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Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Cardiff City

Mar 14, 2014, 11:46 AM EDT

Tim Howard returns to goal when Everton host Cardiff on Saturday. Reuters

Cardiff City need a result at Goodison Park on Saturday – but the struggling Bluebirds will have to take points off an Everton side that have lost just once at home this season (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET online via Live Extra).

Everton’s only home loss this season came at the hands of, of all sides, Sunderland – which might give Cardiff some hope. The visitors will also be bolstered by last weekend’s 3-1 victory over Fulham, their first in five matches. But Cardiff aren’t safe yet, occupying the final spot in the Premier League relegation zone and in danger of being pushed down by Sunderland’s three games in hand.

The Toffees have had a bit of a tough time as of late. In addition to a 4-1 loss to Arsenal that knocked them out of the FA Cup last weekend, Everton lost to both Spurs and Chelsea by a 1-0 scoreline, before finally managing to beat West Ham by the same score two weeks ago – and even that win required a late goal from substitute Romelu Lukaku.

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Everton are currently one place back of the final Europa League spot, but they’re even on points with Manchester United and still have two games to make up. But to finish in the top six, they’ll need to be practically perfect from here on out, meaning Roberto Martínez will need his side to be fit and healthy, and he’ll need to be using his best players for every match.

There was some criticism after Martínez elected to use Joel to face Arsenal in the Cup last weekend, but don’t worry – it’ll be Tim Howard in goal this time around. No word yet, however, on whether Everton captain Phil Jagielka returns to defense after missing the last two matches with a hamstring injury.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is blessed with an almost fully-fit squad, with only defender Ben Turner in doubt, after he picked up an injury in the win over Fulham. However, it was his center back partner, Steve Caulker, that scored two against Fulham, and he’ll certainly get the nod this week. Upfront it’ll likely be Kenwyne Jones alone, although both Craig Bellamy and Wilfried Zaha are pushing to return to the starting lineup.

What they’re saying

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Cardiff’s fight to avoid the drop: “The pressure is not off after win against Fulham, but three points does help the team and players. A win is always good, but we know it’s going to be a two month test of character and team spirit. It was a great start in what was an important game against a team who are bottom. There were lots of positives, but nobody will relax now.”

Roberto Martínez on Everton’s push for Europe: ‘This is a very intense period and we were disappointed to leave the FA Cup. Can we get top four? Mathematically we can. It’s still achievable. Reaching Europe would be a massive step forward, it would bring the massive nights we want that helps us grow as a club.”

Prediction

Home win. Cardiff may have bagged multiple goals last weekend, but that was against Fulham. Everton will be itching to come back from their rather embarrassing defeat to Arsenal, and they’ll be hyper-aware of the need to collect three points to keep hold of a European position.

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