Roberto Martinez has led Everton to their highest Premier League points tally in his first season at Goodison Park, but remains wary of Tony Pulis's transformation of Crystal Palace as he seeks to keep their Champions League ambitions on track on Wednesday.
Saturday's 1-0 win over Sunderland, Everton's seventh consecutive league victory, lifted them to fourth spot with 66 points, beating their previous best of 65 in 2007-08 despite having five matches still to play.
With Arsenal, trailing by two points, able to reclaim fourth spot when they meet West Ham United on Tuesday, victory over Crystal Palace the following day will ensure Everton's Champions League dreams remain in their own hands.
Martinez has received much praise since replacing David Moyes at Everton and has them on the verge of Europe's premier club competition for the first time since 2005, where they failed to reach the group stage after being knocked out in the third qualification round by Spain's Villarreal.
However Pulis, his opposite number in Wednesday's catch-up match at Goodison Park, could claim to have done an even better job since joining Crystal Palace.
He replaced Ian Holloway in November with the south London club languishing in 19th place and seemingly certain candidates for relegation, but now has them in 12th spot, seven points above the drop zone and looking likely to spend a second consecutive season in the Premier League for the first time.
Martinez acknowledged the impact of Pulis, saying the Welshman had turned them into the best defensive side in the league, having kept nine clean sheets in 21 matches.
“We know how difficult it's going to be,” the Spaniard told a news conference on Tuesday.
“The mind is very much set on the two big challenges that we have - two away games and three massive home games.
“Those home games start on Wednesday against Crystal Palace. You look at Palace and in my eyes they are the best defensive set-up in this league, especially when Tony Pulis arrived at the club.
“They don't concede many goals, if any, and they are on their best run of the year with three consecutive wins. So we're well aware at Everton that we need to create a special atmosphere under the floodlights and help the players face a very difficult fixture.”
The Spaniard said there was nothing complicated about the way Palace operated but breaking them down was still a challenge.
“I think it comes with his experience and obviously he's accumulated a very strong method of work, you can see how hard the team works, how well organised, and the defensive set-up is impressive.
“The way they work in dead-ball situations and the strategy of their goal-scoring threats are huge.
“We know what to expect and the biggest compliment I can pay to Tony Pulis is that even though you know what to expect, it's very, very difficult to compete against.”
Phil Jagielka will not feature despite being close to full fitness, meaning impressive 19-year-old John Stones will continue at centre back, while Steven Pienaar also remains sidelined. – Reuters