- Everton two points back of first in Premier League
- Sunderland winless in league since Nov. 10
- Leighton Baines potentially available for Toffees
Though Sunderland won the teams’ last meeting in April, the recent history of this matchup is all Everton. Before their win at the Stadium of Light, the Black Cats’ were winless in 16-match against the Toffees, with Everton undefeated in Sunderland’s last seven trips to Goodison Park. Given where these teams sit in the Premier League, few will picking Gus Poyet’s side to replicate last April’s results.
Everton come into the match in fifth place, with their 34 points leaving them only two back of first place Liverpool. Defeated only once the season, Roberto Martínez’s team has the fewest losses in the Premier League, though building on their league-leading sevens draws will be seen as a failure against their last place guests.
Sunderland have not won on the road all season. In eight matches away from home, they’ve only scored twice. With Everton undefeated at home under Martínez, everything is stacked against the Black Cats, who will be missing Wes Brown (suspension), Carlos Cuellar (hip) and Kieran Westwood (shoulder).
Poyet has just as many problems at the other end. Sunderland’s 12 league goals are the second-worst in the Premier League. On Thursday, they’ll be going up against the league’s best defense, Everton having only conceded 16 goals in 17 games. In a game where the Toffees are likely to dominate the ball, it may prove difficult to keep midfielder Lee Cattermole (one card every 189 minutes since moving to Sunderland) out of Lee Probert’s book.
Even if Sunderland can keep all their players on the pitch, they’re struggle to match up with Gareth Barry, Jamie McCarthy, and Ross Barkley in the middle. They don’t have wide players that can keep up with Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas, particularly when they get help from Seamus Coleman and a potentially returning Leighton Baines. And with Brown out and John O’Shea doubtful (shoulder), the Black Cats’ best defenders will likely be on the sidelines while second choices try to contain Romelu Lukaku.
What they’re saying
Sunderland coach Charlie Oatway on the Black Cats’ struggles: “Life’s a fight. You either stand up and be counted in everything that you do or you sink … I want to come here and wave a magic wand around, stay up and everyone pat us on the back. Life doesn’t work like that. You have to take the rough with the smooth.”
Roberto Martínez on the importance of central defender Sylvain Distin: “Football gives you the reward that you put in as a professional. When you get in a situation like Sylvain’s, it’s not the manager making decisions, it’s football. Sylvain has been an incredible performer this season.”
If you’re in a Premier League suicide pool, a.) why didn’t I get an invite (seriously), and b.) choose Everton. Sunderland could win, but there’s no reason beyond ‘the inherent randomness of sport’ to think they will.