Everton vs. Cardiff City: Key Battles to Watch
Having recorded a promising 2-2 draw at Norwich, the Toffees have stuttered at home somewhat, drawing 0-0 against West Brom and only defeating League One Stevenage in extra time of their Capital One Cup tie.
Cardiff will be buoyed by last week's shock 3-2 home victory over Manchester City and will look take the momentum from that performance into this game.
Aside from that, Malky Mackay's side went down 2-0 away at West Ham and progressed in the Capital One Cup by knocking out Accrington Stanley 2-0.
In a match that will be the first competitive clash between these two sides in over 30 years, here's a look at some of the key battles set to determine the outcome.
Likely Pattern to the Game
Before the key individual battles are assessed, here's a look at how the game will be contested.
Everton are likely to dominate possession, building from the back and hoping to invite Cardiff onto them in order to play through.
Only Manchester City have enjoyed more possession that Everton this season (64.7 percent), but Roberto Martinez's side have struggled with their tempo thus far, finding it difficult to persistently penetrate congested defences. Width will be key for the Toffees, as will a slicker, speedier passing game.
The hosts won't be too concerned with allowing Everton the lion's share of possession, especially given the success of their rearguard effort against Manchester City.
The Bluebirds have been one of the most direct Premier League sides so far, averaging the second-fewest short passes (274) per game and the second-most long balls (71). They will look to run onto knockdowns from their striker, break at pace any time Everton surrender play and attack the space left behind Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines.
By the same token, any time the Toffees can regain possession without the two lines of four in front of them could prove the difference, as the likes of Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas become far more dangerous.
Set pieces will play an important part for both teams, and Everton will need to analyse how the Bluebirds scored twice from dead-ball scenarios against Manchester City.
Ross Barkley vs. Gary Medel
Ross Barkley has been Everton's leading performer this season, even finding himself elevated into England's most recent squad.
The 19-year-old has been firing off rockets at goal, effortlessly spraying the ball around and dribbling past opponents for fun. In fact this season, only two players have beaten more opponents than Barkley, and of the 42 players to attempt 30 or more final-third passes, the youngster's 92.5 percent accuracy is the best in England.
Trying to suppress his growing influence this weekend will be Gary Medel, who has already shown Cardiff some of his more tenacious, fiery qualities in the win over Manchester City.
The Chile international will do his best to agitate and frustrate Barkley, keeping tight to him and reducing his space. Everton's attacking midfielder will be charged with quickly shifting play to the flanks, maintaining a steady tempo and firing off the odd attempt at goal.
Kim Bo-Kyung vs. Marouane Fellaini and Leon Osman
Kim Bo-Kyung will be Cardiff's most offensive midfielder in this game, tasked with linking up play between midfield and attack. He was particularly impressive against Manchester City, jinking past a couple of opponents to cross for Aron Gunnarsson's goal, and will be his side's most creative threat from open play.
The South Korea midfielder is likely to find Marouane Fellaini and Leon Osman alternating as the Toffees' deepest midfielders, although he will look to get beyond them and trouble Everton's back four.
Despite considerable experience, Everton's central midfield pairing have rarely played together in these roles, and have lacked chemistry during the early games. Both Fellaini and Osman were dribbled past an astonishing nine times between them against Norwich (four and five, respectively), so Kim will look to isolate them one-on-one, bypass them and outnumber the Toffees defence.
Fellaini and Osman fared better against West Brom, who were unable to dribble past either player once. Both will need to sharpen their positional play, communicate and keep close tabs on Kim throughout this contest.
Kevin Mirallas vs. Andrew Taylor
Width will be important for the Toffees, who need to stretch the field to create as much space as possible. On the right side, Kevin Mirallas will be responsible for keeping Cardiff's defence spread out.
After a strong preseason, the Belgium international has appeared a little subdued during Everton's opening few games and will look to make a better impact coming up against Andrew Taylor.
Mirallas should gain the upper hand in this contest, being able to dribble at his man, cut in and shoot, go outside and cross, or simply draw his opponent before playing in an overlapping Seamus Coleman. In short, Taylor will have his hands full managing the Belgian's threat.
Cardiff's left-back appeared a little suspect against Manchester City and Mirallas will be hoping to exploit any similar hesitancy in his opposite man.
Craig Bellamy vs. Leighton Baines
Switching to Everton's left, Leighton Baines will come up against Craig Bellamy in what should be an entertaining, industrious battle.
Now in latter stages of his career, the Bluebirds' skipper is still a formidable threat at this level and will find plenty of space behind the England man to attack.
What should make this matchup so enticing is how both players will be naturally inclined to get forward. Bellamy will instinctively want to be a factor in the final third, but must put in one of his biggest defensive shifts of the season in order to keep his opposite man quiet.
Similarly, Baines will be eager to overlap Steven Pienaar as the South African cuts inside, but must be wary of leaving his defence exposed should Cardiff win back possession and break.
Either man has the potential to win this game with a piece of individual magic, and this battle seems likely to prove the most decisive, individually.
Statistics via Who Scored.