Everton vs Manchester United: Four key battles - including Schneiderlin, Lukaku and Mata

Ross Barkley

A look at the key battles in one of the weekend's most-anticipated games as Everton host Manchester United.

The Premier League returns after the international break this weekend and one fixture that was surprisingly not chosen for television coverage takes place at Goodison Park on Saturday as Everton host Manchester United.

United start the weekend two points off the top and three points above this weekend's hosts. Louis van Gaal's side are coming off a sore 3-0 thrashing at Arsenal before the break, which they will be looking to make amends for.

Everton will be anything but easy for the Red Devils, unbeaten in their last five since Manchester City handed them their only defeat to date. Roberto Martínez's side handed Chelsea a 3-1 mauling at this ground a little over a month ago.

What should be an intriguing battle on Merseyside, here are the key battles in the match that should go a long way to determining the outcome of the match.

Ross Barkley vs Morgan Schneiderlin

Everton's young playmaker was a match winner versus Estonia and Lithuania for his country this past week and should be full of confidence going into the weekend as a result.

Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla ran the show in the middle of the pitch for Arsenal last weekend and whilst you can bet van Gaal has worked hard in training since to provide some resistance, there's no guarantee it was fixed overnight.

Manchester United left colossus gaps in their midfield a fortnight ago and any similar performance will surely see Ross Barkley take advantage of that this Saturday. Only seven midfielders have attempted more shots on goal than the England international to date.

Morgan Schneiderlin was brought in to protect the back four, so look for the former Saint to be responsible for keeping close to Everton's playmaker in the middle. With Bastian Schweinsteiger going AWOL versus Arsenal, the German will likely be looking on from the bench, with Michael Carrick expected to start.

Michael Carrick vs Gareth Barry

Manchester United will want to see a lot of the ball this weekend and by maintaining it they will prevent a repeat of their performance last time out.

In order to do so, look for Michael Carrick to have the most touches of all players in the United lineup. The England international is steady on the ball, protecting it well to keep Everton's playmakers out of the game.

Gareth Barry and James McCarthy are in the Everton side to win the ball back so if United can cycle through possession to keep this pair away from the ball, they'll be doing well.  Manchester United have averaged a league-high 57.6% possession, compared to Everton's 50.6% through eight games.

Michael Carrick is capable of playing the ball into the feet of Manchester United's playmakers; Juan Mata and Memphis Depay, to start attacks for his side. Everton will want to prevent the 34-year-old from getting too much time and space on the ball to allow this to happen.

Romelu Lukaku vs Chris Smalling

Everton's Belgian striker has been a real thorn in the side of Manchester United since he came over to England. Romelu Lukaku famously netted a hat-trick in Sir Alex Ferguson's final game and also scored in the 3-0 romp in this fixture back in April.

Lukaku has been in good form to start the new season, too, and is only behind Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa and Alexis Sanchez as many people's favourite to win the Golden Boot this season. He has netted five goals and assisted two more in the first eight games of the season.

Chris Smalling has been in the best form of his career over the past 12 months or so, developing into Manchester United's star centre-back right now. He is starting to show leadership skills, whilst his strength at the back has been key for United.

The 6'3” striker may win the aerial battle on paper, with Smalling not always positioning himself right, whilst he's also a threat on his left foot and offers a physical presence up front. If United are to come away with a clean sheet from this one, Smalling absolutely needs to win this battle.

Juan Mata vs Brendan Galloway

In Leighton Baines' absence at left-back for Everton, youngster Brendan Galloway has looked like a trusty replacement in his early days.

While the 19-year-old was torn apart in the opening 45 minutes versus Manchester City in August before going off injured, he's looked pretty solid down the flank ever since.

Galloway faces a tough match up this weekend against Manchester United's best player of their season so far, Juan Mata.

Neither of these players offer a great deal of pace, but Mata's skill and experience could be a big factor in determining who comes out on top in this matchup. The Spaniard is both a playmaker and goalscorer, who loves both cutting and drifting in field.

Matteo Darmian bombing on from right-back will add additional threat to the teenager who will need a lot of support from both Everton's left winger and one of their holding midfielders this weekend. Mata has been involved in more goals than any other Manchester United player so far this season - six (3 goals, 3 assists).

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