Key Battles That Will Shape Everton's Clash with Manchester United
Manchester United travel to Goodison Park on Sunday with nothing to play for but a bit of pride. Having lost to Everton at Old Trafford, United fans will be hoping that their team, who have the best away record in the league, will be able to get a few more points on the board.
When comparing the two squads, you would argue that United's is far stronger and certainly cost a lot more money to assemble, yet Everton go in to the game nine points clear of David Moyes' team.
Still, what you think of a squad on paper matters little when they are on the pitch, so where will the key battles be between the players this weekend?
Lukaku vs Jones
Romelu Lukaku is in the top 10 scorers in the league this season and has had a huge influence on their bid to finish in the top four. When you consider that Chelsea don't even have a striker in the top 20 this season, it's remarkable that Jose Mourinho let this talent leave the club on loan.
According to WhoScored.com, Lukaku has a total of 13 goals and six assists in 26 appearances, which is a fantastic return.
The task of stopping him from scoring in another big game will be given to Phil Jones, who has had a mixed season for United. Having started the season at right-back before being moved in to central midfield, most of his recent performances have come in the centre of defence.
According to WhoScored.com, only one player at United has made more successful tackles and interceptions than Jones this season.
Jones will have his hands full with Lukaku but will treat this as an opportunity to prove to Moyes he should be starting in the centre of defence every week next season. He also probably won't mind Roy Hodgson seeing him put in a good shift to boost his chances of getting on the plane to Rio this summer.
Barkley vs Carrick
Ross Barkley has been a revelation for Everton this season, with Gary Lineker comparing him to Paul Gascoigne earlier this season.
His manager, Roberto Martinez, drew comparisons with Michael Ballack, as reported by Dominic King in The Daily Mail: "He reminds me of Michael Ballack. When Ballack was younger, nobody knew what his best position was; could he be a sitting midfielder, an attacking midfielder or play up front? Ross is that impressive."
Carrick's form has declined massively this season when you consider last year he was shortlisted as one of the top six players in the league by the PFA, and he will likely struggle to keep up with Barkley.
Mata vs Baines
Juan Mata is unlikely to stick to one side of the pitch all game as, in the absence of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, United have the option to allow their forwards to play with more freedom. Still, Mata has been used more frequently on the right of the pitch and should be faced with Leighton Baines.
In his last two games, Mata has three goals and one assist, as well as winning a penalty after breaking in to the box against Aston Villa and is finally showing the form you would expect from a club's record signing.
According to WhoScored.com, Mata has made more key passes per game than any other United player, with his 2.5 only bettered by five players in the Premier League this season. He also has played more accurate through balls per game than any other United player, and only one player has averaged more passes per game than him at the club.
Baines has had a good season for Everton and has proven himself loyal to the club by signing another contract extension, which surely rules out any previously rumoured move to United. He makes more tackles than most of his team-mates and will be keen to do all he can to stop United to give his club the best chance possible of reaching the top four.
However, Baines is likely to be tested against Adnan Januzaj or as well as Antonio Valencia, so he will need to be versatile for this game.
Welbeck vs Jagielka
Danny Welbeck has been one of the few United players to improve this season, scoring five times as many goals as he did in 2012-2013.
Whilst Wayne Rooney has returned to training this week, Moyes might not want to rush him back after already insisting he won't put the player's fitness at risk ahead of the World Cup. Still, if the performance in Germany against Bayern Munich is anything to go by, a Rooney lacking fitness isn't much to worry about.
Welbeck, on the other hand, stretches the opposition with his pace and repeatedly manages to get behind the back four in defence. Phil Jagielka isn't the quickest of players, so he will be relying on good positioning to ensure that Welbeck doesn't get close to Tim Howard's goal.
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