1st February 20.00 GMT
The home side come into this tie two places and eight points behind their visitors, with Stoke sitting in 9th and Everton in 7th at the time of writing. For what seemed like an eternity, Stoke’s home form was the stuff of legend – ‘can so and so do it in Stoke on a cold Wednesday night?’ went the common refrain. It was a well-earned reputation, too but in recent years it seems as if they have been dining off the good work of the past. By way of example, their home form this season has the following record after 11 games: W4 D4 L3 along with a goal difference of exactly 0. Not, we think you’ll agree, quite the home form to make visiting teams quake.
Everton turning the blues upside down
Everton will get the chance to see whether Stoke’s home reputation is a fading echo of the past or still has the capacity to bite and harry all who visit. In their favour, Everton have done quite well on the road of late. They haven’t lost away since the second week of December and are on quite a good run of form with their record over the last six games since the Christmas period reading W4 D1 L1 in all competitions. The jewel in that crown was undoubtedly the 4-0 pasting of Manchester City two weeks ago. They followed up that historic win with a victory on the road against a struggling Crystal Palace. The Toffees look to be well primed coming into this tie.
Crouch is back
Stoke have recently jettisoned Bojan Krkic to German side Mainz, the young forward having singularly failed to offer anything like the potency and consistency that manager Mark Hughes would have expected from him. Truth be told, it doesn’t seem like he will be missed all that much as Joe Allen offers much more in the no. 10 role and the wide positions are adequately filled by Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri. And in a move that is sure to please fans and neutrals alike, it looks as if Peter Crouch might once again be a regular starter for them up top.
Giving youth its head
Of late, Everton have successfully implemented their own tactical rejig to a 3-5-2 and in doing so, have given starting roles to promising youths, Tom Davies and Mason Holgate. Although it had been Davies who has more readily caught the eye with his performances in midfield, Holgate’s form has been such in the three man defence that there has been a good deal of talk regarding the future of club captain and defensive stalwart, Phil Jagielka. Not bad work for a 20 year old.
Stoke were relatively unlucky in their last match, a late Wayne Rooney free-kick denying them all three points but won their previous two league games. Fans will be hoping that these results indicate a turnaround in form as they were dire in the month leading up to them. Everton, though, must be the more confident of the two, not only due to the results mentioned above, but also the confidence and spark displayed since the turn of the year. Stoke’s defence is slightly suspect and Everton are beginning to play a lot closer to Romelu Lukaku, allowing the big Belgian to pilfer goals on a more regular basis. These are the details which make this column think that Everton might do enough to get the win. The best price for that outcome is 33/20 and comes by way of SportingBet.