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MAROUANE FELLAINI has given Everton FC an injury scare ahead of Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford, after he missed training with Belgium yesterday.
Fellaini is already rated a doubt by his country for tomorrow’s friendly match with Slovakia.
Despite heading an injury-time equaliser against Aston Villa on Saturday, Everton’s influential midfielder complained of discomfort in his hip when he reported for international duty.
He sat out training yesterday along with Arsenal centre-back Thomas Vermaelen.
Fellaini terrorised United on the opening weekend of this season, heading the winner against Alex Ferguson’s side.
He also enjoyed an outstanding match at Old Trafford in last season’s corresponding fixture, scoring in the 4-4 draw which effectively cost United the Premier League title.
PHIL NEVILLE is hoping Everton FC can find a spring in their step again – now that the gruelling January fixture list is behind them.
Between December 22 and Saturday’s visit of Aston Villa, the Blues contested 10 fixtures in 43 days – having used the fewest number of players in the Premier League this season.
But now, barring Cup replays or Cup rearrangements, they don’t have another midweek fixture for the rest of the season.
The return to weekend-to- weekend fixtures could, the Blues skipper hopes, see a greater intensity to the Blues’ displays once again.
"The second half of the season is always when we kick on," he explained.
"Against Swansea and Southampton recently, we probably dipped below our previous standards and didn’t play with the same intensity or the same speed in our play, and maybe that’s because we were coming out of the Christmas period. We had West Ham, Wigan, Chelsea and then Newcastle. Put Cheltenham in that and you have five games in a short period of time and the same players played in every game.
"I think if you look at the rest of the Premier League and the other teams who played that number of games, their players probably only played in three of them. We had eight or nine players who played in all five so it’s natural that there was going to be a little bit of a dip.
"But I think there have been points dropped by everybody and tired and jaded performances from every team. It’s something that we probably expected and it’s one where we had to look at January and say we just had to get through this month.
"It happens every season where you come out of the Christmas period and you’re almost fighting for your lives then for the whole of January to regain your freshness.
"Once you get into February and the weather changes a little and the pitches get a bit better then I think you’ll see most teams kick on again."
Boss David Moyes endorsed his captain’s asessment.
After Saturday’s draw with Aston Villa he said: "We’ve lost three games this season and we’re into February now. I think that’s got to be put into perspective. I’m glad we're through that busy period, but it’s been busy for other clubs too."
PHIL JAGIELKA has already lined up in an England jersey against some of the giants of world football.
The Everton defender has faced World champions Spain, 2006 World Cup winners Italy and 1998 winners France.
But now the Everton defender is hoping to enjoy a run-out against the most charismatic international team of all, when Brazil visit Wembley tomorrow.
He’s taking nothing for granted, though.
Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling are the central defenders vying with Jagielka for places against Brazil, and who starts is anyone’s guess.
“The last 12 months have been a bit of a whirlwind,” said Jagielka.
“From being in a position where you could pretty much have written down the back four and guessed who was going to be on the bench, now I don’t think anyone is guaranteed to start.
“We have four or five really good centre-backs who are competing for both positions.
“It is not even like one is nailed down and the other is available.
“I guess that is what the manager enjoys.
“He has got a bit of everything – youth, experience, people who are playing in the Champions League. It is down to us to try and put your authority down and get that place.”
Jagielka helped shut out the world and European champions in November 2011 – the second time he has faced Spain.
And he relished the experience.
“That Spain game wasn’t make or break but because we won and kept a clean sheet it turned into a massive positive,” he added.
“It is a similar situation now. Whether I get to play, or someone else, it is about gaining experience from a great test.”
The test is certainly going to be a unique one.
With Ronaldinho and Neymar both named in the first squad of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s second spell as Brazil coach, England will be facing forwards at either end of football’s experience spectrum.
Now 32 and playing back home for Atlético Mineiro, Ronaldinho needs no introduction.
Neymar, 21 today, captured the imagination during Brazil’s silver-medal-winning campaign at London 2012.
“I don’t know a lot about Neymar. We don’t see a lot of footage. He plays in Brazil so it is tough for us,” added Jagielka.
“But we have video analysis people when we meet up with England and they will have plenty of footage for us to review.
“They will pick out his good points and bad ones. I am sure the good points will be going on for hours.”
EVERTON defender Jake Bidwell has extended his loan spell at Brentford for another month.
The 19-year-old left-back, in his second spell at Griffin Park, has been a regular in Uwe Rosler’s promotion-chasing side this season and made his 50th league appearance for the Bees against Yeovil on Saturday.
Bidwell’s current deal, a youth loan, will run until March 5 with a view to extending it further.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND assistant boss Marco Tardelli believes that Everton midfielder Darron Gibson could be ready to resume his international career.
The Irish midfielder has 19 full caps for his country, but made himself unavailable for future selection after being ignored during the Euro 2012 finals.
He was approached by Tardelli for this week’s friendly international against Poland after Hull City midfielder David Meyler withdrew from the squad through injury.
Tardelli revealed that Gibson turned down the offer, but only because he believes he isn’t fully fit after missing six Blues matches recently with a thigh problem.
Irish officials now hope he will return to the fold for next month’s World cup qualifiers.
Darron Gibson is looking to end his self-imposed Republic or Ireland exile.
The Everton midfielder, 25, quit after the poor Euro 2012 finals campaign.
He is not fit to play against Poland tomorrow but has told boss Giovanni Trapattoni that he is available in future.
Assistant boss Marco Tardello said: "Darron told us that he wants to come back."
Marouane Fellaini is a doubt for Everton's away clash with Manchester United on Sunday after he missed training with Belgium because of hip pain.