Jan 20, 2014, 7:02 AM EDT
Romelu Lukaku returns to The Hawthorns on Monday (3 p.m. ET; watch life on NBCSN and live online viaNBC Sports Live Extra), with his task to help Everton emerge victorious against West Bromwich Albion, the side he did so much to help while on loan there last season.
The Belgian striker scored 17 goals in the league for West Brom in his time with the Baggies – a number that the struggling side are sorely missing at the moment. The Midlands outfit has but 23 goals thus far, with top scorer Saido Berahino notching four, and second best, Shane Long, has just moved to Hull City. With just one win in their last eleven matches, West Brom are currently 14th in the table, just three points above the relegation zone.
But that may all be about to change. Pepe Mel will take the reins for the first time on Monday night, set to put Albion back on track. Mel comes in after being sacked from Real Betis last month, with the side bottom of the La Liga table. That shouldn’t worry West Brom supporters too much: Juan Carlos Garrido was fired from the same post this weekend, after the side lost 5-0 to Real Madrid. And let’s not forget that just last season, Betis finished seventh, qualifying for Europa League. Mel could be just the man to pull the Baggies out of their slump.
Everton aren’t about to play the role of gracious visitors, allowing Mel to have his dream debut. With a win, the Toffees could go above rivals Liverpool, but even more importantly, three points put them in fourth, the coveted final Champions League position.
The visitors have but two losses to their name, one at Manchester City and the other, oddly enough, at home to Sunderland. They’re undefeated in their last three and will obviously look to extend that run. Under Roberto Martinez, Everton are playing a much more attractive sort of soccer, with an emphasis on free-flowing attack that prevents their opponents from seeing much of the ball. And they’re deadly on set pieces, whether it’s a corner or a free kick sent in from Leighton Baines or Kevin Mirallas.
Everton have a couple concerns, however. They’re without midfielder Ross Barkley, who’s been a bright spot this season, as he’s suffering from a broken toe. And the aforementioned Lukaku has hit a bit of a rough patch, having not scored since the end of November. However, that just might mean the Belgian is due…
What they’re saying
New West Brom boss Pepe Mel on changing the side’s approach: “West Brom need to have an aggressive approach and – in my personal opinion – create more goal-scoring opportunities. The players are showing an awful lot of desire to adapt to my model. They are being very positive. I’m convinced things are going to go well here and they are going to be a success. They are more than capable of having a good rest of the season.”
Everton manager Roberto Martinez on Pepe Mel‘s appointment: “I think he will surprise a lot of people. He has been very successful in his time in Spain. The first time I was aware of his work was at Rayo Vallecano when he got them promoted to the top league against the odds with a very small budget and since then he has done a remarkable job wherever he has been. It is probably the wrong time to face Pepe Mel, but we wish him the best of luck after Monday.”
Draw. With eight draws for Everton and nine for West Brom, these sides are far and away the best at coming out of games with a point. The reverse fixture ended in a goalless draw at Goodison Park back in August, although Everton did manage to hit the woodwork twice. Finally, Pepe Mel knows how important it is to make a good first impression in front of the home fans, but the visitors are simply a stronger side. He may decide to play it safe, as even a draw against the Toffees would likely spell success.
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