FA Cup quarter-final looming, Jelavic still the man for Everton

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Ian Walton/Getty ImagesNikica Jelavic has scored 18 goals in 48 matches for Everton

Everton face a crucial encounter on Saturday, as the Toffees host Wigan in the first of the weekend quarter-finals. After this pivotal match, each forthcoming fixture will take on the same mantra with European qualification a necessity this season, whether through league position or FA Cup success.

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Playing their 43rd FA Cup quarter-final, Wembley is in sight for Everton and the Blues are looking to secure a fourth trip to the national stadium in five seasons. Wigan stand in their way, however, with Roberto Martinez suggesting Premier League survival is the priority, the visitors could field a weakened team at Goodison Park.

For the home side, Phil Jagielka is absent after ankle surgery and John Heitinga looks set to plug the defensive gap. The injury to Jagielka aside, the team looks something of a formality thanks to the return of key men Darron Gibson and Kevin Mirallas.

While nine or ten starting places appear nailed on, there is one hotly contested position within the Everton forward line. Migrating from his usual midfield position, Marouane Fellaini has made the advanced midfield position his own, but the position ahead of him is wide open.

The two leading contenders are Nikica Jelavic and Victor Anichebe, as the promising but peripheral Apostolos Vellios lingers on the first-team fringes. The two forwards have identical figures this season, each scoring seven times. Unable to rediscover the red-hot form of last season, Nikica Jelavic has seven goals from 28 starts and four substitute appearances.

Resurgent this season, having shown a clear shift in attitude, Anichebe has seven goals from 14 starts and seven substitute appearances. After a bright start to the season, Jelavic has lost his shooting boots and the former Rangers man has gone 838 minutes without a Premier League goal.

Given the form of Anichebe and the lack of it from Jelavic, the easy option would be relegating the latter to bench warming duties. That said, as the well-worn cliché points out, form is temporary and class is permanent. For all his troubles this season, Jelavic retains the greater finesse and ability.

From 120 Premier League appearances, albeit 72 as a substitute, Anichebe has 16 goals. Since his arrival in January 2012, Jelavic has returned 15 league goals from 34 starts and six substitute appearances. In all competitions, Anichebe has 24 goals in 156 matches with Jelavic scoring 18 in 48 for Everton.

The two players differ greater in style. At his best, Anichebe has strength, hold up play and excels with his back to goal; Jelavic has movement, composure and instinctive finishing ability. Based on the requirements of the team and the high volume of chances created, Jelavic's traits give him the edge.

His confidence has slowly ebbed away, that much is obvious, with touch and decision making below their best. Even so, despite the marked difference this season, there are encouraging signs of improvement from Jelavic in recent weeks and it is worth persevering with the Croatian forward.

Having revitalised his Everton career of late, with many ready to consign him to the scrapheap, Anichebe is finally offering a genuine challenge to Jelavic. Yet, for all his improvement, the Nigerian appears best suited to an impact role. Still only 24, Anichebe is already the most used substitute in Everton's long and illustrious history with 93 of his 156 appearances coming from the bench.

Often statuesque, looking for the ball into his feet, opposing sides can neutralise Anichebe with astute marking. Always on the move, taking up promising positions, creating space for team-mates, Jelavic continues to find openings regardless of his scoring woes.

Only smart goalkeeping and slight misfortune prevented Jelavic from finding the net against Reading. Getting sharper with each passing match, it seems only a matter of time before Jelavic returns to his previous best and that can only benefit Everton in upcoming fixtures.

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