Stoke City vs Everton

Friday, 16 March, 2018 0comments  |  Jump to last
Match Preview

Will Wayne Rooney be tasked with a more attacking role in Gylfi Sigurdsson's absence?

Everton take their miserable away record to the uncompromising environs of the bet365 Stadium this weekend to face embattled Stoke City.

The Potters have eight games to save themselves from the drop and will be looking to bounce back from defeat to Manchester City while the Blues are hoping to build up some momentum over the last couple of months of the campaign to salvage some respectability from an otherwise dreadful season.

If the return of Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka to the side has lent Everton a more settled, organised and solid air, that sense was bolstered last Saturday in the 2-0 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion.

Granted, it was at Goodison Park where the Blues have been lopsidedly effective since Sam Allardyce assumed the helm following David Unsworth's victorious swan song at the end of November, but a first clean sheet in two and a half months and a second goal in as many matches for Cenk Tosun provided some grounds for optimism.

Away games have been a different proposition under Allardyce, of course, and he will have to plot Stoke's downfall this weekend without Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Iceland international arrived on Merseyside with a massive price tag around his neck and expectations to match and, while Everton's struggles have made it almost impossible for him to live up to his billing, he has, arguably, been the team's most effective outfield player this season.

His versatility, eye for a long-distance goal and potential to provide assists will be sorely missed and hard to replace. In that respect, Allardyce's team selection is going to be an intriguing one.

If the reaction that greeted his introduction off the substitutes' bench last week was any indication, much of the clamour from the supporters will be for Davy Klaassen to be handed the opportunity to stake his claim in the No 10 role. It didn't appear from reading the manager's mind during his press conference yesterday that Klaassen was a likely starter, though, and that is probably prudent.

In the limited chances he has had so far, the Dutchman hasn't looked the part as a creative play-maker type capable of sitting behind a front two and there's an argument to be made that the cheers that greeted him against Brighton were as much in support of a player whom many feel has been badly treated than anything else. In other words, the idea of Klaassen as midfield maestro might have overtaken the reality of a player who has struggled to adapt to the English game.

Indeed, if we're looking for criminally overlooked fringe players who could do a job in Sigurdsson's stead and who might actually be cut out for the creative demands of the No 10 position, young Nikola Vlasic might have more of a case. Dragged in from the proverbial cold for a rare start against Manchester United on New Year's Day and stuck out on the left flank where he had never figured for Everton before, the Croatian played the full 90 minutes and hasn't been seen again.

Which is a shame because, as a player with natural flair, an eye for goal himself and someone who uses the ball well, he could do well… although it might not be wise to pitch him into the role away at Stoke. Which is just as well because the likelihood that Allardyce would be so bold when he's trying to address a horrendous record on Everton's travels is almost non-existent.

That leaves Wayne Rooney, who could move forward and be replaced in central midfield by Morgan Schneiderlin (assuming Idrissa Gueye returns automatically anyway), or Allardyce could dispense with having anyone in the hole and just deploy Dominic Calvert-Lewin, perhaps slightly withdrawn off Tosun and keep Theo Walcott out wide.

Stoke will begin the day in the relegation zone, a point from safety, but in more optimistic mood than they might have been if Mark Hughes were still in charge. (Ironically enough, it's Sparky's new club, Southampton, who currently occupy the last safe spot in the Premier League at the moment and whom the Potters will be looking to overhaul once matchday 31 is complete.)

They've lost just two of their last seven under new boss Paul Lambert — one of those against Champions-elect Manchester City last weekend — and harbour genuine hope now of beating the drop. They struggle to score goals, however, having notched just five on those last seven games but in Xherdan Shaqiri they have a player capable of producing a goal out of nothing.

Genuine threats elsewhere in Lambert's side are few and far between, though, and Allardyce's biggest worry on the day might be how his defence might hold up against a more direct, aerial approach, should Stoke elect to go that route.

There's a feeling that Everton might just have enough in the mentality department to win this one and claim a rare away win. But the bet365 Stadium is never an easy place to come and the Blues have only won once on Stoke's turf in the last decade, that being in the closing stages of the Roberto Martinez era when they registered a rather deceptive 3-0 victory.

The smart money is probably on an unspectacular draw which would represent progress for the Blues after six successive away defeats and, no doubt, a more than satisfactory return for their under-pressure manager.

Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 17 March, 2018
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Last Time: Stoke City 1 - 1 Everton

Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka, Keane, Baines, Gueye, Davies, Rooney, Walcott, Calvert-Lewin, Tosun


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