Manchester United entertain Everton on Sunday looking for a vital three points that will take them a step closer to an historic 20th league title.
The Reds will want to maintain that five point cushion at the top of the table to neighbours City, before they make the trip to the Etihad in a potential title decider on 30th April.
After suffering a blip at Wigan where they were outplayed by Roberto Martinez’s men, United responded with vim and vigour, thrashing a hapless Aston Villa side at Old Trafford, to put them back on track.
However Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will have to be very wary of a wounded Everton side, who go into the game after suffering semi final heartache at the hands of their Merseyside rivals.
David Moyes will want to ensure his side do not finish the season with a whimper, and taking on the champions elect in their own back yard is the kind of occasion the Toffee’s players will relish.
United, Wigan aside, go into the game in brilliant form, losing only once in their last 14 league games, and have won every single home league game since the turn of the year.
Impressively, in their last four home games they have scored ten goals and conceded none, turning the Theatre of Dreams into a fortress, and although Everton will arrive with confidence they will have to put in an outstanding performance to leave Manchester with a positive result.
The Goodison Park side make the short trip in fine fettle, and are unbeaten in the league in four games. Somehow David Moyes manages to get the best out of his players in the second half of the season, making sure they always finish strongly, and with the likes of Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic they have players who will cause United problems.
Team Selection Thoughts
David De Gea has been a revelation in the second half of the season, and after taking six months to settle into Premier League life, he has become one of the best keepers in the division. This week he singled out his save from Juan Mata in the frantic last knockings of that 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge as a turning point, and since that game he has kept six clean sheets in ten games. Now that £18 million transfer fee doesn’t look that bad of an investment.
Along the back four, United looked to be in some trouble when captain, leader and talisman Nemanja Vidic suffered a season ending injury away at Basel in the Champions League. Doubts were raised over the strength in depth of the Reds defence but Jonny Evans stepped up to the plate, becoming one of United’s most consistent performers. He has rarely put a foot wrong and alongside Rio Ferdinand, the Red Devils have looked secure and steady at the back. Rafael and Patrice Evra look likely to continue at right and left back respectively, with the pair adding dynamism to United’s raids down either flank.
When United lost back to back games against Blackburn and Newcastle at the beginning of the year with extremely inept displays, you would have been forgiven for thinking that this side wasn’t good enough to secure a title, especially considering how strong City were looking. However, only days later Paul Scholes had returned and United suddenly looked more accomplished, controlling games from the centre of the park. He will start again on Sunday and it’s no surprise that United’s loss to Wigan coincided with him being rested. Michael Carrick should continue alongside him, with the elegant midfielder having one of his best seasons to date in United red.
Controversial winger Ashley Young should shake off a minor knock to continue on the left wing following criticism after winning penalties against QPR and Aston Villa with exaggerated falls. This aside he has been playing well, and complemented by Antonio Valencia’s pace, strength and directness United are an irresistible force going forward once more. Nani replacing Young is an option, after the Portuguese winger has impressed in his two outings since returning from injury.
Last week Wayne Rooney wasn’t at his best but still scored two crucial goals, once again proving his immeasurable worth to the Red Devils. Rooney has 24 league goals to his name and looks set to break his Premier League best of 26 in the 2009/2010 season. He will probably be partnered by Danny Welbeck with Javier Hernandez likely to be used as an impact sub. Fans will remember Hernandez’s late winner in this fixture last season and if he repeats those antics again United can go to the Etihad knowing that victory will secure the title.
Three Key Battles
Wayne Rooney vs. Sylvain Distin
Distin was at fault for Luis Suarez’s equaliser in the FA Cup semi final at Wembley last week but he will have to put that mistake behind him if he’s to contain Rooney. Yes he has blown hot and cold but 24 league goals speaks for itself, and Rooney is bound to be fired up for a game against his former club. Distin and the rest of the back four for that matter will face the dilemma of whether to follow him into the midfield or let him roam. If he isn’t picked up he can thread passes and strike at goal from distance and will cause Everton a host of problems.
Paul Scholes vs. Darron Gibson
Scholes has been in fantastic form, rolling back the years to such an extent that there are calls for him to be included in England’s Euro 2012 squad. If the maestro is allowed time and space he can set the tempo of the play, dictating affairs, and Moyes may ask someone to man mark him. This could be ex Red Gibson and he will have to be at his very best to even get near to him. This could be where United take control of proceedings.
Nikica Jelavic vs. Rio Ferdinand
The Everton striker has been a very shrewd signing by Moyes and Ferdinand will have to be at his best to keep Jelavic quiet. With the likes of Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar providing the ammunition Everton will create chances and if Jelavic gets one or two he could hurt the Red Devils.
Everton will be looking to bounce back from their Wembley heartache and will be up for the challenge, but United have the scent of a 20th title in their nostrils and the players won’t have to be told how important three points will be. Victory would take on more significance bearing in mind the title could be secured at the Etihad a week on Monday. How sweet would that be?
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