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Off the Mark: Pienaar’s return gives Everton competition and confidence

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Substitutes were responsible for four Premier League goals last Saturday, with Everton’s Steven Pienaar beating Paul Dummett, Aaron Ramsey and Oscar to make the biggest impact of the lot.

It took the South African just 10 seconds to find the net after he replaced Leon Osman in the Blues’ home game against Hull City, a match in which the hosts weren’t at their best and were somewhat fortunate to keep 11 men on the field due to a couple of rash challenges from midfielder Gareth Barry.

Yet Roberto Martinez’s men still picked up the three points, something that was made possible thanks to their ability to introduce a player of the quality of Pienaar at such a crucial moment of the game.

Not even Martinez would have expected such instant validity of his decision of course, but it highlighted the importance of having a strong squad in the Premier League, something that is more important now than ever.

Take Chelsea’s recent 3-1 win at Norwich, a match in which Jose Mourinho’s side had been pegged back and were facing the possibility of dropping points until the Portuguese turned to his bench.

Sitting there, along with the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Gary Cahill and Michael Essien, were over £60million worth of footballers in Eden Hazard and Willian. The pair both came on, both scored and both played a huge part in Chelsea earning their win.

Their presence on the bench underlined the strength of Chelsea’s squad, a squad which is so strong that players of the quality of Romelu Lukaku and Victor Moses have been allowed out on loan this season, whilst Daniel Sturridge left the club permanently in January.

You can debate the whys and wherefores of those decisions of course, but ultimately they underline the competition for places at Stamford Bridge, a competition that all other teams must aspire to.

Of course the likes of Everton don’t have the funds to match Chelsea’s vast riches, but Pienaar’s goalscoring return at the weekend showed that the Blues from Merseyside have surely got their best squad of the Premier League era right now.

Across midfield alone they can boast Pienaar, Barry, Osman, James McCarthy and Ross Barkley, with their presences ensuring that the blow of losing Darron Gibson to a long-term knee injury has been softened somewhat.

On the flanks, Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith and Gerard Deulofeu compete for places, and whilst Lukaku will be the undisputed star man up top, Arouna Kone and Nikica Jelavic represent pretty decent backup.

Pienaar played the full 90 minutes in the three league games before he was struck down with injury, and so the South African will expect to come straight back into the starting XI now that he has returned to action so spectacularly, but with all of those other options available he might have to be a little more patient.

Martinez now has to juggle his resources and keep all the members of his strong squad happy, a tough job and perhaps the first such test he’s encountered in his managerial career.

His side’s trip to Aston Villa this weekend represents a good test of that squad, particularly as Liverpool and Tottenham – two teams who Everton want to keep up with – have already won there this season.

Manchester City lost at Villa Park though, proof that a strong squad doesn’t always guarantee success, but at least Everton have now become part of a group of Premier League clubs who can legitimately claim to have one.

COMPETITION Wednesday 23rd October

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Townsend proves that confidence is key

What’s better, a confident footballer or a good footballer?

The two are usually one at the same, and no-one else in the Premier League is demonstrating that better than Tottenham’s Andros Townsend right now.

Perhaps feeling freer to express himself following the sale of Gareth Bale, the winger is rewarding Andre Villas-Boas and Roy Hodgson for consistently picking him, and when you’re at the peak of your confidence then freakish goals such as the one he scored at Villa Park on Sunday tend to just happen for you.

Maintain that confidence, and Townsend can become a special player for club and country.

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Hammers need Andy Carroll back

West Ham’s strikerless formation was rightly lauded at Tottenham, but against Manchester City the deficiencies within it were shown up.

Playing up against makeshift centre-back Javi Garcia the Hammers didn’t have a forward to trouble the Spaniard, with the recently re-signed Carlton Cole not quite up to scratch just yet.

If only Sam Allardyce had another forward to call, maybe a Geordie one with a ponytail and few England caps to his name?   

@Mark_Jones86

Gameweek 19 preview: Van Persie is alive and kicking

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Having survived Manchester United’s trip to Swansea, Robin van Persie (£13.9m) will be determined to help his side fight back to winning ways on Boxing Day.

United drew for the first time this season in South Wales on Sunday, and although Sir Alex Ferguson was more concerned with the excellent Ashley Williams (£4.8m) accidentally booting the ball at his Dutch forward after the game, the Scot will by now have switched his attentions to his side’s next three matches over the festive period – all of which offer United a glorious chance to stretch their lead at the top of the table.

Newcastle are first visitors to Old Trafford on Boxing Day before Ferguson’s side host West Brom and then make the short trip to Wigan on New Year’s Day. All are winnable matches as they look to increase their four-point advantage over neighbours Manchester City.

Wayne Rooney (£12.0m) played poorly in that Swansea game, and although Patrice Evra (£6.8m) showed that the Red Devils can score from all over the pitch on Sunday, it is Van Persie who should be backed as Alan Pardew’s side make the trip to Manchester for a match that the hosts should win.

Strikes on the London Underground mean that Arsenal and West Ham’s players can enjoy themselves on Christmas Day just that little bit more in the knowledge that they won’t be playing on Boxing Day – their fixture at the Emirates Stadium has been rearranged for Gameweek 23, double Gameweek fans – and so with no Santi Cazorla or Kevin Nolan to call upon then midfield points will have to be found elsewhere.

They might be seen at Goodison Park, where a still Marouane Fellaini-less Everton host Wigan.

The Blues were perhaps a little fortunate to beat West Ham on Sunday, but with the scheming Steven Pienaar (£6.6m) in their side they could follow that win up with a home victory over the Latics.

Pienaar has scored three goals and made six assists this season, and in the absence of Fellaini he’ll be looked to provide the goods for the Blues, who will also be looking for goals from Nikica Jelavic (£8.2m) and good service from Leighton Baines (£7.5m) against his former club.

Manchester City face a tough game at Sunderland and they could have to be as patient as they were in the 1-0 win over Reading. Whatever happens though they should keep things tight at the back against one of the lowest scorers in the division, with Serbian defender Matija Nastasic (£5.6m) looking to help keep a clean sheet for the seventh time in his last 10 matches.

Defenders look like being on top at the Britannia Stadium too, where Asmir Begovic (£5.6m) and Ryan Shawcross (£5.9m) will look to keep it tight at the back against a Liverpool side for whom Martin Skrtel (£5.9m) and Jose Enrique (£6.0m) impressed in their win over Fulham.

Three Chelsea’s defenders chalked up a double-figured amount of points against Aston Villa on Sunday – Cesar Azpilicueta (£5.6m) was the odd man out with a measly nine – and although Gary Cahill (£6.2m) didn’t join David Luiz (6.5m) and Branislav Ivanovic (£7.0m) on the scoresheet in that huge 8-0 victory, he’ll be ready to impress at Norwich ahead of the expected return of John Terry (£6.5m) and can always be relied upon to provide a goal threat.

Williams and Swansea go to Reading, where Michu (£8.2m) will be hoping to continue his stellar form, whilst many Fantasy bosses will be looking upon Fulham’s home match against Southampton as a last chance saloon for Dimitar Berbatov (£7.1m) following seven matches without a goal for the Bulgarian.

QPR have a great chance to pick up a second win of the season as they host West Brom at Loftus Road, where Adel Taarabt (£5.7m) will be hoping to inspire the hosts, whilst Aston Villa won’t enjoy taking on a lively Tottenham side following that hammering by Chelsea.

Gareth Bale (£9.5m) and Jermain Defoe (£8.4m) will once again be the main men for the visitors.

@Mark_Jones86

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