Match Preview: Everton vs. Wigan Athletic
Everton is one of those strange clubs that always seems to start the season poorly, grow as it goes along, and end with a flourish, often pushing for a spot in Europe. This season has been no different, losing to QPR and failing to beat Aston Villa at home, and scraping a 1-0 victory away at Blackburn. They’ve lost a couple strikers in Yakubu and Beckford. The Nigerian wasn’t contributing very much and shouldn’t be missed but Beckford appeared to be settling in last season and it does seem a strange decision to let him go. One would guess that promise of first-team football, a non-promotion clause and a big paycheck at Leicester probably did the trick.
The real dagger though, has been the loss of Mikel Arteta. While his form at Everton in the last season or two has been a little inconsistent, largely due to injuries, he was always the creative heartbeat, one of the few players in their squad capable of a little magic. And an excellent set-piece delivery, although former Wiganer Leighton Baines has taken over those duties rather excellently. In fact, it’s Bainesy’s free-kicks, direct and indirect, that Latics will probably be most wary of in tomorrow’s clash.
All in all, you get the sense that the traditional Everton bounce-back may be less of a sure thing this year. They still have too much quality and resilience to get sucked into a relegation battle, but they look a decidedly mid-table team — particularly if their poor home form continues — and as such, are a team Latics should be looking to snatch a point or three against.
While always tough matches, Latics don’t seem to fear the trip to Goodison, and got a valuable point there last year. The year before that, they might have emerged with all three had a Jordi Gomez shot gone in rather than striking the post, and a Scott Sinclair breakaway ended up in the back of the net as it should have. Instead, Everton got a last minute penalty, and took all three points. Point is, this game will be a battle, but is up for grabs.
Meanwhile, Latics will arrive at Goodison on the back of two losses in a week. The 3-0 result at City could have been much worse — although we did fail to report in our match report that there were some decent passages of attacking play, particularly through the legs of Victor Moses — while the League Cup loss at Crystal Palace (albeit with 7 reserves in the starting lineup) was disappointing. Martinez spoke highly once again of new signing Shaun Maloney yesterday, so we can expect to see him on the bench, at least. Otherwise, the only change should be in midfield, where McArthur will probably make way for Jordi Gomez or McCarthy. Probable starting XI: Al-Habsi; Boyce, Lopez, Caldwell, Figueroa; Watson, Diame, Jordi/McCarthy/McArthur; Rodallega, Moses, Di Santo.
Prediction: as always, hard to tell. My main concern is Lopez’s ability to cope with the aerial threat Everton always pose. But I’m think Latics, particularly with their new signings coming off the bench, have goals in them. Moses for one, is due a bit of luck. I’m saying 1-1.