It has been a turbulent season for Everton with some incredible highs and, unfortunately, all too many frustrating lows. However; this weekend will be the highlight of the last few seasons for Evertonians all over the globe, with the Toffees set to face Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley on Saturday.
Manager Roberto Martinez must select a strong side, but after so many heartless performances from players this term, who deserves to make the starting XI?
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard
Despite Joel Robles being the cup keeper all season, I believe that Tim Howard deserves to start in between the sticks. Robles has made huge improvements this season and in Premier League fixtures is, no doubt, a better keeper than the American now. However, as Howard’s time at Everton draws to a close, he deserves a fantastic send-off for everything he has brought to the club and this weekend’s semi-final provides the perfect chance for that. Furthermore, he has a lot more big-match experience than Robles and I think he would manage to control and keep an ever-inconsistent back-line calm.
Left-back: Leighton Baines
Leighton Baines has had one of his quietest seasons in an Everton shirt, but his set-piece ability is undeniable. Tempers always run high at Wembley which will see a lot of free-kicks given away and there is no one else I would rather have on a dead ball than Baines. He can be caught out defensively as he lacks the pace to track-back, but that is a risk worth taking.
Centre-back: Ramiro Funes Mori
If Romelu Lukaku had not had such a fantastic season, there is no doubt that Mori would be my Player of the Season. The 25-year-old was an unknown when he arrived at Goodison Park, with many fans questioning the signing. However, he is fast becoming defensively astute and, although slightly error-prone, deserves a starting role thanks to his unwavering commitment this season. The Argentine has also netted four times already this season, which highlights his attacking threat which United could struggle to cope with. However, Mori did not feature in either Premier League fixture against Manchester United, so Martinez may have already decided that the Red Devils would be too big a challenge for him.
Centre-back: Phil Jagielka
The Everton captain is always up for a challenge. His leadership qualities and fight will be vital in the Toffees’ performance. John Stones is another option, but in my opinion, he takes too many risks for a semi-final. The skipper has provided some incredibly memorable moments for Everton fans and I trust that he can do so again this weekend. Another last minute half-volley screamer would make the Everton side of Wembley explode!
Right-back: Seamus Coleman
It was always going to be difficult for the Irishman to live up to the performances he produced last season and he has struggled a little with the burden. However; he is still one of, if not the, best right-backs in the country. His pace will allow him to maintain total control over the flank – both offensively and defensively.
Defensive-midfield: James McCarthy
The £11 million paid for James McCarthy seemed like a ridiculous sum at the time, but the Irishman has more than proved his worth. He covers every blade of grass on the pitch, making tackle after tackle and breaks up opposition attacks. He won the FA Cup with Martinez back in 2013, so he knows what it takes to get his hands on the trophy. McCarthy is a no-brainer for the weekend.
Defensive-midfield: Muhamed Bešić
Who partners McCarthy will be a tough decision for Martinez. Any of Darron Gibson, Leon Osman, Gareth Barry or Muhamed Bešić could stake a claim for the role. However, it is most likely going to be a choice from the latter two. Although Barry is more experienced than Bešić, I think he is too error-prone, he has given away the most goalscoring chances of any midfielder in the Premier League this season (4) and could become a little too hot-headed in high pressure moments. Even in the quarter-final against Chelsea, he was given two yellow cards and sent off. In picking Bešić, Martinez has a player who will give his all and not shy away from any fight. No opponent is too big, too skilful or too strong for the Bosnian. In my opinion, the midfielder should have had more chances this season and he deserves a starting role this weekend.
Left-wing: Aaron Lennon
Aaron Lennon’s career has enjoyed a revival since his move to Goodison Park and he has been one of the few in-form players in the side since the turn of the year, managing five goals and an assist in only 11 starts. He is still one of the quickest footballers around and is always a threat going forward. His pace could be key in unlocking the United defence.
Attacking-midfielder: Ross Barkley
Everton born and bred, Ross Barkley is fast becoming the heart and soul of Everton Football Club. He is the playmaker in the side and will be pivotal in the match. He can switch off when the going gets tough and that could be a problem this weekend. However; if he manages to keep himself in the match, the young Englishman has the potential to single-handedly push the Toffees into the final.
Right-wing: Gerard Deulofeu
It amazes me that boss Martinez does not play Gerard Deulofeu more. The Spaniard is a tricky customer who produces some of the best balls into the box that I have ever seen; the winger can split a defence in two with one pass. He has developed a fantastic partnership with Romelu Lukaku this season and, as far as I’m concerned, it would be foolish for Martinez not to select him. The boss may prefer him as an impact substitute, but the winger has proved already this season that he can be effective for a full 90 minutes. He is yet to make an appearance in this year’s FA Cup, but this weekend is the time for Martinez to select him.
Striker: Romelu Lukaku
Not much to be said here – 25 goals this season speaks for itself! Given the right service, Romelu Lukaku is unplayable. His performance in the quarter-final against Chelsea was absolutely phenomenal. The Toffees need more of the same.