Everton not only make their first visit to South Wales for a league match since October 1982, but also make their first ever visit to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday (kick off 15:00 GMT), as they face high flying Swansea City.
The Toffees head to the principality hoping to protect their unbeaten record against Swansea, which has seen the Blues win nine and draw four of the thirteen clashes between the sides over the years. The vast majority of these being in the 2nd tier of English football during Everton’s four year spell in Division 2 in the early 1950’s.
Intriguingly, Everton’s away record at the old Vetch Field Stadium was almost unblemished, with five wins and only one draw, way back in October 1952 when the Toffees drew 2-2 thanks to a Dave Hickson double.
Swansea have made an excellent return to the top flight, and whilst they made a steady start to the season, their form over the past couple of months has seen them rise in to the top half of the Premier League, with them currently sitting in 8th place.
As a result, the Swans look like they will comfortably avoid relegation and defy the bookies that made them odds on favourites to go down as soon as the final whistle went in their Championship Play-Off win against Reading last May.
The Swans have replicated their last spell in the top flight, when their attack led by ex-Everton legend Bob Latchford took the 1981/82 1st Division by storm, eventually finishing in 6th place, before being relegated the following season.
Playing an attractive passing style of football, which Manager Brendan Rodgers has admitted is modelled on Barcelona, Swansea have grown in to the Premier League, firstly by having a tight defence and good home record, but during the second half of the season, progressively improving away from home.
Notable recent results have included the thrilling 3-2 victory against Arsenal and 1-0 triumph against title chasing Manchester City (both at the Liberty Stadium) and the 3-0 demolition of Fulham at Craven Cottage last Saturday.
Since the turn of the calendar year, the Swans have lost three times, but have won six of their ten fixtures. They go in to Saturday’s game in a good run of form, winning their last three consecutive matches and have lost just twice at home to Manchester United (0-1) and Norwich City (2-3) since earning promotion.
Swansea’s recent run of good form has corresponded with the loan signing of midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson from German side 1899 Hoffenheim.
The 22 year old Icelandic International is currently in his second spell in English Football after previously playing for Reading. He moved to Germany in August 2010 for a fee in the region of £6.5m, and despite never being a regular for Hoffenheim, he won the Fans Player of the Season award last season.
With first team opportunities becoming more and more limited, Sigurðsson took the opportunity to join the Swansea on loan, and he has repaid Brendan Rodgers with a series of impressive performances and five goals in nine appearances to date.
Time will tell if Swansea are able to keep the talented Icelandic player, or if another club may make a move for him in the summer given his impressive displays since January.
On Saturday, Swansea will be without winder Nathan Dyer, who has also impressed this season and has an outside chance of making England’s Euro 2012 squad, as he is serving the final game of a three-match ban following his sending off in Swansea’s 2-0 victory at Wigan.
Swansea only other absentee will be Kemy Agustien, who is out with a knee injury until April. Overall though, the Swans have been very fortunate with injuries, and this has probably been a contributory factor of their good form in the Premier League this season.
The Toffee’s are unlikely to have Jack Rodwell or Darron Gibson available, though the Irish man is now back in training and could return for the FA Cup Quarter-Final replay against Sunderland on Tuesday night. With Steven Piennar unavailable for the FA Cup, David Moyes is likely to keep the South African in the team for Saturday’s game, and also keep Royston Drenthe on the right wing. This will negate the need to rush back Seamus Coleman, who missed the midweek game against Arsenal with a thigh injury.
Everton for the third consecutive match will go in to the game with the disadvantage that their opponents will have had a significantly longer rest period, with Swansea not having a midweek fixture this week. The Toffees will be keen to halt the mini-slump in form since the Merseyside Derby, which after Wednesday’s 0-1 defeat to Arsenal, has seen them without a win in the last three matches.
Given the Swans strong home form this season, and with David Moyes perhaps having one eye on Tuesday night’s FA Cup Quarter Final replay, Everton perhaps go in to this game as slight under-dogs.
Swansea have a very tight defensive unit, which will be very difficult to breakdown, as we discovered in December when the Toffee’s struggled to find a way past Swansea’s back four, before Leon Osman made the only breakthrough that evening.
Swansea will be keen to reach the landmark 40 points total, which will surely mark survival for them, and can achieve this on Saturday with a draw or win against Everton.
Despite history favouring the Blues, I don’t see us walking away with anything from this game, and a defeat by a couple of goals could be on the cards.
Swansea City 2 Everton 0