Mar 292014

As the Blues head to Craven Cottage, we look at the big talking points before Sunday’s game

Will Jags return?

Phil Jagielka is now fit and available, fully recovered from his hamstring injury – but the form of his deputy, John Stones, could well keep him out of the side.

Stones has started the last five games, growing in maturity every time. The 19-year-old evoked memories of a bloodied and bandaged Terry Butcher at Newcastle on Tuesday, playing on despite sustaining a nasty cut to the head which required eight stitches.

Roberto Martinez has plenty to ponder now that Jagielka is fit again. He must wrestle with the fact Stones clearly deserves his place in the side, but Jagielka – club captain, England international – is one of the most experienced and influential players in his squad, both on and off the field.

Stones went about his business at St James’ Park with quiet assurance. Perfect positional play meant he did not have to make a single tackle all game – neither did defensive partner Sylvain Distin – while he made just one interception. The Magpies had 16 shots but only two were on target – giving Tim Howard one of his quietest 90 minutes of the season.

Stones will probably get the nod.

Will there be more capital punishment for the Blues?

Everton’s record in London this season is poor. They have been beaten on their last three trips to the capital – by Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs – and have already lost once at Craven Cottage this season, in a Capital One Cup tie in September.

Their overall record at Fulham’s famous home ground on the banks of the Thames does not make for promising reading. In 29 matches there, they have won five, drawn seven and lost 17.

They lost their first seven Premier League visits to Craven Cottage before a Leon Osman double in May 2009 ended the drought.

But history will count for nothing tomorrow. Fulham sit rock bottom of the table while Everton have won their last four league games on the spin. That win at St James’ also brought an end to their four-match losing sequence on the road. So there are plenty of reasons to believe.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sits dejected on the bench Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sits dejected on the bench

Can the Blues crank up the pressure on Arsenal?

This looks like being a pivotal weekend in Everton’s season. Fourth-placed Arsenal are wobbling and Arsene Wenger admitted this week that his team’s title pursuit was over. He is now more worried about the sides below, namely Everton. The Gunners host Manchester City in tomorrow’s evening (Free £25 bet offer) Kick-off and Blues fans will be praying they lose.  

If they do, Everton would go into Sunday’s game at Fulham with the chance to cut the gap on Arsenal to three points – a week before Wenger’s men come to Goodison.

There were a few raised eyebrows last month when Roberto Martinez refused to concede that the battle for fourth was over, despite a defeat at Spurs sending his side down to sixth. The Goodison boss was right – it was too soon to throw in the towel. He might even end up having the last laugh.

More Everton FC news

Howard Kendall: Jags and Distin are natural-born defenders.

Rumour mill: Martinez to splash £20m transfer kitty.

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 Posted by at 11:26 pm

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