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Everton-West Brom Preview

AP - Sports

Pepe Mel will take charge of West Bromwich Albion for the first time when they welcome Everton to The Hawthorns on Monday.

The Midlands club finally agreed a deal with Mel last week after a month of contract negotiations, and the new head coach will have to lift the spirits of a squad that appear to be slipping into a relegation fight. Despite Mel being a relative unknown in England, the 50-year-old Spaniard's first opposing manager was full of praise for him in the pre-match press conference.

"I think Pepe Mel will surprise a lot of people," said Everton manager Roberto Martinez. "He has been very successful over his time in Spain. The first time I saw his work was when he was at Rayo Vallecano and he got them promoted to the top league with a very small budget and against the odds. Since then he has done a remarkable job wherever he has been.

"He is very clear in his way of working and has clear concepts for the team. I expect West Brom to be a very different team. It is probably the wrong time to face them, but we will concentrate on what we do."

Mel has also made a positive early impression on West Brom midfielder James Morrison.

"I think he'll just try and get a buzz going around the players," said Morrison. "He's come across really well this week in training.

"The main focus at the moment is him getting his points across and the squad has really taken to him. He just wants us to play a pressing game. It's a bit different from what we've been doing in recent years. I'm looking forward to a change in our game and giving the crowd something to cheer about and some exciting football."

Everton (11-8-2) have enjoyed a terrific first half of the season under Martinez and are pushing for a Champions League place alongside some of the division's most highly-rated clubs. However, the departure of striker Nikica Jelavic to Hull this week has left the Toffees squad looking short of fire-power, particularly with star striker Romelu Lukaku only at the club on loan.

"We want to keep Rom as long as we can, but the reality is he's on loan for the season," said Martinez. "He knows he's here until the end of the season and I don't think it would be beneficial to anyone to go into a conversation that's not going to change the agreement we have until May.

"We are in permanent conversation over all the players we have on loan, so as you can imagine the situation is we need to wait until the end of the season to see how the experience went, where we are as a club, and the player needs to have a big say."

West Brom (4-9-8) have injury concerns over Sephane Sessegnon (knock), Goran Popov (neck) and Victor Anichebe (groin). Everton have doubts over the fitness of Sylvain Distin (hamstring) and are without Ross Barkley (broken toe), Gerard Deulofeu (hamstring), Arouna Kone (knee), Darron Gibson (knee).

The Baggies have managed just one win in their last 11 league games, but will be gunning for the first back-to-back home wins of the season.

Everton have lost just one of their last 14, and have been defeated only twice all season - a league low. The Toffees have not allowed more than one goal in any of their last nine games, conceding just six goals since a 3-3 draw with Liverpool in November.

It was a goalless draw when these teams met back in August. Everton out-shot the Baggies 22-7 and dominated the possession count, but failed to break the visitors down.

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