The Everton squad flew out to Athens on Monday, 24 hours earlier than is usual for these games, in part to counteract the effects of the long, three and a half hour flight, but also to get some warm sunshine into tired muscles. Lucas Neill and Johnny Heitinga are ineligible and so, along with the injured Joey Yobo, remained behind to freeze at Finch Farm. Both Jack Rodwell, who missed the derby with a groin strain, and Louis Saha who is carrying calf and thigh niggles made the flight.
Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill and Steven Pienaar have been vocal in attempting to lift the spirits of a club who have of late suffered more than their fare share of ill luck, both on and off the pitch. It doesn’t take Socrates – no, not the footballer – to divine that if Everton can carry forward the spirit and general all round improvement evident from the derby match that better results will follow. The return of Bilyaletdinov and Pienaar on the flanks was the reason for the better balance which we saw on Sunday. The flair and creativity these two offer will be one of the keys to getting a result against AEK, as would the talismanic Tim Cahill rediscovering his goal scoring touch
With Yobo missing Tony Hibbert looks set to partner Sylvain Distin at centre back. It will be Hibbert’s nineteenth appearance in Europe for the Blues bringing him level with Brian Labone and Colin Harvey on this metric. Dan Gosling will likely come in at right back with Rodwell returning to his mid-field berth. We suspect that David Moyes will hold Saha back, with Sunday’s game against Spurs in mind, and start with Jo up front.
Our starting XI, set up 4-4-1-1, is as follows: Howard; Gosling, Hibbert, Distin, Baines; Rodwell, Bilyaletdinov, Fellaini, Pienaar; Cahill ©; Jo