Manchester United host Everton at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon, looking for a victory that would help maintain their push for an historic 20th league title.
Manchester City’s draw with Liverpool last Sunday allowed the gap at the top of the table to be extended to nine points, after the Red Devils, courtesy of a solitary Wayne Rooney goal, had pilfered maximum points from Craven Cottage.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will know if they can extend their lead further when they take on the Toffees come Sunday afternoon, because City travel to Southampton on Saturday evening, knowing nothing but victory will do.
However the Reds and Sir Alex in particular have firsthand experience of the dangers that Everton pose, as this season, and more memorably last season showed.
On the opening day this term United suffered at the hands of a Marouane Fellaini inspired Everton as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat, but it was last season’s game at Old Trafford that left an even sourer taste in the mouth.
The Reds were 4-2 up with ten minutes left and well on course to re-establish a five point lead at the top of the table with three games to go. However, Nikica Jelavic pulled one back before Steven Pienaar fired home from close range, culminating in two dropped points for United. The rest was history and the game was pin pointed as the one where the title seemed to swing towards City.
This time though United will be able to call upon Robin van Persie and the Reds themselves are in fantastic form. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are unbeaten in the league in 13 games, having not lost since mid November away at Norwich, and are on course to record one of their best goal scoring seasons, having hit the net 60 times already.
Having said that though, Everton aren’t exactly in bad form. David Moyes has yet again worked wonders given the budget at Goodison and in the last ten games the Blues have only lost once. In fact all season they have slipped to a mere three defeats, currently occupying fifth place. If United aren’t on their game, then they could easily come unstuck at the hands of Everton yet again.
Team Selection Thoughts
David de Gea seems to have finally made the number one jersey his own and slowly but surely he is adding more authority to his fantastic shot stopping ability. Praise has rarely come the young Spaniard’s way since he joined the Reds but after excellent performances against Southampton and Fulham, de Gea is beginning to earn plaudits. In the past six games the Red Devils have only conceded three times, and de Gea has played a big part in that run, with vital match winning saves, most notably against Southampton. Yes he was partly at fault for Tottenham’s late equaliser at the Lane in late January but even in that game he made several world class saves. He can only get better.
Defensively United have finally got all their key players fit which is a testament to the staff, after seemingly endless problems. Sir Alex confirmed in his Friday press conference that the team will be rotated before the Champions League tie in Madrid, which could mean that one of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will sit out Everton’s visit. Jonny Evans is likely to fill the gap, although Phil Jones has returned from injury and Chris Smalling survived international duty so Sir Alex has plenty of options. Rafael and Evra would be favourite to start in the Bernabau so one or both could be rested if Ferguson feels the need to freshen the squad up.
The Red Devils have been boosted by the news that Michael Carrick is fit and will return to the squad after the elegant midfielder missed England’s game against Brazil on Wednesday. He could line up alongside Tom Cleverley or Anderson after the latter was rested at Craven Cottage last weekend, and should be fresh for the visit of the Toffees. Sir Alex told reporters on Friday that Ashley Young is back to fitness, and with Antonio Valencia and Nani also ready for first team action, the Red Devils have a wealth of options out wide. Although they could be used to exploit Madrid’s full backs in midweek so two out of the three might not be risked.
Wayne Rooney faces his former employers and he will do so in good form after scoring three in his last two games. This has come at the expense of Robin van Persie finding the net with the prolific Dutchman going two games without scoring. It’s hardly a drought but for a player of his ability and love for goals, he will want to put a stop to that run.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of Grand Old Trafford and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
Sunday’s match will be tough, as always, but the game is there to be won if we press and hassle for 90 minutes. If we sit back and hoof to Fellaini it will be harder. The old Moyes would do the latter but you never know, especially after last season’s 4-4 draw. Pienaar was fantastic in that game but he has faded in the last few months. Evra’s battle with Mirallas will be an intriguing one and your back 5 is a weak point. If we can disrupt your backline we may be able to take something from the game.
Probable team (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Mirallas, Osman, Gibson, Pienaar; Fellaini, Jelavic/Anichebe.
Really, we should all be extremely happy with this season. 5th in the table, 4 points off third place and with a real chance to kick on and do something. Everyone is frustrated at the number of draws in games we should really be winning, ie; Villa at home. We’re all a bit deflated by the lack of action on deadline day as well where we could really have done with strengthening. Positives are the way we always look like scoring when going forward, and we’ve played some wonderful footy at times, but have been a bit stale of late. Some fear the wheels coming off in the run-in.
