Venue: Old Trafford
Referee: Mark Halsley
Kick-Off: 21: 30 IST
Title chasing Manchester United will be seeking redemption, as they face Everton this Sunday at Old Trafford. Everton beat United 1-0 at Goodison Park on the opening day of the campaign, and are currently enjoying one of their best seasons in recent years under David Moyes. The Blues of Merseyside are remarkably in contention for a Champions League spot, despite the financial might of rivals Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal. Everton sit only six points behind fourth placed Tottenham, who have played a game more than the Toffees.
United are sitting pretty at the helm of the table, nine points clear of Manchester City. Playing with ruthless efficiency, the current United side is being considered as one of Sir Alex’s finest sides, and led by the inimitable Premier League top scorer Robin Van Persie. However it would be wrong to give credit only to Van Persie, as the likes of Michael Carrick and Johnny Evans have been in inspired form throughout the season. And in typical United fashion, the Red Devils have snatched victory after staring down the barrel at the jaws of defeat on numerous occasions.
Complacency on United’s part is something that Ferguson will be careful about, given the horrors of last season. In this particular fixture last season, United led Everton 4-2 at Old Trafford, only for the Toffees to stage a spectacular comeback to score two goals, and snatch a point from certain defeat. United lost two crucial points, and City were left only three points behind them, and the rest is history.
United beat Fulham 1-0 courtesy a Wayne Rooney goal last time out, and are now unbeaten in their last 13 competitive fixtures. Rooney has been hitting the right notes at the right time, having scored eight goals in his last seven outings, and also scored for England against Brazil. The fixture schedule has been tough on Sir Alex’s men, as they face the mouth-watering trip to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium for the tantalizing Round of 16 UEFA Champions League clash against Real Madrid.
Sir Alex has publicly announced his intentions to rotate his squad for the two crucial fixtures, and do not be surprised if you see Van Persie sitting on the bench at the Goodison. With a healthy lead over City, Ferguson could be tempted to field a weaker squad against Everton, but given the nature of the depth of the United squad, ‘weak’ would be a very inappropriate term to say the least.
Everton are also one of the only three sides to have beaten United this season, but will have to be in inspired form on Sunday, as United have won their last nine league games at home. In total, they have won eleven of twelve at home this season, a solitary defeat against Tottenham the exception.
Carrick is a doubt for the game, and also missed the international friendly. Ashley Young has made his return after five games on the sidelines, but is likely to start on the bench. Phil Jones is a long-term absentee for Ferguson.
Everton were held to a 3-3 draw by Aston Villa at home last time out, and despite dominating the Villains for majority of the game, they needed a last-gasp strike from star player Maroune Fellaini to secure the point. Players like Kevin Mirallas, Leighton Baines, and Leon Osman have been instrumental for the Blues this campaign, and Sir Alex has acknowledged and praised the consistency of Everton.
The Toffees have failed to win at Old Trafford since 1992, and will be hoping to complete their first league double over the Red Devils since 1969. Fellaini, who has been linked with a move to Chelsea and several big guns, scored the winner last time out, and Sir Alex will be wary of the Belgian’s threat. Vice captain Phil Jagielka missed England’s mid-week clash against Brazil due to a knock, but is expected to return to the starting line-up on Sunday.
However, Tony Hibbert and Seamus Coleman are still on the treatment table, and Moyes is expected to name an unchanged line-up from last week’s draw with Villa.
- United have picked up 27 points from losing positions this season, and Everton have picked up 21. Maybe Moyes is the right man to replace Ferguson after all.
- Wayne Rooney has scored five goals in his last four games against his former club.
- The Leighton Baines – Steven Pienaar combination has created 43% of Everton’s chances this season. Rafael will have to be on the top of his game.
- United have picked up 62 points from 25 games this season, their highest ever tally at this stage of the season.
The match has all the ingredients to be a cracking contest, and it will be very closely fought. With one eye on the trip to Madrid, and the fact that Everton have greater need for a victory, I’m going to be bold, and predict an upset; a win for the Toffees, with Mirallas, Baines, and Fellaini stealing the spotlight.
Manchester United 1-2 Everton