Swansea – Everton (Premier League)
The Premier League has witnessed a revolution in terms of playing style over the last few seasons. With the arrival of foreign (particularly Continental European) managers, the kick-and-rush has been slowly but steadily replaced with a more possession-based approach. During this edition of the Premier League, no two teams have better embodied this transition than Swansea and Everton, who will be facing each other next Sunday at the Liberty Stadium.
If there’s a particular side that has given Swansea City trouble after getting promoted to England’s top tier, it has to be Everton. In fact, the Swans have not scored a single goal in their four Premier League matches against Everton, with just one draw to their name. Everton manager Roberto Martínez first started flourishing in Wales, where he laid the foundation for a swift, crisp passing brand of football that has now become the club’s trademark, and which was subsequently refined by Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rogers and now Michael Laudrup. The appointment of Martínez (who achieved a barely believable 50% winning percentage during his 126-match spell at the helm of the club) as the main man at Everton might in truth spell good news for Swansea. The Welsh often struggled against the team then led by David Moyes – a side that was all about pace, compactness and directness. With the Spaniard’s arrival, Swansea will try to beat Everton at their own (possession) game. In the words of Leon Osman: “We don’t expect it to be a physical tussle, but more a battle to see who can dominate that ball.” Swansea have not been defeated in their last 5 home matches in the Premier League and could do with a win, which would keep them just close to the top half of the table, whereas a defeat might throw them as far as 15th place. On the injury front, Álvaro Vázquez and Garry Monk will probably sit this one out, while Michael Vorm and Nathan Dyer constitute long-time absences. On a more positive note, defender Chico Flores and midfielder Leon Britton might recover in time for Sunday’s match.
Problable line-up: Tremmel – Tiendalli, Ammat, Williams, Davies – Cañas, Guzmán – Pozuelo, Shelvey, Routledge – Michu
Everton have been on the tip of everyone’s tongue lately, with thrilling results and even more enthusiastic displays. Their only defeat of the season came at the start of the season, at what is now being perceived as the hardest grounds in the Premier League – Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. They have lost fewer matches than the remaining Premier League sides and only West Ham can match their number of clean sheets so far (8) and Southampton have as few conceded goals (15). As if that weren’t enough, the team defenders insist on proving their worth higher up, having scored seven goals in the competition, more than any other club. To top it all off, the Toffees will enter the pitch knowing they have never lost to Swansea in any competition (12 wins and 5 draws), therefore hoping to keep their impressive run towards Champions League qualification. Roberto Martínez’s charges have not lost over the last nine matches and sit just four points off league leaders Arsenal. Should they win next Sunday, they might even get to second place, if things go their way in other fixtures. For a team that has recently defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford and imposed a draw at the Emirates against Arsenal, it hardly seems impossible. Former Wigan midfielder James McCarthy has proved a shrewd piece of business, just like Manchester City-loaned Gareth Barry, whose good performances have started some rumours about a possible recall to the English national team. But it’s been Ross Barkley who has been hogging the spotlight, with his dribbles, nutmegs and excellent perception of space. Gerard Deulofeu was on an impressive run, but his torn thigh will keep him off the pitch for some time. Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson have no return dates, but Baines might be back for Boxing Day.
Probable line-up: Howard – Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Oviedo – McCarthy, Barry – Mirallas, Barkley, Pienaar – Lukaku
Rarely has a manger had such influence over the playing style of two opposing teams. The Spaniard’s romantic view led Wigan to win a much-celebrated trophy last year, but also helped pave the way for them to get relegated. Still, Martínez didn’t flinch and was able to implement his more romantic brand of football at Everton, without any gelling issues of note (unlike, say, André Villas-Boas). With David Moyes’ departure for Manchester United, the team now led by Martínez has kept their incisiveness, all the while tapping into more technical resources from their players. It will definitely be most interesting to guess and see who comes out on top between these two almost continental teams.