Old Trafford, Manchester
16:00 Hrs GMT, 10th Feb 2013
Manchester United host their north-west rivals Everton on Sunday afternoon in a clash between the two in-form teams presently in the Premier League. The action on Saturday would have provided incentives – of different sorts – to both teams. After Manchester City succumbed to a shock defeat at Southampton, United will be looking to stretch their lead to twelve points at the top of the table. Everton, on the other hand, will be feeling the pressure to come away with something from Old Trafford after Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal all picked up vital wins in the race for a top four spot.
Since losing to Norwich City in November, Manchester United are on a sequence of 13 games unbeaten in the league, a run that has seen them drop points only twice – at Swansea and Tottenham. At Old Trafford, their form this season is even more impressive with the defeat to Tottenham in September being the only blot on an otherwise immaculate record. In their last couple of fixtures – against Southampton at home and Fulham away – United did just about enough to eke out victories via single goal margins and Everton would do well to take heart from the performance of the Saints who put United under the cosh for long periods during their visit to Old Trafford. United will be well aware of the threat posed by the team from Merseyside with the memories of their last visit – where the Toffees snatched a draw from jaws of defeat thanks to two late strikes – still fresh in the mind.
Like their opponents on Sunday, Everton too have been hard to beat this season and have lost only once in their last 13 league encounters. But unlike United, they have been less relentless in notching up victories and three draws in the last four games have left them hanging on to the coattails of the group of top four contenders. A defeat on Sunday would see Everton languishing six points adrift of Tottenham, the team presently occupying the coveted fourth spot. Last time out against Aston Villa, a side wretchedly out of form, they had to rely on an injury time goal from Marouane Fellaini to salvage a face saving draw. David Moyes, though, would be hoping that his team could repeat their opening weekend heroics when they beat United at Goodison Park and do the first league double over the Red Devils since 1969-70 season.
Team News & Tactical Brief
In the buildup to the game, Sir Alex Ferguson has vented his frustration at the scheduling of the fixture, for television purposes, just 72 hours before United’s match at Madrid. A master at squad rotation, Ferguson will surely look to shuffle his pack keeping in mind what is bound to be a titanic tussle with Jose Mourinho’s men. The good news for United is that they have a clean bill in terms of fitness just as their season approaches a critical juncture. Ashley Young, who was injured against Liverpool last month, has regained full fitness and both Michael Carrick and Phil Jones have recovered from their respective distresses that kept them out of the midweek internationals.
Ferguson would look to employ his staple 4-4-2 formation on Sunday but as mentioned earlier it is with the personnel that he may choose to tweak around. David De Gea looked assured at Craven Cottage last weekend and would in all probability continue in goal. In the defense, Patrice Evra and Jonny Evans look set to start while one out of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic should partner Evans with the other being rested for the midweek clash. At right back, Sir Alex might be tempted to rest the impressive Rafael and instead opt for Jones to counter the opponents’ aerial prowess.
In the midfield, Michael Carrick will be partnered by Anderson, possibly, while the flanks will be manned by any two from Young, Nani, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa. It will be interesting to see whether the manager will risk his top scorer Robin van Persie for this fixture and smart money may well be on United starting with the England duo of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck up front.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): De Gea; Jones, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Young; Rooney, Welbeck
Manager David Moyes is sweating on the fitness of his talismanic midfielder Fellaini, who picked up a hip knock in training with the Belgium squad last week. Phil Jagielka is also doubtful for the fixture whereas Tony Hibbert and Seamus Coleman remain on the sidelines.
Moyes has generally preferred a 4-4-1-1 formation this season and should opt for the same for this fixture. Tim Howard, who has been ever present for Everton this season, should start at goal against his former club. Even though Johnny Heitinga had an absolute shocker against Villa last weekend, the Dutchman looks set to start at the back alongside Sylvain Distin, Leighton Baines and, fitness permitting, Phil Jagielka.
Another ex-United player, Darron Gibson will look to feature in the centre of the park partnering Leon Osman, while Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar should start out wide. Up front, Victor Anichebe should retain his spot after his goal last weekend and Moyes will be hoping to partner him with the towering Fellaini to put pressure on the United defense. If Fellaini cannot make it, the Toffees have a more than able deputy in Nikica Jelavic.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Howard; Jagielka, Distin, Heitinga, Baines; Mirallas, Gibson, Osman, Pienaar; Fellaini, Anichebe
- Both United and Everton have lost only thrice this season in the Premier League.
- United have scored the most headers in the top flight this season (13); Everton have conceded the most (12).
- Everton have hit the woodwork the most times this season (16).
- United have scored at least two goals in all but one of their 12 home matches this season – the exception being November’s 1-0 win over West Ham.
- Everton’s last victory at Old Trafford came in the first Premier League encounter between the two sides in August 1992.
Player To Watch Out For
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
The former Evertonian has been in red hot form of late. Since returning from injury against West Ham United in the FA Cup last month, the striker has bagged 5 goals in 4 starts for Manchester United. In the midweek, Rooney maintained his scoring streak with a well taken goal against Brazil at Wembley. The Everton defense is bound to have their hands full on Sunday in trying to keep out an irrepressible Rooney.
Manchester United 2-1 Everton
Even with the Madrid distraction, United should have just about enough firepower in the armoury to see off what should be a resilient display from Everton.
Blast From The Past