table position of tenth with Southampton just out of reach on 24 points compared to Swansea’s 20. Swansea are looking to end a sequence of draws with both their last two league games ending in score draws – more worryingly for Michael Laudrup, the Swans are looking to correct some generally poor form with the Welsh side losing three of their last six games in all competitions, including their last two Europa League games. Swansea will hope to be more incisive against Everton than they were against Hull City a week ago, the Swans enjoyed 65.7% possession but only mustered two shots on target throughout the whole game – with this stat in mind, it’s definitely worth putting money on an Everton clean sheet, the Toffees share the best defensive record in the league.
Everton have lost just one game all season having found a spectacular resillience since Roberto Martinez took over in the summer. The Toffees are undefeated in their last nine league games – a run which includes trips to the Emirates Stadium and Old Trafford, as well as the Goodison Park visit of Liverpool. As mentioned previously, the Blues have registered the joint best defensive record in the league with just fifteen goals being conceded in their sixteen games played – joint with Southampton. However, Everton’s goal difference is still much lower than their rivals above them, which suggests the Blues need to find some extra firepower in January – although Fulham were well beaten at 4-1 last weekend.
Swansea’s key man for this fixture could be ex-Red Jonjo Shelvey who’ll be looking to beat his former rivals into submission as a favour to the team which helped him to establish himself in English football. Shelvey will be looking to use his excellent passing range to try to stretch that stubborn Everton rearguard. The young midfielder currently has an 85% pass completion rate to his name from a massive 812 passes attempted – not bad at all for a player who was felt surplus to requirements at Anfield. The former Charlton man has made a whopping three mistakes which have lead directly to opposition goals though, which shows the young man has some way to go before he cements his place as a key Premier League player. However, the youngster makes up for this with his creativity which should make him a dangerman come Saturday afternoon – Shelvey has three assists for Swansea this season, their highest by any one player. Shelvey is also Swansea’s most direct player with his passes entering the opposition penalty area 44 times so far this season.
James McCarthy has already cemented his status as an Everton fan favourite by working hard and tackling even harder. The young Irishman has made more tackles than any other Everton player this season, 37, winning 78% of them. McCarthy has brought his impressive passing range with him from Wigan, registering an 86% pass completion rate – a big reason Martinez chose to bring him from his former employer. The young midfielder has also made 24 clearances this season. The midfielder doesn’t get forward much – he’s only registered 158 passes in the final third so far this season which is lower than the much older Gareth Barry and he’s only got one assist. However, this says more about his defensive stature with Everton taking to him almost immediately. The bullish midfielder will be hoping to keep up his impressive tackling statistics which see him winning a ground duel every 17 minutes and winning a tackle every 32 minutes.
Predicting this game is difficult, most of Swansea’s troubles this season have come after Europa League outings which means their form guide can be misleading as the build up to this game had a clean week off from any other commitments. With Everton winning more games on their travels than Swansea have at home I’d be tempted to go for an Everton win in this game. I think it’ll be a tight game with both teams heavily emphasising the need to control the game. This shouldn’t be an end to end, pacey game but it could be one for the tactically interested among us. I’ll go for a 2-1 Everton win with a Lukaku goal thrown in for good measure.