Goodison Park, Liverpool
August 20, 2012; 19:00 hours GMT
Manchester United travel to Goodison Park for their opening game of the season, buoyed by their new signing Robin Van Persie who is likely to feature. Everton on the other hand have been rather quiet on the transfer front but Belgian striker Kevin Mirallas is set to sign for the Toffees.
Over the years, Goodison Park has been home to some epic encounters between the two giants of the English game with the Reds prevailing more often than not over their rivals. Nevertheless, Everton always prove to be a tough nut to crack as was illustrated by their showing at Old Trafford last season in a memorable 4-4 draw that dented Ferguson’s side title aspirations. While United fans would be eager to see how their new signings blend in and how the manager utilizes the plethora of attacking options at his disposal, the Toffees would be hoping for a much improved showing at the start of this campaign as compared to last season when they lost eight out of their first fourteen games. Moyes’ side have often been tagged as slow starters and the Evertonians would be hoping to buck the trend.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Toffees have sold two of their first team players in Rodwell and Cahill who had both become influential figures in Moyes’ setup. However, the Everton manager has to cope with this situation year on year and to be fair, he has done his job admirably amidst adversity. The good news for the fans is the permanent capture of Steven Pienaar who has always proved his worth in the Everton Blue.
Coming to this game, Moyes has a full squad to choose his starting eleven from. Former Red Darren Gibson and Marouane Fellaini have both recovered from their thigh and groin injuries respectively and will be available for selection. Fellaini’s recovery is most welcome news for the manager, as the Belgian has troubled United on numerous occasions in the past with his areal ability.
Moyes is likely to go with a flexible 4-3-3 formation with Jelavic, Osman and Naismith playing as the front three. However, depending on the situation of the game, Naismith could drop to the flanks making it a 4-4-2 formation for the home side. Leon Osman, will also be seen dropping deep to help out the midfield leaving Jelavic alone on top.
The midfield will be marshaled by the trio of Gibson, Fellaini and Pienaar. While Gibson and Fellaini will be operating more centrally, the South African is most likely to play on the left side giving his team more width to play with. Pienaar’s understanding and link-up play with Leighton Baines is known to everyone as most of the home side’s attacks are expected to be channelled through the left-hand side. While Gibson will be looking to stay outside the area and shoot from distance on every opportunity, Fellaini will be looking to make late runs in the box and make use of his excellent heading abilities.
In defence, Baines, who is heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford, will be supported by Jagielka and Heitinga as central defenders with another former United man Phil Neville taking up the right back duties. Neville’s ability to play in central midfield might also be used by the manager, if one of Fellaini or Gibson is deemed unfit to play full part in the match. The defence is expected to be watertight as is the case with Moyes’ team on most occasions. While Neville, at right-back position is less expected to make forward runs, Baines will be seen bombarding down the flanks to participate in attack.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Fellaini, Gibson, Pienaar; Naismith, Osman, Jelavic
It has been an interesting summer for Sir Alex Ferguson. With all the claims of the money being dried up by the Glazers, Fergie has already made three more than decent signings in the transfer window. Kagawa, Powell and van Persie have been bought for a sum total of around £40 million while the arrival of Angelo Henriquez seems imminent as well.
With the new signings coming in, the manager has a plethora of attacking options in his array. However, it is the defence which is giving him worries at the start of the season. Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans have all been ruled out of the opening few games of the season leaving Ferguson short on central defensive options. The injuries to the trio have forced the manager to bring Nemanja Vidic back ahead of schedule. The manager even contemplated starting Michael Carrick in central defence, but his performance against Blackburn at Old Trafford last season and also his display against Hannover in the pre-season game would have changed the Scot’s mind for good. However, all is not bad news for the veteran manager as Darren Fletcher looks on his way back from the horrific illness which forced him out of the game for almost nine months.
With the options at his disposal, Sir Alex might opt for a 4-2-3-1 system at the start of the game. Carrick and Cleverley, who both had a very good game for England in midweek, could be called on again to start the game as deep lying playmakers with Carrick sitting formidably in-front of the back four while the younger man looking to join the attack from time to time. Behind them will be the only available back four of Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra as already announced by the manager in his press conference.
The front four will be the ones to watch out for, both in terms of formation as well as personnel. While the manager might opt to ease van Persie from the bench, Shinji Kagawa is likely to be handed his first start in a Red shirt. He is likely to play in behind the lone-striker which, if van Persie is benched, is going to be Wayne Rooney. Nani and Valencia are likely to be the wide men giving United a lot of attacking options to pose Everton a serious threat.
However, if the manager decides to start his latest signing, Rooney will drop down to the false nine position behind him with one of Nani or Valencia making way for Kagawa on the flank.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley; Valencia, Kagawa, Nani; Rooney
- Everton have won just two of their past ten games against Manchester United at Goodison Park.
- The Toffees are unbeaten in their last 9 Premier League games and won seven of their last eight at home.
- United scored the most (16) headed goals in the league last year.
- The Red Devils won the more points away from home than any other team in the league.
- Jelavic was Everton’s top scorer in the league with nine goals despite having arrived in the January transfer window.
TheHardTackle’s Player To Watch Out For
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Despite all the talk of Robin van Persie’s debut, Rooney will always be the man to watch out for when it comes to the game between the two sides at Goodison Park. Although, it has been eight years since Rooney signed for the Red Devils, the Evertonians still see him as a traitor evident by the sound of boos that accompany Wayne’s every touch of the ball. The English striker is also not the one to shy away and is always seen involved with the fans by kissing the badge in-front of the fans to show his love for United.
Keeping asides the antics, Rooney is a mighty good footballer as well and has the ability to change the course of any game through individual brilliance. His versatility will also be on display on Monday night as he could be seen performing different roles depending on the setup deployed by the manager. Fergie will be hoping Rooney to hit the ground running like he did last season by scoring two hat-tricks in the opening few games of the season. Moyes, on the other hand, will be doing all he can to stop Rooney celebrating in-front of the Goodison crowd.
Everton 1-2 Manchester United
With Manchester United’s attacking prowess and also their defensive lapses which were evident in the pre-season, there is bound to be goals in this one. Everton will create a lot of problems for the visitors’ defense, but in the end, the attacking capabilities of Fergie’s men will prove to be too hot to handle for the Toffees. All in all, it will be an entertaining game with the Red Devils nicking it by the slimmest of margins.
TheHardTackle’s Blast From The Past