Everton's Leon Osman believes the battle in midfield could decide who wins the Merseyside derby on Saturday.
The 30-year-old, now a veteran of the rivalry has been as consistent as ever in the Toffees first team this season, featuring in five of the club's six league games.
The energetic Osman will be pivotal to The Toffees' chances at Goodison Park, and according to the player, the central area will be where the contest is won and lost at the weekend.
“It is absolutely vital (we win the midfield battle),” Osman said.
“From the first whistle to the last the team that usually wins the derby is the team that controls the tempo and controls the middle of the park – both teams will be looking to get the upper hand in there.”
“They have been tight games and that is probably a measure of where the teams are at,” the 30-year-old added."
“There have been a lot of close matches in recent years and I am sure that will be the case again this time.
“They have had a massive amount of money brought into the club to try and kick them on a bit, but for a few years now we have had a strong nucleus of players and a good side.”
Despite having involved in derbies for seven years, Osman admits the feeling of excitement before a clash with the old enemy is greater every year.
“The excitement does not wane over the years,” he added. “And I am as excited about this game as I was my first derby. Obviously teams change, players change and there are always new challenges to meet.
“My first derby was the one where Lee Carsley scored at Goodison so that was not a bad way to start. I am sure winning the game is a feeling all Evertonians know. The feeling when the final whistle goes and you have won the derby is incredible and is something we are all striving for on Saturday."