Ross Barkley in action against Queens Park Rangers during the first leg Premiership fixture in August 2011. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Everton finally play a Premiership game after three weeks, with a fixture at Queens Park Rangers on Saturday. Both teams will have a lot at stake - three points will push Everton closer to a possible Europa League spot while QPR need any points they can get to pull them out of the relegation battle they are currently embroiled in.
The Toffees have all their international players back from midweek duty unscathed and will be looking to get back into the swing of things. Leighton Baines had a good game for England, playing the full game in their 3-2 loss to the Netherlands, for whom John Heitinga was solid in the back. Meanwhile Ross Barkley was spectacular in his midfield role for the Under-19s, being named Man of the Match in the 2-1 win over the Czech Republic.
David Moyes finally has some key members of his squad returning to the field after injury, with both Leon Osman and Jack Rodwell featuring in the reserve squad game this week. The timing could not have been better with Everton's second half charge up the table well underway. This is quickly becoming a feature of the Moyes' Everton squads, and shows itself in in-game performances too, with Everton leading the league in second half goals as well.
Mark Hughes on the other hand is under a lot of pressure to improve a QPR squad wallowing in the mire at the bottom of the Premiership table, out of the relegation spots on goal difference. His spending spree during the recently-closed transfer window is yet to pay any dividends, with no wins in their last five games and only two in their last seventeen.
The right midfield spot is up for grabs for Everton after Landon Donovan completed a pivotal two-month loan spell and returned to the USA. Royston Drenthe impressed during the FA Cup fixture against Blackpool and could be given another chance to make the position his own. Tim Cahill is well-rested after sitting out Australia's midweek fixture and will be contending for the spot behind the striker with Osman. Barkley could also force himself into reckoning playing somewhere in the middle of the park.
There should be no changes to the Blues' backline with Phil Jagielka still out long-term. Baines and Tony Hibbert will be charged with cutting out with QPR's wingers as well as initiating attacks of their own, while Heitinga and Sylvain Distin have been excellent as fullbacks. Recent signing Nikica Jelavic might also feature after seeing 45 minutes of action in a midweek international for Croatia.
The Loftus Road outfit have been struggling with injuries, and transfer window signing Djibril Cisse and Samba Diakite are both missing the game on suspension. Luke Young may return to the backline after recovering from a hamstring injury. Alejandro Faurlin and Kieron Dyer are long-term absentees, while Fitz Hall and DJ Campbell should be back next week.
Mark Hughes has all sorts of newly-found riches at his disposal, and seems to be hampered by an inability to bring it all together on a consistent basis. The R's have used a total of forty (yes, 40!) players all season in all competitions, among them Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joey Barton, Armand Traoré, Federico Macheda and Nedum Onuoha, all renown in one way or another.
Keys To The Game
Moyes will be out to avenge the opening day defeat at Goodison at the hands of the upstart QPR. In recent times the fortunes of the two clubs have taken divergent paths, with QPR's poor form leading to Neil Warnock being fired and Hughes being put in charge early this year. This being an away fixture we can expect the ultra-conservative 4-5-1 or slightly more progressive 4-4-1-1 formation, with Denis Stracqualursi in the striker's role. Steven Pienaar has made the left wing position his own in the short time since his return, and can be expected to orchestrate the majority of Everton's attacks.
The home side will have to ensure they maintain their discipline in this game, having consistently managed to hand over the advantage to visiting sides with poor tackles. Adel Taarabt is a menace to opposing defenders and given the time and space can punish Everton. Bobby Zamora is also a recent addition to the squad and can provide the finish the QPR squad so sorely needs. The Toffees seem to play their best football when pushed up with their backs against the wall, and this will be tested as Hughes will attempt to have his side maintain pressure throughout.
- Everton are unbeaten in their last seven games, conceding four goals in that period.
- Moyes has faced Hughes twelve times previously, with five wins and five draws.
- Everton last played at Loftus Road in 1996.
- QPR have five red cards this season, with all being handed out at home.
- The R's have dropped fifteen points from winning positions this season, highest in the league.
- Of the fifteen, thirteen of the points dropped have been at Loftus Road.