This rearranged match is more important for the hosts than it is the visitors. The weather forced this match to be postponed in February, but it is now a must win for Everton, who are the favourites to qualify for the Champions League ahead of Arsenal. It won’t be easy for the Toffees on Sunday as the away side have been very difficult to beat under Tony Pulis and they will be keen to get to the 40 points mark, despite the fact that they probably already have too many points to go down. Palace fans will want another win just to make sure.
Many laughed at Roberto Martinez’s claims that he could lead Everton into the Champions League when Bill Kenwright revealed them at his unveiling, but he could do just that. There are only five games to go and Everton occupy the 4th position ahead of Arsenal by two points. Everton have been on an exceptional run of form, winning their last seven matches, only their neighbours Liverpool are above them in the form table. It’s crucial for sides to be in good form at the business end of the season as momentum comes into play. Everton have three key loan players in their side at the moment. If they don’t get into the Champions League, they may lack the finance to sign them permanently.
Like Everton, Crystal Palace have a candidate for manager of the year in Tony Pulis. Before he took over, the club from South London were considered by many as certainties for the drop, but they now occupy a comfortable mid table position of 12th, which is an incredible achievement. There were lingering doubts about whether Pulis would get them over the line, but three consecutive wins has secured their Premier League status. Even Palace fans would accept that several of the sides below them have superior squads, which only makes their season all the more spectacular. They have never stayed up during the Premier League era, but they are set to this season.
In the previous meeting between the two sides, the result was a 0-0 draw. This was during the period when Palace were managerless, but they are a different proposition under Pulis. Their last meeting at Everton was back in the 2004/5 campaign and it finished 4-0 to the home side. Everton finished in the top four that season too, could a repeat result be an omen?
Everton have won seven successive league games for the first time in the Premier League era. This highlights the new belief and the effective style of football that Martinez has brought into the club.
Crystal Palace have kept ten clean sheets in 22 matches since Tony Pulis took charge of the side. They only kept one in 11 before he came to the club, which highlights the organisation that he has brought to the Palace side.
The signing of Romulu Lukaku has been inspired and could be one that secures Champions League football. He is top scoring loanee in Premier League history with 30 goals across two loan spells. It is clear that he is unlikely to be available for a third loan spell, but his future is uncertain. He may return to Chelsea, or they may opt to sell him and if they do, Everton have to try to buy him, especially if they qualify for the Champions League as he is crucial to their side. He has scored 13 goals this season and he also has six assists to his name, highlighting how important he is to Everton in the final third. His chance conversion of 21% shows how clinical he is in front of goal. On Wednesday, his pace and power will cause Palace lots of problems, plus his movement in the fluid Everton system means that he frequently manages to find space in the penalty box.
Jason Puncheon has been a big part in Crystal Palace’s march up the league and he is currently the side’s top scorer in the league with six. Although he only has one assist, he is also a creative outlet, creating 46 chances so far this season. He creates a chance every 47 minutes. Crystal Palace normally line up with one striker, which gives the wingers Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie the license to attack which they have been doing exceptionally in recent weeks. The winger has played for several sides in the Premier League, but he failed to assert himself at Blackpool, QPR or Southampton, but he has finally found himself a home and he will be a crucial part of Palace’s future after joining the club permanently in January. He is still only 27 years old, therefore he still has plenty of time left in his career. If he continues to perform like he has this season, he could become a legend at Selhurst Park.
Everton do have several injuries at the moment, which is far from ideal given their surge for the Champions League. Phil Jagielka is still a week away from returning to action, therefore the impressive John Stones will continue in the centre of defence. Steven Pienaar, Lacina Traore, Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone remain on the long term injury list. They could all miss the rest of the season, although there are hopes that Gibson and Traore will return at some point in the coming weeks.
Crystal Palace have a fully fit squad going into the final few weeks of the season, except there is a doubt over Kagisho Dikgacoi who went off with a knock at the weekend. He could be available on Wednesday as the injury wasn’t too serious, but Pulis may not want to risk him, given Palace’s secure position in the league. There are not likely to be many changes for this match, but Marouane Chamakh and Tom Ince are pushing for a start.
I think Everton will have enough to beat Crystal Palace. They have only lost once this season at Goodison Park and they aren’t likely to drop points against Crystal Palace. The away side will be tough to break down, but Everton have a lot of attacking talent. It will be interesting to see how Palace tackle this match as they are more or less safe in the division now, therefore they may lose focus and start to look towards next season. Tony Pulis always sets his sides up well, so it won’t be an easy game, but Everton’s style of football and Champions League hopes will be enough to carry the side to victory.