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Fan Focus: Good Craic From Goodison Park

For Fan Focus ahead of the Boxing Day encounter with Everton we spoke to Calvin from our sister Everton site, Royal Blue Mersey who provide superb coverage of the Toffees about their season and their chances in this game.

Richard Heathcote

Everything seems to be pretty rosy for Everton at the minute. I don't suppose you could be much happier with how things are going?

Royal Blue Mersey: No, no we can't. Really very little to complain about right about now.There was some skepticism when Roberto Martinez was named to take over from David Moyes, and when the team got off to a slow start there was a worry that this could be a rebuilding season.

However, now that Martinez has got the boys playing like he wants them to, they've been on a roll and are challenging for a spot in Europe.

There doesn't appear to have been a huge overhaul in personnel. What's Martinez doing differently?

RBM: The midfield triangle has been all the difference. Gareth Barry has been stellar in his role anchoring the midfield, and this has allowed James McCarthy to set about the field pressuring opponents up high. And then Ross Barkley has taken over the playmaker role in front of the pair, distributing passes in the attacking third of the field.

Martinez's system is based on possession - the ball is played out of defense with Barry and McCarthy coming back to provide outlets, and this opens up space on the wings for Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines to make runs. A lack of finishing has resulted in spells of play when they seem to be passing the ball around for the heck of it, but Everton use ball possession as a defensive tactic too instead of collapsing deep like they did under Moyes.

Ross Barkley is catching the eye of everyone this season. How good can he be, and can Everton hang on to him?

RBM: Barkley has had all sorts of superlatives attributed to him, and shows all the hallmarks of developing into a creative midfielder that could serve England for a long time to come. Having only just turned twenty there's lots of time for him to develop and work out some issues with his game, particularly around his vision around the box and his ability to stay on his feet. No one has been more bullish about his prospects than manager Martinez who has given him his starting position on the side, going on to describe the lad as a mix between Paul Gascoigne and Michael Ballack.

With great fame in Everton colours there must come great bids, we've seen it all before with Wayne Rooney.

However, the team is in a much better place now than those dark years a decade ago, with more talent in various positions that makes the team a contender. Martinez is quickly making a name for himself as a coach that creative players want to play for, and who will give the best players a chance to get on the pitch too. There will be big money offers that will come Barkley's way, but one feels that he will hardly get the playing time he is now on other sides that can write the fat paychecks that his play has deserved.

Who, if anyone, will Everton be looking at in the January window?

RBM: Depth depth depth! Another central midfielder, a winger who could play either side and possibly an experienced Premier League striker.

What have you made of Sunderland this season?

RBM: Things haven't been going so well for Sunderland this year have they? Sunderland were poised to break into the top six a few years ago but seem to have fallen by the wayside in recent seasons. It looked like Paulo Di Canio would have the team marching up the table after pulling out the late save last year from relegation, but this year has been pretty rough.

There are some very good players on the Black Cats side but Gus Poyet has a tall order getting them working cohesively before it's too late this season. Steven Fletcher, Jozy Altidore, Adam Johnson, Sebastian Larsson, Emanuele Giaccherini, Fabio Borini and Ki Sung-Yueng are very capable footballers, but just need Poyet to provide that glue that'll bind them together.

Do you think Sunderland can pose Everton any problems in this game?

RBM: Definitely. As the Black Cats run in the League Cup has proven, on any given day in this League any club can be beaten. They have plenty of pace and creative players too, though mysteriously the goals have been hard to come by. The defensive frailties have been strange too, John O'Shea and Wes Brown have been around for a few years yet the defence has been struggling, and the own goals certainly don't help.

Setpieces have been a weakness for Everton this year and that could be one of the spots where Larsson's excellent dead-ball delivery could get them on the scoreboard.

Who in particular do we need to be paying attention in this one, is there anyone who's work is going under the radar?

RBM: Like I mentioned above, watch out for Barry and McCarthy. Their control of the middle of the park sets the foundation for Everton's dominance of possession. Sunderland will need to close this pair down quickly and ensure they're getting the ball forward at every opportunity to make things harder for the Blues. Young striker Romelu Lukaku hasn't been at his best lately, but is powerful when he has the ball at his feet and will pose a challenge for the away side when he gets into the game.

Finally, what's your prediction for the game?

RBM: I feel Everton are due a letdown game after the stellar performances of the last month. Sunderland are hungry for points right now and could get a 1-1 draw on Boxing Day.

Thanks very much to Calvin for answering our questions. You can find more great Everton coverage on a daily basis, and in the build up to Boxing Day over on his site, Royal Blue Mersey.

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