Manchester City are title favourites - but this is their most difficult remaining test, so can Everton give their great rivals Liverpool a helping hand? Michael Cox and Alan Thompson preview Saturday's late game...
"This season, City haven’t won away at a top five side, while Everton haven’t lost at Goodison Park against a top five side"
Lay Manchester City at 1.84/5.
Everton v Manchester City
Saturday 17:30, Sky Sports 1
Match Odds: Everton 5.04/1, Man City 1.84/5, The Draw 4.1.
With Liverpool desperately hoping Manchester City drop points in their remaining three matches of the campaign, it seems their best chance of salvation is by backing their city rivals Everton to get a result this weekend.
Although Roberto Martinez's side appear out of the race for a Champions League spot and don't have much personal motivation to claim the three points, they boast an excellent record against City.
In fact, Everton have won nine of their last 13 meetings against City, including the last four league games at Goodison Park. It's an extraordinary record considering City's development into a genuine title-challenging force in recent campaigns, and the red half of Liverpool will be desperately hoping they can continue this fine run.
Everton, however, have been forced to cope with significant absences in recent weeks - and they could have up to ten players unavailable for this weekend's fixture. Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar have joined long-term absentees Darron Gibson, Bryan Oviedo, Lacina Traore and Arouna Kone on the sidelines, while Gareth Barry is ineligible against his parent club.
Equally worryingly, no fewer than three of Martinez's back four - Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines - are doubtful.
We witnessed how Everton failed to cope with defensive weaknesses in last weekend's calamitous 2-0 defeat at Southampton, with both Antolin Alcaraz and Seamus Coleman scoring own goals, and one wonders how their makeshift backline would cope with Sergio Aguero's pace.
If only one centre-back is unavailable, and therefore excellent prospect John Stones continues alongside either Jagielka or Distin, there's no great worry. But Alcaraz struggles against top-class defenders, so it's well worth waiting to see the teamsheet before venturing into the market here.
Manuel Pellegrini has two major worries - both David Silva and Jesus Navas, probably his first-choice combination on the flanks, are both doubtful. Their absence would mean a downgrade in terms of quality, but also a stylistic change - Samir Nasri can roughly play the Silva role, but James Milner doesn't quite have Navas' pace on the outside.
Still, Milner might be a useful defensive bet against Leighton Baines' runs - Nasri (or Silva) would be more vulnerable to the overlapping of Coleman, who was deservedly named in the PFA Team of the Year last weekend.
It's tough to ignore Everton's defensive weakness, however, especially without Barry. Leon Osman (or perhaps Ross Barkley) will play alongside James McCarthy, but Everton will miss Barry's physical presence in the centre of the pitch, and his reliable positioning in front of the back four. It's difficult to imagine Everton will keep a clean sheet, especially against a plethora of City attacking threats.
Everton's best chance of causing City problems is probably by attacking their centre-backs directly. Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis can both be tempted out of the back and attacked in behind, although the improvement of Fernandinho into one of the Premier League's most disciplined holding midfielders means this hasn't been such a problem in recent months. Nevertheless, the pace of Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deolofeu, plus the clever positional play of Steven Naismith, can cause any side problems.
But City will dominate, and the key is Aguero. The Argentine is arguably most ruthless Premier League finisher on his day - but is he at 100% sharpness? If he's on form, Pellegrini's side should win this match and go on to become champions. If not, and Everton frustrate City yet again, the ball's in Liverpool's court.
I think City are slightly underpriced here - they haven't won away at a top five side this season, Everton haven't lost against at home against a top five this season - and will lay them at 1.84/5.
Lay Manchester City at 1.84/5.
The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson
Everton are definitely without the services of Gareth Barry but they could also be missing Sylvain Distin, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka for this clash with the trio reported as doubtful. That could mean that the Toffees start with Stones and Alcaraz, a combination which didn’t serve them well last time out against Southampton.
However, Everton are always difficult to beat at home - they have scored in each of their last nine home starts, with at least two goals in eight of them. Against top half teams this season, they are not only unbeaten at Goodison but they have kept five clean sheets (Chelsea 1-0, Arsenal 3-0, Spurs 0-0, Man Utd 2-0 & Stoke 4-0) and only failed to score in one (Spurs).
City took full advantage of Liverpool’s defeat last week to put the title back in their own hands. But, they too have team selection problems with reports suggesting both David Silva and Jesus Navas could be doubtful for this one. City have suffered only two defeats away from home this season against top half sides (Liverpool 3-2 and Chelsea 2-1), they have only failed to score once away against such opposition (Stoke 0-0) and have scored in each of their last 10 games home or away.
The team sheets (as always) will be important but regardless I can’t see City letting yet another chance slip away. I will be backing Man City to get their second Premier League victory at Goodison Park by backing 0-2 @ 12 and 1-2 @ 9.4 in the correct score market , giving 'dutched' odds of 5.2.
I will also be having a saver for those stakes on Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.6 and praying they don’t win 3-0 as it was a cheap option at 18 to add to the dutching bet (brings the dutched odds down to approx 4.0) but decided to leave it out.