BOLTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Everton legend Graeme Sharp looks at tributes to another legend Gary Speed outside Goodison Park. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Please welcome RBM's latest writer, Calvin. An adopted son of Buffalo, NY, he is a fan of local sides the Bills, Bulls and Sabres, but he also has a passion for the Toffees. For his first piece he previews what will undoubtedly be an emotional day at Goodison Park on Sunday. Welcome to the team Calvin.
This weekend's home fixture against Stoke City is going to be marked by sadness around Goodison Park following the untimely passing of legendary Toffee Gary Speed. At the time of his death, Speed was manager of Wales and the football community the world over has been mourning his loss.
Keep it here at Royal Blue Mersey on Sunday for the gamethread. More after the jump.
Everton will be looking for their third win on the trot in the Premiership, and continuing their revival as they move up the table. In the corresponding fixture last year, the Toffees dominated possession and created the better of the chances, but only squeaked out a 1-0 win, a story that has become increasingly familiar in recent years to Everton fans.
The Potters meanwhile come into the game having secured qualification into the UEFA Europa League last 32. That was a much-needed shot in the arm for the Tony Pulis-led side that has struggled away from the confines of Britannia Stadium this year, with only one road win and a -12 goal differential. Stoke sit 12th in the table, just a point behind Everton.
Everton manager David Moyes has bemoaned the lack of creativity and consistent goalscoring in his squad. Fans will be curious to see if the manager continues to use his conservative 4-4-1-1 formation, or gambles on an attack-oriented lineup with Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Seamus Coleman and Royston Drenthe all on the field. Greek teenager Apostolos Vellios has scored thrice in his off-the-bench performances, and a spot in the starting XI could happen this weekend.
Everton duo Jack Rodwell and Sylvain Distin will be undergoing late fitness tests while captain Phil Neville might figure in Moyes' plans after recovering from a hamstring injury. Speedy winger Drenthe is back from suspension and is expected to start.
Pulis will be juggling his squad again after Stoke's European adventures and get some fresh legs on the pitch. Ineligible for European play, defender Jonathan Woodgate will be back in the starting lineup as well. Andy Wilkinson is expected to miss another game and Ryan Shotton will take his place in the back four.
Keys To The Game
Everton will need to control possession again and distribute the ball effectively around the park. Stoke are a very similar side to Bolton who the Toffees beat last week. Expect the Potters to clog up the area between the box and the midfield circle, and will dare Everton to break through. Chances on Thomas Sorensen's goal will be few, and accurate finishing will be a must, as always.
Stoke wingers Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington will be taking every opportunity to land crosses in the Everton box - this will be a challenge especially if Distin does not play. Kenwyne Jones, Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch are all strong in the air, so the onus will be on Leighton Baines and Tony Hibbert to cut out the crosses before they can do much damage.
- Last week's victory at Bolton Wanderers marked the first time this season Everton strung two wins in a row.
- However, the Toffees haven't managed a clean sheet at home in the past six fixtures.
- Apart from coming on strong in the second half of the season in recent times, this year Everton have finished games strong too, with a league-leading 53% of their goals being scored in the last fifteen minutes of the game.
- Stoke City, founded in 1863, is the oldest professional football club in the Premier League.
- History is against them this weekend however, with four straight away losses and only one win against Everton in their last six, with the solitary one coming at Stoke earlier in 2011.
- The Potters have the highest percentage of goals from set-pieces in the Premiership with 63%.
- Pennant also leads the league, accounting for 11.5 crosses a game.