Cardiff City-Everton Preview
Everton welcome Cardiff City to Goodison Park Saturday for the first time in almost 35 years, and the Merseysiders will be desperate to claim all three points to boost their chances of playing in Europe next season.
The Toffees (13-9-5) have slipped to seventh place in the Premier League table after suffering three defeats in five league matches, and Roberto Martinez's side were also beaten 4-1 at Arsenal in the FA Cup quarterfinals last weekend.
Everton are currently nine points adrift of fourth-place Manchester City but have games in hand and still have to play some of the teams above them.
However, if the Toffees do finish out of the top four and fail to qualify for the Champions League, manager Martinez insists he would be happy to play in the Europa League.
"We have 48 points and that is a good return," Martinez told his club's official website. "Can we get top four? Mathematically we can. You look at the points tally you might need to get in those positions and that is still achievable. Many aspects are going to affect the points tally needed to be in the top four. After that you have the Europa League to fight for.
"Getting into Europe is a big objective and something that would allow us to grow as a football club. All you need to do is at the beginning of the season plan the campaign, bearing in mind you are going to be in Europe and that brings extra demands."
Goalkeeper Tim Howard will be back in the starting lineup after being held out of the FA Cup loss to Arsenal.
Cardiff (6-7-16) claimed only their second win in 13 league matches last Saturday when they beat relegation rivals Fulham 3-1 at home thanks to two strikes from defender Steven Caulker and an own goal from Cottagers defender Sascha Riether.
The Bluebirds are 18th in the standings but are in the relegation zone since they trail West Bromwich Albion on goal difference.
Wales international defender Declan John insists victory against the Cottagers has boosted the mood in the Cardiff squad and will give them impetus for their remaining nine games.
"We'd obviously been a few games without a win prior to the weekend, so to beat Fulham in front of our home supporters was brilliant," John told his club's official website. "Hopefully a few more wins between now and the end of the campaign will keep us out of the relegation zone.
"The win on the weekend has picked us all up and we've a great belief. We're looking to go to Everton now on Saturday and get another good result. It's about getting a little bit of momentum at this stage of the season."
The Toffees will be without the injured Darron Gibson, Arouna Kone, Bryan Oviedo and Lacina Traore. Cardiff club captain Mark Hudson has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a hamstring problem.
Everton beat Cardiff 2-0 in a League Cup tie on Aug. 28, 1979, in their last match on Merseyside against the Bluebirds.
These two sides played out a scoreless draw earlier this season at the City Stadium in Wales. Everton outshot Cardiff 13-4, but managed just three efforts on target. The Toffees held 56 percent possession in a tame match with just 18 fouls and two yellow cards issued, one for each side.