SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace celebrates scoring his sides third goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Crystal Palace at the Stadium of Light on September 24, 2016 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Everton play host to Crystal Palace on Friday. Two teams in the top half of the Premier League standings. But which club will have the most players in our combined XI ahead of the game?
Palace will travel to Merseyside on the back of a three-game win streak that sees them sitting in seventh position. It took the Eagles three games to score a goal, but have since netted ten goals in four games.
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The clash will see two of Belgium’s top strikers go head-to-head, with Everton’s Romelu Lukaku looking to outdo his compatriot, Christian Benteke. Which one will lead the line in this combined XI? Or can both be squeezed into the same lineup?
Benteke isn’t even Palace’s top scorer right now, with Scott Dann’s three goals topping Eagle’s scoring chart. Dann is injured for the game at Goodison, however, and is not considered for this XI. Leighton Baines is an injury doubt, as is Wilfried Zaha. As such, neither are considered either.
Both teams have plenty of talent, though, so let’s go ahead and see who is in and who is out.
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND – AUGUST 20: Everton goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg celebrates the opening Everton goal during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Everton at The Hawthorns on August 20, 2016 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Goalkeeper and Defense
The goalkeeper position is one of the harder choices between these two teams. Maarten Stekelenburg has been fantastic so far for Everton, playing every Premier League game since joining in the summer.
Steve Mandanda has been reliable and in great form for Palace, too. Although the Frenchman has played just four games, and is yet to keep a clean sheet. Mandanda has impressed despite not keeping a clean sheet, however. It is Stekelenburg, though, and his two clean sheets that gets the nod in this team.
Right back is fairly straight forward with the adventurous Seamus Coleman taking his place ahead of Joel Ward. Centre-back is competitive with the likes of Ashley Williams, Phil Jagielka and James Tomkins to choose from. Damien Delaney has also played at centre-back for Palace.
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Ashley Williams has to be the first pick in the center of defense. The Welshman was the leader at Swansea and has since settled quickly with the Toffees. Williams is joined at centre-back by Palace centre-back James Tomkins.
Tomkins has proved his worth during his short time with the Eagles and even left some West Ham fans wondering whether he could have helped their pathetic defense. Tomkins scored his first Premier League goal for the club in Palace’s 4-1 win over Stoke.
The left back position is pretty straight forward. Pape Souare is injured long-term for the Eagles after a terrible car crash, and Everton’s Leighton Baines is a doubt with a hamstring injury. So, Martin Kelly, who has played the position most recently for Palace, takes the left back spot.
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 17: Gareth Barry of Everton in action in his 600th premier league game during the Premier League match between Everton and Middlesbrough at Goodison Park on September 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Central midfield has a host of candidates to consider. James McArthur, Joe Ledley and Yohan Cabaye have all contributed to Palace in the center of the park this season. With McArthur and Ledley having emerged as Alan Pardew’s most recent first choice pairing.
Whilst Ronald Koeman has tended to stick with Idrissa Gueye and Gareth Barry in his midfield. Koeman also has other options in his squad, although James McCarthy has been sidelined recently and Muhamed Besic is a long-term injury casualty.
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McArthur and Ledley are proving to be one of the more underrated midfield pairing around the league, but it is impossible to not select Barry and Gueye as the two men in central midfield. Barry recently made his 600th Premier League appearance recently and scored a goal to mark the occasion.
Whilst Gueye has proved one of the value signings of the summer transfer window. The Senegalese midfielder didn’t look half the player at Aston Villa last season as he does now at Goodison Park.
Koeman deserves all the credit for spotting Gueye’s talent and then plucking him off the Villa scrapheap. Everton are reaping the rewards of the signing already with Gueye’s energy and mobility proving a great partner to Barry’s experience and passing ability.
SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 24: Andros Townsend of Crystal Palace gestures late in the second half during the Premier League match between Sunderland FC and Crystal Palace FC at Stadium of Light on September 24, 2016 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Both teams have a slew of attackers to consider in the wide areas. Wilfried Zaha being an injury doubt eases the decision-making a little bit. But that still leaves Palace able to field Andros Townsend and Jason Puncheon.
Everton have the likes of Kevin Mirallas, Yannick Bolasie, Aaron Lennon and Gerard Deulofeu available for selection. Could Ross Barkley even be employed in a wide role? You can move the pieces around a bit for this position.
Barkley has failed to impress this season, however, but for a few glimpses here and there. Deulofeu is a similar story. Townsend has performed well for Palace and showed consistency. The only thing missing was a goal, which he eventually scored against Stoke a few games back.
Townsend takes up one of the wide roles. The other spot is going to either Bolasie or Mirallas. Bolasie is still a bit up and down in his performances, much like when he was at Palace prior. Mirallas can be unpredictable, but has shown an upturn in form under Koeman.
Mirallas is also more of a goal threat than what Bolasie is, so the Belgian takes up the spot on the other flank opposite Townsend. By the time these two team meet at Selhurst Park in January, these positions could totally flip around.
But based on the first six games, Townsend and Mirallas are in. Just.
The striker position in this team had some serious competition with both Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku available. Enner Valencia also has a right to be at least mentioned, but it’s only really about two men.
Lukaku is obviously ahead of where Benteke is right now, but with Benteke rebuilding at Palace, the gap could be a lot closer come the end of the season. Benteke has scored two goals in four games so far for his new club.
Lukaku has netted four goals in five games, including a hat trick against Sunderland. Lukaku has to be one of, if not the, first names on the team sheet. He’s in. And Benteke deserves to join him after performances in the past few weeks.
The 25-year-old looks like he’s starting to find some of his old form again after a disastrous time at Liverpool. A Benteke-Lukaku partnership would have goals galore, if nothing else. Service from the wide areas would be plentiful, with Mirallas playing from the right wing and Townsend on the left.
Here is the final XI:
Injuries effected some positions, but overall there were some very straight forward choices and some debatable ones you can go either way on. The final tally saw Everton come out with the most players in the team by a margin of 7-4.