Marcus Rashford vs. Phil Jagielka Is Key Manchester United vs. Everton Battle

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2016

Rashford celebrates his goal at the Etihad Stadium.
Rashford celebrates his goal at the Etihad Stadium.Associated Press

When Everton and Manchester United met at Goodison Park earlier this season, Marcus Rashford was a long way off a place in the first team, but his battle with Phil Jagielka could have a crucial impact on the game between the teams at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Rashford's clash with Martin Demichelis during the Manchester derby on March 20 decided the outcome of that game.

The youngster had too much pace and invention for his more experienced opponent. Demichelis allowed Rashford to burst through into the box for his goal and shortly thereafter committed a foul on him that should have led to a penalty.

Rooney got the better of Jagielka earlier this season.
Rooney got the better of Jagielka earlier this season.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

In United's 3-0 win over the Toffeemen in October, Jagielka allowed Wayne Rooney—a player considerably less mobile than Rashford—to get past him for United's third goal. He will have to do much better in order to keep United's exciting 18-year-old quiet.

Of course, individual battles in football take place within a team context. Centre-backs generally operate in partnerships, and Jagielka will be supported by either Ramiro Funes Mori or John Stones. Rashford, though, should make a concerted effort to target the Everton captain.

At 33, Jagielka is entering the twilight of his career, and he will need to make use of all of his experience to offset Rashford's considerable speed advantage.

Jagielka attempts to stop Arsenal's Alex Iwobi.
Jagielka attempts to stop Arsenal's Alex Iwobi.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

The Everton man has been dribbled past an average of 0.6 times per 90 minutes of league football this season. That puts him 16th on the list of the 53 players who have played more than 10 times at centre-back in the Premier League this season—far from the worst offender but equally far from invulnerable to players looking to beat him with the ball at their feet.

Everton's defence has been infamously susceptible as a unit this season, but in truth that applies much more to their home form than their away form. They have conceded 28 goals in 16 games at Goodison Park but just 13 goals in their 13 games on the road.

That statistic could be a quirk of fate but probably speaks to the different intention of the team on the road, where they are more compact and somewhat more defensively minded.

Everton have been more effective on the road.
Everton have been more effective on the road.ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

If they do defend in compact fashion, Rashford will need his team-mates to build him a platform upon which he can perform. The goal he scored against Manchester City came from a counter-attack—something that has been all too rare at Old Trafford this season.

However, assuming Louis van Gaal sticks with his decision to bring Jesse Lingard to No. 10,  there will at least be some pace in the centre of the park—albeit there will be less pace on the right flank, assuming Juan Mata plays there.

Martial makes life difficult for Coleman at Goodison Park.
Martial makes life difficult for Coleman at Goodison Park.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

United will have to draw Everton out of shape to utilise their best advantages in this game—Anthony Martial is, of course, another player with an abundance of speed and quality. Indeed, he caused Seamus Coleman all manner of difficulties at Goodison Park in the sides' first meeting this season, completing seven successful dribbles in 10 attempts. 

Sadly for United fans, there is every chance Van Gaal will set his team up to play into Everton's hands by retrenching to the static, conservative setup that has sucked the life out of so many games at Old Trafford this season.

One of the defining qualities of United's performance at Goodison Park was the energetic and productive contribution of Ander Herrera, whose performance the manager praised after the game. That kind of attacking midfield showing has been all too rare for United this season.

Manchester United @ManUtd

"If I have to mention one name, it would be @AnderHerrera," says van Gaal. "He played well and made a big contribution to our goals."

That dynamic could decide the fate of the personal battle between Rashford and Jagielka.

If the Red Devils retrench to using two out-and-out holding midfielders in their system on Sunday, Jagielka is favourite to win.

However, if they show a bit more invention and create opportunities for the counter-attack, Rashford could give his more senior opponent a lot of trouble. Whichever player wins that particular battle could well end up on the winning team.

Advanced statistics per WhoScored.com.

Custom table data per Statto.com.