There has been no love lost between these two sides over the years and we should expect nothing different for this bumper clash this Saturday afternoon.

Essendon finished up 25-point victors the last time these two sides met in Round 1 of 2017, but both teams have changed significantly since then.

 There are a plethora of pivotal match-ups that could determine who will get the win in front of a packed crowd at the MCG.

Here is a look at some of the crucial battles that could shape the match on Saturday afternoon:

Tom Mitchell vs Zach Merrett

If the Bombers decide against sending someone to Tom Mitchell, we could see two of the best ball-winners in the competition go head-to-head. Zach Merrett has returned to form after a lean start to the season, collecting a team-high 29 disposals and 10 tackles in their loss last weekend. Mitchell nearly reached that tally in the first half last week against St Kilda, finishing with a monumental 45 possessions, returning to his dominant best. The two were dead even in their Round 1 encounter last year, each finishing with 37 disposals, but given his recent, you would back Mitchell in at the minute.

Ben McEvoy vs Tom Bellchambers

After being well beaten against Todd Goldstein the previous week, Ben McEvoy responded in phenomenal fashion on a cold winter’s night in Launceston. The 28-year-old won the hit-out count and gathered double the possessions of his opponent Tom Hickey, finishing with 22 disposals – one shy of his career best. Tom Bellchambers was rested last weekend after a four-day break and will come straight in for the suspended Matthew Leuenberger. It will be a mountainous task for Bellchambers to contain McEvoy after his brilliant season to date.  

Ben Stratton vs Jake Stringer

Livewire Jake Stringer played as a deep forward against Melbourne and if he does so again this weekend, he has Ben Stratton’s name written all over him. This is fitting considering both have rocked some interesting haircuts over the past couple of months. Back in Round 3 2016, Stratton took on Stringer at the peak of his powers and shut him down, keeping him to just one goal and 13 possessions. Stringer got one back later that year with a game-changing three-goal performance in the Bulldogs’ upset win against the Hawks in their Elimination Final clash. While Stringer is in different colours now, it is sure to be an intriguing battle. 

Jack Gunston vs Cale Hooker

Bombers swingman Cale Hooker looms as the likely match-up for Jack Gunston, who was one of Hawthorn’s best in its win last Saturday. The mobile forward booted three goals from 16 touches to bring his tally to 11 for the year. While he has been hitting the scoreboard this season Gunston has also been setting them up for his teammates, ranking sixth in the competition for goal assists in 2018. The 26-year-old was held goalless last time these sides met, but the Hawk will take some stopping on Saturday afternoon.   

James Frawley vs Joe Daniher

Mercurial tall forward Joe Daniher has been a shadow of his former self this season and he faces another tough assignment in James Frawley. The Hawks defence conceded nine goals to Ben Brown and Jarrad Waite against North Melbourne but provided a formidable response last weekend. St Kilda talls Paddy McCartin and Tim Membrey managed just two goals between them, thanks in part to the work of Frawley. The Bombers spearhead booted three goals last time these two sides met but if his current formline continues, the Hawk should take the chocolates.

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