Midfielder Leon Osman has been in fine form for Everton the last few games. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Here's hoping the Everton family throughout the world had a very Merry Christmas, and that Santa Claus was good to you! The Boxing Day fixture is deep-rooted in tradition in English football over the years, and this year Everton will be traveling to the Stadium of Light to take on Sunderland.
Everton collected all three points at home against Swansea City during the week, and will be looking for another three points against 15th-place Sunderland, who are three points adrift of the Toffees, albeit having played a game more. The Black Cats also won on Wednesday, and will be looking to continue their revival in fortunes after enduring a difficult start to the season. Martin O'Neill was appointed manager on a three-year contract at his boyhood favorite club earlier in December after Steve Bruce was sacked.
Since leaving Aston Villa over a year ago, Martin O'Neill has been away from football until his appointment at the helm of Sunderland. Everton manager David Moyes has spoken out about his admiration of O'Neill and his ability to transform teams "He is at a really big club, it is a big job. It is a big club that has tended to spend well in the market and has done a good job supporting managers financially. If they give that to Martin they will be a force in the next year or so."
Everton meanwhile have had their own issues this season, especially with scpring goals regularly. Over the last couple of years this has been the time the Toffees have started their revival and march up the standings. Midfield loan-signing Royston Drenthe has injected some pace and life into an otherwise stagnant midfield since his arrival, accounting for two goals and eight assists across all competitions. Another strong game from him would ensure that Everton will be taking home more points.
The Wearside team on the other hand are still adapting to O'Neill, with two wins and two losses since he took over. O'Neill is faced with a challenge in fielding a balanced XI, with the lopsided squad he has been handed - short on quality depth in some positions and top-heavy in others, and facing a similar problem to Everton as well with a goal shortage from the strikers.
Midfielder Seamus Coleman re-aggravated his groin injury and will be out for the game. Two other players Jack Rodwell and Conor McAleny are doubtful with hamstring injuries. Striker Apostolos Vellios didn't make the subs bench for the second consecutive game.
For Sunderland, big summer signing Connor Wickham is still out, as are the top two goaltenders Craig Gordon and Simon Mignolet. Striker Fraizer Campbell has logged on some practice match minutes but is still not fully match fit.
Keys To The Game
Everton will be looking to maintain possession of the ball in the middle of the park, and using the incisive runs of Leighton Baines and Drenthe to deliver crosses into the box. Expect Moyes to pack the midfield with five players, with out of form Tim Cahill giving way to in-form Leon Osman playing behind lone striker Louis Saha. Pretty much the same tactics he has employed all year, with the hope that maybe this time they will be able to find the back of the net.
O'Neill is an excellent tactician, but has yet to put his stamp on this Sunderland squad. Players like Nicklas Bendtner, Lee Cattermole and Titus Bramble are rounding back into form under his system. Deadball specialist Sebastian Larsson is always a threat (his diving antics notwithstanding), either going for goal or delivering crosses while one-time Everton interest Stephane Sessegnon has been in very good form on the wing. O'Neill definitely has quality in his ranks, his challenge remains getting all the individual pieces to work cohesively.
- Everton has not lost to Sunderland in the last fourteen fixtures across all competitions.
- Everton have scored 71% of their goals in the second half of games this season, highest in the Premiership.
- Everton have also allowed the fewest shots on goal against them in the league.
- Sunderland has won just three of their last sixteen games at the Stadium of Light.
- Sunderland have made the most tackles (380) while Everton have made the fewest (253) in the Premiership.
- However, Everton have the highest win percentage of those tackles - 79.8%.