As Everton seek to maintain their stampede on the Premier League’s top four places, David Moyes’ side will need to overcome a Reading side that, while struggling at the foot of the table, have shown glimpses of prosperity this season.
The pair may be battling for quite opposite honours this campaign, but that doesn’t mean that Everton will have things easy during their trip to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.
While this weekend’s visitors have certainly proven themselves to be a cohesive unit with much more depth than some supposed, Everton will still be looking to some players in particular if they’re to come away with all three points.
In kind, Reading have a few stand-out talismans of their own, all of whom will need to have quite the game if they’re to restrain this Everton machine.
Although he may sometimes be labelled as an anchorman or deep-lying playmaker, Marouane Fellaini has been anything but defensive-minded this season.
With that in mind, the unenviable task of marking the Belgian international will likely fall to Kaspars Gorkss, one of the more senior members of Reading’s backline.
Sean Morrison looks probable to partner Gorkss, in defence but Brian McDermott will assuredly see Fellaini as a high-risk enemy and, as such, one in need of more mature coverage.
Fellaini’s astute footwork and knack for finding that killer pass are second only to his ability in the air, and a magnet-like chest that finds it simple to clutch ball after ball out of the heavens.
Gorkss will need to keep two eyes on all 6’5” of his Everton opponent, and if the Toffees’ main man is allowed to have as much influence at the Madejski as he did at Goodison Park last week, this game is as good as done.
Now a loyal servant to the Reading cause, Jobi McAnuff has, fortunately for Royals supporters, been a constant supplier of scoring opportunities this season.
Already with five assists to his name this season, the former Jamaican international will be a man with ample responsibility heaped on his shoulders this weekend.
However, standing in his way is Seamus Coleman who, while not the constant starter McAnuff has been, hasn’t disappointed when called upon by his boss.
The 24-year-old may retain his spot in David Moyes’ starting XI after an impressive display against Sunderland last weekend, perhaps preferred over the ageing Tony Hibbert.
Along with his defensive game, Coleman brings a lot to the table in terms of helping out in attack and will give the Reading defence another outlet to worry about.
McAnuff, as a result, will need to do his fair share coming back for the hosts, although it will be interesting to find out which of these two takes advantage of the other’s bad positioning more so.
Since obtaining a starting spot this campaign, Alex McCarthy has emerged as Reading’s go-to man in between the posts and a reliable figure in the English top flight.
However, having missed the last week or so with injury, the Royals’ new No.1 remains sidelined, leaving Adam Federici to return to the starting spotlight.
In his first couple of games back in the Premier League this season, Federici showed himself to be anything but sturdy in the Reading net and his inclusion may worry a portion of this weekend’s home support.
Nikica Jelavic’s stock amongst his club’s fans, however, is going nowhere but up and the Croatian international remains a prolific talent since migrating from Rangers in January.
With an unsettled figure lined up in front of him, Jelavic will be targeting Federici as a very likely weak spot, and will be hoping to show some of that poacher’s instinct he has in his locker.
While he hasn’t been the source of goals McDermott may have hoped for this campaign, this will be a game where Jason Roberts’ experience will prove essential to any hopes Reading have of coming away from this fixture with a result.
However, Everton have a Premier League stalwart of their own in defence, and will hope that Sylvain Distin’s numerous meetings against Roberts will see them through.
Roberts, now 34-years-old, is nowhere near the spring chicken that he once was and doesn’t dart about in the same lively fashion that Blackburn Rovers fans once enjoyed.
That being said, the veteran’s brain doesn’t seem to have aged in kind, and what Roberts lacks in offensive prowess, he makes up for in terms of positioning and supply.
With a much more youthful bunch around him, Roberts’ role has become one more focused on provision in the last year-and-a-half or so, and Distin will be the aerial presence looking to cancel out Reading’s attacking threat.
Currently keeping Pavel Pogrebnyak from a starting spot it would seem, Noel Hunt has played the full 90 minutes of a Premier League game just once this season.
The Republic of Ireland striker will have his work cut out for him though, as he looks to take on Phil Jagielka, one of Everton’s most consistent performers in what has been a stand-out campaign thus far.
Hunt has scored twice in his last four games for the Royals and while he may not pose much of an aerial threat to Jagielka, will be looking to get around the centre-back in a much more wily fashion.
After failing to come off the bench in the midweek international against Sweden, Jagielka may be keen to release some frustrations at the Madejski Stadium, and unfortunately for Hunt, he might just be in the firing line.