Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The American duo of Landon Donovan and Tim Howard will take center stage for Everton on Thursday evening as the Toffees travel to Portunal to face a motivated Sporting Lisbon in their Europa League Round of 32 return leg.
Since arriving to England last month, Donovan has become a stalwart in head coach David Moyes' starting 11 and Thursday night should be no different.
The on-loan midfielder from the Los Angeles Galaxy has proven to be a revelation for the Liverpool club who have won six of nine matches since Donovan joined the club, including wins over Premiership leaders Chelsea and Manchester United.
As usual, Howard will man the pipes for the visitors who will be out to forget their most recent trip to the Portuguese capital when they were drilled by Benfica 5-0 during the tournament's group stage last October.
The match for the hosts has shaped up to be their biggest one of the season. Having already been eliminated in both domestic cup competitions, Sporting's league campaign has also turned sour as they sit in fourth place, 20 points behind the league leaders in Benfica.
Thursday's night match places a greater onus on the Leões to try to salvage their season with a passage to the round of 16 and a date with either Turkish club Galatasaray or Atletico Madrid.
That would have seemed highly unlikely in the waning minutes of the teams' first leg match at Goodison Park when Everton were cruising to what appeared to be a 2-0 victory. But a foolish penalty extended a lifeline to Sporting who seized on the chance to steal an away goal setting up the dramatic return leg.
Moyes' biggest concern will be his defense which has thinned out due to the suspension of Sylvain Distin and an injury to Tony Hibbert. John Heitinga is also ineligible. A calf injury to Tim Cahill and an ankle injury to Marouane Fellaini will also force the Everton boss to look for options off his bench
Sporting head coach Carlos Carvalhal expects to have a full squad available.