Everton’s best players in 2012-13?
Everyone aside from one person will likely answer this Baines & Fellaini. Anichebe has been sneaky good the last few weeks. Jags and Distin have been solid. I feel like we’ve been weak defensively but then you look at the table sorted by goals conceded and we are in the same ballpark as most of the top sides (aside from City). Heitinga has been a bit of a mess lately though — hopefully he can pull it together as I like him. Pienaar has been off the boil a little lately (partly due to opponent’s gameplans) and Osman would legit lead the league in scoring if he had finished half his chances this year. Mirallas (also rarely healthy) is a quality player.
How has Gibson fared in 2012-13?
When Gibson plays, he makes the whole team play better. He gives us the shape we’ve been lacking since Arteta before his serious injury in ’09. Some of his passing is a joy to watch too. Problem is, his legs are built of balsa wood and white chocolate, the bugger is always crocked. If he could have an injury free run in, we’ll do well. Another thing about him is, he gets it. He gets Everton and what we’re about which is always nice to see in a player.
Leighton Baines? Can Everton keep hold of him?
Look at Baines assist rate, the number of chances he creates, and the # of goals he scores despite the fact that he plays a defensive position. It’s incredible. The myth about him being defensively weak annoys us, and stems from him sometimes being out of position as an attack breaks down and he’s on the edge of the opposition penalty area. Tackling wise, he can’t be faulted, he always clears his lines and his work rate has to be up there with anyone in the league.
He’s loyal and we highly doubt he’ll leave. An approach from Bayern Munich was turned away by the player himself. He’s happy here at present. He’s a regular in England’s squad and we’re looking to win things so we can’t see him leaving, unless he’s forced out or we receive a ridiculous bid.
If Rooney was to rejoin Everton for the final years of his career?
Most (not all) of us believe he will come back. Most (not all) would welcome him if it’s at the end of this contract but if it’s two years after that (after one more cash in) it won’t really be worthwhile for anyone. Most (not all) have forgiven him and would welcome him back (if he was still a good player when he came back). He is a blue — he lost his way for a while but he’ll never be yours. You’ll probably do okay consoling yourselves with a shed-full of champions medals and whatnot.
Three Key Battles
Marouane Fellaini vs. Nemanja Vidic
The big Belgian terrorised United in August when his goal led Everton to a 1-0 win and he will be the main threat for the Reds to deal with on Sunday. He is not just brilliant in the air, but he is technically good too, bringing the ball the down in seemingly impossible situations before finding teammates. Vidic is more than capable of winning the battle on Sunday but if Fellaini begins to dominate United physically like earlier in the season then Everton will pose problems.
Wayne Rooney vs. Phil Jagielka
After being in the shadow of van Persie for much of the season, Rooney has started to show that he can be just as prolific as the Dutchman, with three goals in his last two league games. He will be even more fired up than usual for the game on Sunday and if van Persie and he can click Everton will find it difficult to subdue them. However Jagielka has consistently been one of the Premier League’s best centre halves in recent years and has all the ability to prevent Rooney from playing. He will certainly have to be on the top of his game to thwart an in form Rooney.
Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar vs. United’s right side
If you study Everton closely, you see that they like to invite their full backs forward to overlap and deliver dangerous balls. In Leighton Baines they have one of the most technically gifted defenders in the league and he has formed an intrinsic partnership with South African Pienaar. They have an awareness of eachothers movement and whoever plays on the right for United will have to ensure that these two aren’t allowed to link up. Last season three of the four Everton goals at Old Trafford came from crosses or cut backs and if the Reds don’t learn from these mistakes then Baines and Pienaar could punish them.
The Red Devils are nine points clear at the top of the table but as last season proved, that gap can soon diminish if you find yourselves on the wrong end of a couple of results. United go into the game in fantastic form having not lost in the league in 13 and they will be determined for that record to continue on Sunday. Sir Alex will impress upon his players the importance of keeping full concentration, especially after what happened last season. Everton are very impressive and have players that will cause the Reds problems, but with Wayne Rooney back on form alongside van Persie, United will be confident that they will have enough to secure victory this time round.
SEA’s forum Manchester United vs. Everton match day thread HERE.
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