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Sunderland-Everton Preview

AP - Sports

Roberto Martinez will be eyeing the top of the league when his Everton side host Sunderland on Boxing Day.

Everton (9-7-1) are just three points off the top of the table with two games remaining in 2013, and there is a very real chance that the Toffees could be leading the Premier League at the midway point of Martinez's first season in charge - a remarkable feat. The Merseysiders have lost just once all season and picked up another terrific win away at Swansea on Sunday, with Ross Barkley's sensational free kick in the 84th minute securing a 2-1 win.

Despite their excellent start to the season, Martinez was quick to quiet any talk of a title challenge.

"We are in December," said the Spaniard. "I would not be foolish enough to speak about the league. It is too early in the season. All we are doing is trying to be very consistent in our performances. The stats reflect that - only one defeat in 17 is a consistent way of performing.

"The next thing is to carry on developing, carry on working hard. I feel we haven't reached our full potential and that excites me. That is the only focus that we have through this festive period.

"We just want to get to April with the biggest amount of points we can. That is the moment to sit down and look at the table and set the aims for the season in the league campaign."

While Thursday's hosts are targeting the top spot, the visitors are in very real danger of being bottom at the halfway stage. Sunderland (2-4-11) have picked up just 10 points in their opening 17 games, and suffered another disappointment with a 0-0 draw against fellow strugglers Norwich City on Saturday.

"Everton are doing well; ever since I've played in the Barclays Premier League it's always been a tough place to go, a good team, a solid team," said midfielder Seb Larsson ahead of the Boxing Day clash. "They're flying in the league and playing some good football, they've got a lot of good players so it won't be an easy game against them.

"We know we'll have to play really, really well to get something but at the same time we are capable of doing that against the top teams and we've shown that against (Manchester) City and Chelsea this year."

Leighton Baines may be in line for a recall for Everton after an ankle injury, while Sylvain Distin (knock), Steven Pienaar (knock) and Nikica Jelavic (hamstring) all have a chance of playing. Arouna Kone (knee), Darron Gibson (knee) and Gerard Deulofeu (hamstring) are all out. Sunderland are missing Carlos Cuellar (hip), while John O'Shea (hip) faces a late fitness test.

Sunderland beat Everton 1-0 at the Stadium of Light last season, ending a 16-match winless streak to the Toffees. During that run, Everton won 12 games, drew four and outscored the Black Cats 34-10.

Martinez's side are the only one in the Premier League with one loss and have won four of their last five - outscoring their opponents 12-3 in those contests.

Sunderland are without a win in six and are the only team in the Premier League yet to win on the road this season.

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