Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion: Key Battles to Watch
Everton welcome West Brom to Goodison Park this weekend for Roberto Martinez's first official home game in charge.
His new side began the season with a promising 2-2 draw away at Norwich, while the Baggies stuttered to a disappointing 1-0 home loss to Southampton.
Both sides took a win apiece from this match-up last year, with Everton running out 2-1 winners at home, having suffered a 2-0 defeat earlier in the season.
Here's a look ahead to Saturday's clash, and some of the key confrontations set to decide the contest.
Battle of Styles
Before any individuals are assessed, here's a look at the likely pattern to proceedings and the subsequent clash of styles.
West Brom will begin the game entrenched in their own half, hoping to make things as difficult as possible for the hosts. After gaining possession, they will look to counter-attack at pace and be clinical on the break.
Space will be targeted behind Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman, and the likes of James Morrison and Graham Dorrans will look to isolate defenders and breeze past them one-on-one. If that setting remains, Everton will find it hard to break down the visitors, who would have a strong chance of at least claiming a point.
The hosts on the other hand will look to dominate possession and play in West Brom's half. However, to counter their opponent's potentially negative outset, Everton will need to play deeper and entice the Baggies out from the back, otherwise it will be extremely hard to create chances.
If they can lure them forward, Martinez's side will look for a combination of crafty movement, sharp touches and incisive passing to play through the opposition. As with West Brom, attacking at pace following a turnover will be crucial to the Toffees.
Ignoring set-piece goals, or obtaining a lead via a stroke of good fortune, whichever side is forced out of their initial strategy will struggle.
Leighton Baines vs. Billy Jones
Full-back vs. full-back isn't really a direct tussle, but Baines will be Jones' responsibility more often than not during this contest. If he's not, then West Brom will be in trouble.
With both Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas prone to cutting in from the left, Baines will spend the majority of the game providing width by charging around on the overlap.
As well as creating the most Premier League chances last season (116) he was also the top flight's most prolific crosser. And after sending in 12 of his side's 26 deliveries against Norwich, he once again leads the race this year.
West Brom will most likely deploy the defence-minded Jones at right-back, who will be tasked with reducing the influence of the Premier League's most creative source.
Shane Long vs. Sylvain Distin
This slide was initially focused on Nicolas Anelka, but with the Frenchman now likely to miss the game, Shane Long will be tasked with picking up scraps of possession, holding up play for support runners and pouncing on any chance that falls his way.
He will be inclined to drift into Sylvain Distin's channel more often due to the gaping space likely to be left behind Leighton Baines. This will allow him extra time to hold up play while pulling Distin out of position and distorting Everton's defensive shape.
The attacking nature of the Toffees under Martinez puts extra pressure on their centre-backs who seemingly have to cover additional space behind their full-backs without as much protection in front of them.
As the tallest defender, Distin is needed in the middle as much as possible and any time he's taken out to the flanks, the Toffees appear far more vulnerable from crosses.
Including preseason, Everton are yet to keep a clean sheet under their new manager, and Long will be hoping to prolong that statistic for another week by outwitting Distin.
Ross Barkley vs. Youssouf Mulumbu
Following his blockbuster showing against Norwich, in which he scored and gave countless examples of his considerable potential, all eyes will be on Ross Barkley to see if he can replicate the same level of performance one week on.
Everton maintained a constant supply of possession against Norwich, without facing a serious amount of pressing. The combination of Youssouf Mulumbu, Claudio Yacob and Jonas Olsson, a trio of players more familiar with the darker arts of the game, should provide Barkley with a sterner examination of his style.
All three players will spend passages of play close to the youngster and may try to unsettle his rhythm with a couple of full-blooded challenges.
With all the adrenaline built up from last week's performance and a vocal Goodison Park crowd in full voice, Barkley will need to maintain his composure through any testing exchanges that come his way.
James Morrison vs. Leon Osman
As mentioned, a lot of West Brom's game plan will focus around the transition of play, and one player they will look to isolate with this approach will be Leon Osman.
While fleet-footed and creative in possession, off the ball the England international is often a little vulnerable. Last season, only Santi Cazorla was dribbled past more than Osman (58) in the Premier League, and Norwich looked to exploit this a number of times in last week's match.
The Canaries dribbled past him five times, the highest amount a player was beaten during the opening weekend of the season.
If James Morrison, Chris Brunt and Graham Dorrans can find the same success against Osman, it should provide several opportunities to expose the Toffees' defence.
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