Ask anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the game and they’ll tell you that football is only 11 v 11 on paper. It is moreso in reality a series of individual battles that help decide results and last season the Cutter began highlighting the most intriguing and influential of these duels ahead of each weekend of fixtures.
After a baffling break (ie we stopped doing them and don’t quite know why) the Cutter is genuinely chuffed to announce that by popular demand the triumphant return of the preview with a difference…the match-ups of the day.
Luke Shaw v Pablo Zabaleta (Southampton v Manchester City)
It is rare that we pit two opposing full-backs against one another but when one of them is the marauding Zabaleta we could feasibly have chosen any one of the Southampton line-up. The Argentine has been incredible this season; a one-man army invading every blade of grass, a phenomenon well worth witnessing first-hand. Here at St Marys his forward forays down the right will regularly be met by one of the brightest young prospects around.
At the tender age of just 17 Shaw has already drawn comparisons to Leighton Baines for his adventurous style but – assuming he is selected after picking up a ligament strain on Under 21 duty this week – the teen sensation will be ordered to contain such ambition when faced with not only Milner and Silva scheming and probing but City’s raging bull Zaba hurtling down to assist.
With tight, lightning-quick triangles the trio will continually look to isolate and expose and this will be Shaw’s biggest – and most fascinating to assess – challenge to date.
Michu v Christopher Samba (Swansea City v QPR)
With Danny Graham gone the onus falls even more so now on Michu to stay fit and firing. Without the Spanish maestro adding to his sixteen strikes already this term the Swans lack a potent threat as proven by their four blanks in six due to his month-long mini drought but here his other qualities might be equally beneficial.
Michu is hardly a fox in the box and likes to roam into deeper areas that unnerve centre-backs unsure whether to go or stay. The man-mountain defiantly Samba falls into the former category and is always willing to track his target into unfamiliar territory. His tenacious stalking has pros and cons in equal measure but against a fluid Swansea side it may prove to be the Hoops’ undoing as Routledge and De Guzman seek out temporary gaps in the visitor’s backline.
Are Swansea over-reliant on Michu’s goals? Yes, but perhaps not in this instance.
Rio Ferdinand and Johnny Evans v Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United v Everton)
The fuzzy-haired Belgian was a beast against the Reds on the opening game of the campaign and terrorised both United’s midfield and defence single-handedly. While it may be unrealistic to expect a similar performance away at Old Trafford his ominous threat from set-pieces remains and Everton – or more specifically Leighton Baines – will be pinging balls to that comical mop at every opportunity.
Despite United’s imperious form at home in front of sell-out crowds they’ve looked vulnerable at the back this season and particularly so from accuracy out wide. The Toffees specialise in such situations and quite frankly the prospect of a charged-up Everton looking for their first win at O/T since 1992 is the last thing Evans and Ferdinand need. Fellaini will be relishing the challenge and looking to create carnage and confusion from the get-go.