Swansea look to put some distance between themselves and the relegation zone, but collecting three points at Goodison Park will be difficult, considering Everton have lost just once at home this season (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET online via Live Extra).
Falling out of Europa League was meant to help Swansea get back on track, easing their pressure in the Premier League. Yet the Swans are still just four point clear of the danger zone, having picked up only two points in their last four matches. Swansea looked to be in the driver’s seat last weekend when Roland Lamah scored within two minutes of kickoff, but fellow strugglers West Brom came back to steal a win with two goals in the second half.
Everton are seeking a chance to prove themselves in Europe next season, but need a third straight win to keep themselves solidly in the Europa League places. Currently the Toffees are sixth, three points above Manchester United but with a game in hand, and two points below Tottenham, who have a two-match advantage. Everton left it til late last weekend, frustrated by Cardiff closing ranks, but Seamus Coleman broke through in injury time to grab his side the win.
Michu is still not fit enough to start, but that’s not stopping Gary Monk from making changes to the side that fell apart in the second half last weekend. Lamah drops to the bench, as do Jonathan De Guzmán and Jordi Amat. Nathan Dyer, Chico Flores and Pablo Hernández all start.
The hosts make two changes to last week’s winning side. Gerard Deulofeu and Leon Osman are on the bench, while Ross Barkley and Aiden McGeady start. Captain Tim Howard takes his place in goal while Romelu Lukaku spearheads the attack.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.