I think Sunderland only beat Newcastle last week to prove me wrong—but they will definitely struggle to repeat it against an Everton side that have rediscovered themselves this season. The Toffees won’t trouble the top 4, but they’ve got a shot at a Europa League spot for sure. The struggle for Everton is more of an existential one than anything else—without a new stadium and better finances, Europa League is about all they can hope for. Sunderland know exactly what they’ve got to do to stay up, and that’s actually try and win games.
With Phil Jagielka out and Tim Howard playing like garbage, the young John Stones has even more responsibility heaped on his shoulders. Arsenal beat Everton relatively comfortably last time out, and although Sunderland don’t possess anything like as much attacking prowess, the Toffees will still struggle to keep a clean sheet. The home fans will demand a win and that atmosphere may unsettle the side—Stones will have to reassure his manager and his midfielders that he is capable of holding the fort in this uncertain time.
The enigmatic midfielder has done little harm to his reputation by joining Sunderland, looking a class apart from most of his teammates whenever he has the ball. 1 goal and 3 assists for a team near the bottom of the table isn’t too shabby—especially for a defensive midfielder! The question marks are not over his performances but his strange career path and attitude issues. Before joining Sunderland he meandered from Rennes to Rubin Kazan to Inter and his quotes in the papers were rarely positive. If he can stay below the radar this season he is sure to be picked up by a bigger team in the summer—but not if he trashes his apartment again.
Fletcher won MotM against the Magpies, an impressive performance from a player so often derided by his own fans. The Scotsman scored a gorgeous volley after a thrilling counter-attacking move and reminded some of why Sunderland bought him from Wolves in the first place. Sam Allardyce will make Fletcher his main man in attack (until the January window at the very least) in the hope the Black Cats can score more goals like this.
There have been rumours swirling all week that Lukaku is available for the right price—leading to interest from PSG amongst others. Although the Belgian does occasionally run hot and cold, he is surely the kind of game-changing player Everton can ill-afford to lose (no matter what his agent might say). Mino Raiola will be persona non gratis at Goodison for a long time after his comments on Everton’s suitability for his client, and his touting of Lukaku in the papers may give the young man a boost or put him under needless pressure to perform.