Roberto Martinez has laid a marker on the transfer saga surrounding Leighton Baines' future at Goodison Park, proclaiming that the full-back will "100 percent" be an Everton player come the end of the season.
The Toffees boss knows all too well the impact that injuries can have on the latter half of a Premier League campaign and recently commented on Baines' prospects of a January departure.
According to Sky Sports, Baines is a crucial part of what Martinez is striving to achieve in his Merseyside post, saying:
In football you don't work long term, you go window to window and I can guarantee that Leighton will be here at the end of the season. That is 100 per cent. That is how you work from window to window - to have a stronger squad than previously.
Leighton is vital for us in the second half of the season. Bryan Oviedo has been terrific, but we need Leighton and Bryan fit for us, if we are going to fight for our football dream.
The Everton manager is no stranger to transfer interest from bigger clubs coming in for his players, with the likes of James McCarthy, Victor Moses and Arouna Kone having all drawn big plaudits playing under Martinez at Wigan Athletic.
And since moving to the Blues' helm, the former Swansea City tactician has once again found the vultures circling above the services of his most prized assets, Baines just one of numerous stars attracting attention.
Earlier in December, the Metro's Danny Griffiths had suggested that the England left-back was at the top of David Moyes' priorities this January, supposedly as a replacement for 32-year-old Patrice Evra.
What's more, the Independent's Sam Wallace revealed in September that Baines, in fact, wanted to leave over the summer but was ultimately refused a transfer:
However, it now appears that the Scot will have to divert his resources away from his former club, having already poached the services of Marouane Fellaini over the summer.
Baines has been out of action for a month since picking up an injury at the end of November but is set to make his return against Southampton today (Dec. 29), after the official Everton Twitter account announced that the defender was in the starting line-up:
According to Squawka, the 29-year-old has won a higher average of his duels than any other regular Everton outfielder this term, not to mention creating 15 scoring chances—an impressive tally by any defender's standards.
Baines is currently enjoying his seventh season as an Everton player, and with the Blues currently level on points with United in the Premier League standings, it seems the Red Devils are set to lose out in this particular hunt.