DAVID SMITH - Monday, February 15, 2010
Landon Donovan will likely have his first taste of European club competition in nearly five years when Everton host Sporting Lisbon in their Europa League round of 32 game.
Tim Howard is also expected to get the starting nod in goal for the Toffees as they hope to already put a lid on the home-and-home series in the first leg with a big win, before heading to Lisbon for the return leg the following Thursday.
Halfway through his supposed short-term loan to the Merseyside club, Donovan has finally shown the promise expected of his earlier spells in Europe, marking his territory in the team's starting lineup and regularly proving to be one of their better performing players during their recent resurgence.
His six starts with the team have led to four wins and one draw against a single loss, with the biggest result coming the previous Wednesday when they knocked off current Premier League leaders Chelsea FC.
Howard has also shown his mettle in goal in recent weeks, allowing only a pair of goals in the team's previous five league games, three of them resulting in shut-out victories.
The Toffees' Portuguese opponent in the round of 32 is coincidentally the same faced by Donovan's previous loan recipient Bayern Munich in last year's Champions League first knockout stage during his short stay with the club. While he was ultimately overlooked in the Germans' 12-1 aggregate win by doomed coach Jürgen Klinsmann, he can certainly expect to feature in David Moyes' lineup this time around.
Moyes should feel relatively good about his team's chances to post up a strong win in the first leg, not only due to their recent strong play, but also as Sporting head to England in the midst of a troubling slump on the domestic front.
The traditional Portuguese powerhouse is barely hanging onto their fourth-place standing in the league after losing two of their last three in the Liga Sagres and will look for a big performance from veteran forward Liedson in hopes of returning home for the second leg with a chance to pull through.
The sting of Everton's first-ever run-in with Portuguese opponents will still be fresh on the team's mind, as they lost both of their group stage games to Benfica less the four months ago by a combined 7-0 scoreline, and will be looking to redeem themselves this second time around.
Midfielder Mikel Arteta has been welcomed back to the fold after missing an extended period with an ACL injury and subsequent complications to his recovery. Moyes will however be forced to make do without influential midfielder Marouane Fellaini for the second straight game with an ankle injury.
Dutch defender John Heitinga is ineligible for the game due to having played earlier in the season with fellow knockout entrants Atletico Madrid, while Philippe Senderos is doubtful to take the field as he recovers from a back injury.
Rounding out the injury list are utility-man Phil Jagielka and defender Tony Hibbert, who are still on the mend from their respective ACL and groin injuries.
Clint Dempsey is still out with a knee injury and will not suit up when Fulham host reigning UEFA Cup champions Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday in their round of 32 home leg.
Oguchi Onyewu is still recovering from a knee injury and will take no part on Tuesday evening when AC Milan host Manchester United in the San Siro for the first leg of their round of 16 knockout series in the Champions League.