This Saturday, Everton host Cardiff City at Goodison Park. Everton have hit a tricky spell in their season, and have lost three of their last five Premier League games. This is a stark contrast to their early season form when they only lost two games in their first twenty-fixtures. These three defeats have all come against teams above them, so it is imperative that the Toffees win their next few fixtures in an attempt to claw back some points. Cardiff will have some confidence going into the fixture as their last league game saw them beat fellow strugglers Fulham 3-1.This victory ended a four game winless spell, when they only scored one goal and conceded ten. That is the type of fight they will need to show if they are to stay in the division, but Everton will pose a far sterner test than Fulham did last Saturday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to get the balance right in his team selection to combat Everton’s possession based game.
Going into the game Everton have some injury concerns. Everton’s long term injury absentees are Darron Gibson (Knee), Arouna Kone (Knee), Bryan Oviedo (Broken Leg). Lacina Traore (Hamstring) and Antolin Alcaraz (Muscle Fatigue) will also be missing for the foreseeable future. Steven Pienaar and Phil Jagielka face late fitness tests after suffering from a knock and a hamstring injury respectively.
Cardiff will be without club captain Mark Hudson (Hamstring) as well as defenders Ben Turner and Andrew Taylor who are both suffering from knocks.
When the two teams met in the early part of this season, the fixture ended in a 0-0 draw. This was first ever meeting between the two teams in the Premier League. It was also the first time they had met in the top tier of English football since 1962, and the first time they had met in any competition since 1979. The game was one of four 0-0 draws that the both teams have been involved in this season. Everton have not lost in a home game against Cardiff since 1926, and they are unbeaten in their last six league games against the Bluebirds. Craig Bellamy has played against Everton for seven different clubs. In that time he has scored four goals, but he is without one in his last eight against the Toffees. His last goal against them came for Newcastle in November 2004. When Bellamy made his first appearance against Everton in December 2000, his opposing striker Romelu Lukaku was only seven years of age.
Romelu Lukaku has been back amongst the goals in his last few games. The Belgian, on loan from Chelsea, has managed ten Premier League goals this season and has contributed six assists. Before his goal against West Ham a couple weeks ago, Lukaku had not scored since late December. He followed up his winner against the Hammers with a goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup. Roberto Martinez will be glad to see him back in form, as injuries to Arouna Kone and Lacina Traore mean that Lukaku is the one fit centre forward that the club currently possess. Lukaku managed eight goals in his first nine league appearances for the Toffee’s, and if he is able to reproduce that form from now until the end of the season, Everton will have a better chance of finishing in a European spot.
Steven Caulker has had a sturdy season for Cardiff City. Others around him have recognised this, in the fact that he has been made captain by the club. Despite being in the bottom three, the former Tottenham man will feel he has put in some good performances for his new club. Surprisingly, most of these have come at the attacking end. Cardiff have the second worst defensive record in the league, with only Fulham having conceded more goals. They have kept six clean sheets from their twenty-nine games, a record that will need improving if they are to stay up. What Caulker has given Cardiff this season is important goals. Caulker has scored in three of the six games Cardiff have won, including the winning goal in a 1-0 win against Swansea and two important goals in the win against Fulham last weekend. With the great delivery of Peter Whittingham, Caulker can be a real weapon for his team. If he is able to keep out Romelu Lukaku and co at one end, he could grab a goal at the other.
Both teams go into the game on the back of wins in their last Premier League fixtures. They also go into the game on the back of some poor results before their previous game. Everton have been extremely strong at home this season, whilst Cardiff’s only away win has come at struggling Fulham. It is therefore hard to see Cardiff coming away with a win at Goodison Park. Everton will want to bounce back after their 4-1 defeat in the FA Cup to Arsenal last week, so you can expect a good performance from Roberto Martinez’s men. I predict a 3-0 Everton win.