Was it the long-sought, culture-changing victory or just another false dawn?
Everton look to prove to themselves and the rest of the world it is the former and not the latter Saturday when they face a tricky contest at Selhurst Park versus Crystal Palace.
Long labeled a sleeping giant of English football, many have pegged Everton (14-7-14) as the side who can break the hegemony of the Big Six. In the first season under Marco Silva, there have been glimpses of the Toffees being that club amid spots of inconsistency.
Yet since their Merseyside derby draw versus Liverpool on March 3, the glimpses have become stretches and the stretches have become matches. Including that match, Everton are 4-1-2 in their last seven matches, but who they have beaten stands out – Chelsea, Arsenal and most recently, Manchester United.
The Toffees put United to the sword Sunday at Goodison Park, steamrolling Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side 4-0. Richarlison’s acrobatic overhead finish in the 13th minute opened the scoring, and after Gylfi Sigurdsson’s long-range strike doubled the margin on 28 minutes, the rout was on as United went supine. Lucas Digne and Theo Walcott added second-half goals for Everton, who did not allow a shot on target until four minutes from time.
The victory lifted the Toffees to ninth in the table on 49 points, two back of Wolverhampton for seventh – the spot that carries a potential Europa League qualifying berth should Manchester City beat Watford in the FA Cup final. But Silva recognizes the importance of building on that landmark victory in this match, with any result moving them beyond last term’s total that resulted in an eighth-place finish.
“We have to prove our quality again and it will be a tough match,” Silva said at his Thursday news conference. “I can see really good quality in Palace’s team, top players in their attack line who can decide the game in one moment.
“In the past six games, I have seen some important things in our team. It is up to us to do our best and if we reach our best level we can win the match. We have three more matches and must keep fighting and proving our quality.”
That task may be tougher without Richarlison, who was forced off early in the second half with what is believed to be a rib injury. The Brasil international is joint-leader with Sigurdsson on 13 goals, and the Iceland international has four goals and two assists in his last eight matches. Midfielder Andre Gomes is definitely out as he serves the second of his three-match ban for his stamp on Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Crystal Palace (12-6-17) is comfortably mid-table but is like Everton in the sense they are seeking consistency to improve to bigger and better things. The Eagles have alternated wins and losses in their last nine league matches and have a chance for back-to-back victories for the first time since December after their 3-2 win at Arsenal on Sunday.
Roy Hodgson’s side proved lethal on set pieces, scoring all three goals in that method. Christian Benteke had an unmarked header off a free kick by Luka Milivojevic, then set up Wilfried Zaha for the go-ahead goal in the 61st minute by nodding on a Route One ball off a restart. James McArthur netted Palace’s third with a header that was glanced his way following Milivojevic’s corner kick as Palace won for the fourth time in five road matches.
“I’m really happy and really pleased to get back on the scoresheet,” Benteke told Palace’s official website. “It’s been a tough, tough year for me with injury and then coming back and just waiting my turn. I’m really happy today. I’m happy, I’m happy about my performance this afternoon because it’s not just the goal, we work really hard, myself and Wilf up front.
“I will just keep doing the same that I’ve been doing before when I was scoring, when I was in form. The main thing for me now for the last three games is just to stay fit. I know when I’m in form, when I’m 100 percent fit, I know what I’m capable of doing.”
Palace have not often shown the capability of matching their road play at Selhurst Park, taking just 16 points from their 17 matches (4-4-9). The Eagles are 2-2-5 in their last nine at home but have scored nine of their 14 goals there in the seven most recent contests.
Milivojevic continues to sit on 10 penalties as he is one shy of matching the Premier League record set by Andy Johnson with Palace in 2004-05. The Serbia international has made all but one of his 11 attempts from the spot.
Everton left it late for a 2-0 victory in the reverse fixture in October, with substitutes Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun netting the goals in the final three minutes. The Toffees are unbeaten in their last eight (4-4-0) versus Crystal Palace since a 3-2 loss in September 2014 and seeking their first double over the Eagles since 2004-05.
Palace are winless in their last seven (0-3-4) at Selhurst Park versus Everton since Andy Preece scored in the 53rd minute of a 1-0 victory in 1994.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Crystal Palace 1, Everton 1.
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(Gylfi Sigurdsson/Richarlison photo courtesy Everton official Twitter account)