Everton v Sporting Lisbon, Europa League, February 16, 2010
When the draw for the Europa League last 32 was made, Everton fans may have feared against drawing perennial Portuguese powerhouse Sporting Lisbon. Laced in their famous green and white shirts, Sporting are club with historic European pedigree having won both the Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Cup in their heyday.
But Sporting Lisbon circa February 2010 are not a great team, and if the Toffees can reproduce the form that saw them turn over Chelsea in the Premier League last time out, then Goodison Park could be in stall for an enjoyable European night. (Everton are 8/11 to qualify, Sporting are 6/5.)
It speaks volumes about the Liga Sagres that Sporting currently sit fourth in the league despite experiencing a woeful season which sees them trailing third-placed Porto but a whopping 12 points. The likes of Uniao Leiria, Maritimo and Nacional are all in striking distance to ensure Sporting miss out on a European berth via the league, although doubts remain whether any of these minnows can push Sporting out of the top four. Accordingly, with domestic pressures mounting on coach Carlos Carvalhal, it remains to be proven how much Sporting have left in their European locker this season.
Coming off the back of four straight defeats and then a goalless draw with Pacos Ferreria last weekend in the league, Sporting are in miserable form. Put simply, Sporting have struggled to keep any clean sheets all season, while at the other end they have lacked goalscoring consistency with old-timer Leidson leading the scoring charts with a modest six goals. (Sporting are 9/2 to score in both halves.)
It’s difficult to understand why Sporting have been so poor this season, particularly as on paper their squad seems bristling with talent. Two former Premier League strikers, Helder Postiga and Florent Sinama Pongolle, offer options in the final third, while their midfield has a string of big names including Russian Marat Izmailov, Chilean winger Matias Fernandez, Montenegrin star Simon Vukcevic and local heroes Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho. (Sporting are 16/1 to win both halves.)
Moutinho (pictured), in particular, will be a player Evertonians will be happy to see in the flesh. A long-standing transfer target for David Moyes, the 23-year-old diminutive Portuguese international arrives on Merseyside with a big reputation and and even bigger transfer fee slapped around his neck.Â Moutinho is noted for being determined box-to-box performer who can operate anywhere across midfield, but it remains to be seen whether the midfielder can live up to his hype.
While Sporting are riding a low ebb, Everton have been hit and miss over the last month in England. After securing a creditible 2-all draw at Arsenal, they faltered against the 10-men of Liverpool in a turgid Merseyside derby, only to come back with their result of the season downing Chelsea 2-1.
During this time, newbee Landon Donovan has been in sparkling form. The American arrived at Everton for his loan spell on the back of several disappointing European adventures with Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen. But since landing in Liverpool Donovan, a striker who has been used principally as a right winger for the Toffees, has looked part of the furniture as he has gone about scoring once and creating three assists in just a handful of appearances so far.
Special mention also needs to be made for striker Luis Saha. After his devastating performance against the Pensioners that saw the Frenchman lift his goal tally to 13 this season, Saha is arguably in the best form of his career for some time and without doubt his has the guile, skill and ability to upset the Lisbon backline. (Everton are 6/4 to score in both halves.)
101gg predicts: Everton 2 – Sporting Lisbon 1 (8/1)
Full match odds here.