With the final international break of the season out of the way, it’s pure Premier League action every weekend between now and the end of May.
And the coming one has thrown up a mouthwatering round of fixtures. West Ham face Crystal Palace in a fiery London derby on Saturday afternoon, later followed by Tottenham Hotspur’s visit to Liverpool, whilst shock table-topper Leicester City play hosts to regular giant-killers Southampton on Sunday.
Having the final say on the weekend’s Premier League action are Everton and Manchester United, who face each other in a 4pm kickoff at Old Trafford this Sunday. Result results between these two sides are split right down the middle, both winning three of the last six encounters, and neither are enjoying the most memorable of seasons – in fact, quite the opposite.
With that in mind, the result on Sunday could well depend on who dominates the key individual battles. Here are FOUR Football Fancast view as the most important.
Romelu Lukaku has emerged as one of the most potent and complete strikers in European football this season, finding 18 goals and six assists in 29 Premier League appearances through his eclectic mix of pace, power and aerial ability.
Indeed, few defences have been able to contain the beastly Belgium international but Manchester United might fancy their chances of doing so, having conceded the second-fewest goals of any Premier League side this term.
Much of that is owed to the leadership and thuggish defending of Chris Smalling, who will feel confident in contesting Lukaku when it comes to physicality. He’s quick, powerful and tall and has become one of the first names on the United team sheet under Louis van Gaal.
That being said, United have kept just two clean sheets from the England international’s last ten outings – one of which came against Shrewsbury in the FA Cup – so there are certainly weaknesses for the Everton frontman to exploit.
Marauding full-backs are a defining feature of Everton’s attacking play, with Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman famed for their surging drives and technical quality on the overlap.
But Roberto Martinez may feel compelled to put the leash on his wide defenders for the visit to Old Trafford on Sunday, particularly in regards to the Ireland international who will be playing directly against Manchester United winger Anthony Martial.
The Frenchman’s output for the campaign may not be exactly astounding, bagging seven goals and three assists in 24 Premier League appearances, but he’s become arguably the most consistent attacking outlet in the United starting Xi and in the absence of Wayne Rooney is now the focal point of their attack.
No doubt, however, Coleman’s ability can make the difference in the final third and the United starlet isn’t exactly a workaholic, so he will get opportunities to run off the back of the 20-year-old.
Ross Barkley’s England performances were decent if unspectacular during the international break so the Everton midfielder will be desperate to rediscover his club form as soon as possible and continue impressing Roy Hodgson ahead of Euro 2016.
The 22-year-old has bagged eight goals and seven assists in 29 Premier League outings this season, whilst averaging the most created chances per match, 1.6, of any player in the Toffees’ first team squad and providing scintillating drive from the tip of midfield.
That will likely see him line up directly against compatriot Michael Carrick on Sunday and Barkley should relish the challenge of outperforming another Englishman in contention to make Hodgson’s next squad – especially considering the Man United veteran lacks the legs to keep up with him.
But the 34-year-old is one of the best in the business when it comes to creating play from the holding role and although he’s never been the most natural of defenders, his ability to read the game has only increased with age.
Resultantly, this could become a battle of wits more than anything else.
Everton are always a better side with captain Phil Jagielka in the starting line up, providing old-fashioned defensive instincts and leadership at the heart of a largely progressive backline.
The 33-year-old is one of the most experienced defenders in the Premier League and that could pay off dividends on Sunday, when he’ll likely line up against Manchester United’s latest boy wonder Marcus Rashford whose senior career to date consists of just eight appearances across all competitions.
That being said, youthful enthusiasm and natural talent has served the 18-year-old well enough so far, bagging two goals against Arsenal and the winning strike in the Manchester derby before the international break.
So this battle is very much a contest between Jagielka’s old head and Rashford’s considerably younger legs. Bursting with confidence at the moment, however, few would bet against the United youngster getting on the score sheet.