Everton climbed to within two points of Premier League leaders Liverpool with a hard-fought victory over Swansea, with the Toffees hoping to further improve their top 4 chances by defeating bottom-placed Sunderland. The Black Cats are winless in last six and Goodison Park is not exactly a perfect place to be searching for points needed to survive.
Ross Barkley becoming more influential
There were hardly any doubters as to whether Roberto Martinez would be able to successfully replace David Moyes at Goodison Park, but probably not even the most optimistic of fans could predict such an impressive start to the season. Buoyed by some shrewd summer signings and the emergence of Ross Barkley, the Toffees largely impressed in the first part of the season and they go into the Boxing Day clash against Sunderland being just two points off the Premiership summit. Having impressed against title contenders Arsenal and Manchester United, Everton showed incredible consistency to see off Fulham and Swansea in their last two matches, and with games against Sunderland, Southampton, Stoke and Norwich next, the Toffees are expected to further improve their top 4 chances. With Roberto Martinez quickly finding the right balance and his team performing to their potential in almost every single match, Everton should be trusted to see off out-of-sorts Sunderland, especially as the visitors will be severely weakened in this match.
Nikica Jelavic, Steven Pienaar and Sylvain Distin have all been passed fit, while Leighton Baines could also return to the side. Arouna Kone, Gerard Deulofeu and Darron Gibson remain in the infirmary.
More problems for Black Cats
Even if Sunderland remain four points adrift of safety, it is clear that new boss Gus Poyet has brought some improvement to the side, but that does not seem enough for the Black Cats to start climbing the Premier League standings. The team remain toothless in attack, having now failed to score in two successive league fixtures, although their back line has been pretty solid of late. However, with Wes Brown banned for the Everton clash and John O’Shea also expected to miss out, chances are their second-string defence won’t be able to stop the likes of Lukaku, Barkley, Pienaar and Mirallas. Taking into account the six-match winless run, the players are clearly low on confidence at the moment, and Sunderland will have to show massive improvement if they are to get something from Goodison Park. However, given the poor run of form and lack of decent back-ups for the absentees, I really don’t see how they are going to match red-hot Everton at Merseyside.
Wes Brown starts a three-match ban, whereas John O’Shea is a major doubt and Carlos Cuellar and Keiren Westwood are out injured.
Everton are brimming with confidence following yet another impressive victory and they will be looking to get the job done early on against sorry Sunderland. The Black Cats arrive at Goodison without two key defenders, which is going to further damage their chances of celebrating on Boxing Day.
Top pick: Everton/Everton 2.05 (21/20) @ BetVictor
Alternative pick 1: Everton to win to nil 2.25 (5/4) @ Ladbrokes
Alternative pick 2: Over 2.5 goals 1.75 (3/4) @ Betfair