05 October 2014 1100 UTC
Manchester United will host Everton in what is considered by many as their first real test in this year’s Premier League.
In the first 6 games of this campaign, United have faced all three newly promoted sides and only one side that is above them in the league table – Swansea. So, when the blue side of Merseyside comes visiting at Old Trafford, LvG and his wards are expected to face a sterner test than they have hitherto this season.
Team News, Tactics and Predicted Lineup
Manchester United FC
Manchester United’s ill luck with injuries seems to get worse after every match. If it was Evans and Smalling post the Leicester match, the West Ham game cost them the services of Ander Herrera. The young Spanish midfielder has settled well at the club and has been one of the pivotal players on the pitch since he has turned out in a red shirt. The injury will come as a blow to Louis van Gaal who is already suffering with practically half his first team in the sick bay. To complicate matters further, captain Wayne Rooney got himself sent off with a straight red in the West Ham game. The tackle that Rooney made on Stewart Downing has been described as ill-timed by as many people as have declared it as being of malicious intent. The jury is still out on this and it may never be conclusively proven which of the two the tackle was. Rooney has however accepted full responsibility for his actions and decided to not contest the red card. This means he misses the next three games for United – against Everton, West Brom and Chelsea. Fortunately, van Gaal has Juan Mata as a readymade replacement to drop into the No. 10 role. In fact, the Spaniard must be viewing Rooney’s suspension as fortuitous as the manager placed him on the bench in the last two games against Leicester and West Ham. Replacing Ander Herrera, however, would not be easy. Fletcher was sent on by the manager to plug the midfield gap but the tempo reduced significantly after the substitution. Fletcher has made a tremendous recovery from a chronic illness and his hard work and determination to return to fitness to be able to play at the highest level is commendable. That said, unfortunately, Fletcher’s best years have been spent fighting an illness rather than on the field and the current player is a developmentally stunted shell of his former promising potential. Januzaj is another option for Louis van Gaal. The young Belgian has been in superb form for the U21 side and the reserves but is unable to break into the first team starting XI on matchday. The reasons for this are obviously beyond his control as there are more experienced and (arguably) better players than him that would obviously be higher in the pecking order.
In defense, LvG’s experiment with Paddy McNair worked really with the youngster playing a very mature game at the back. With Jones and Evans still injured, Marcos Rojo will start in central defense with regulars Rafael and Luke Shaw on either side. As mentioned previously, midfield would be where the real mess is. Here, expect Blind to retain his holding midfield role for United. Angel di Maria would start on the left wing while LvG has to chose between a bunch of players to play on the right wing. Playing Januzaj would be a bit fantastic but LvG may play it safe by starting Valencia in that position. The Ecuadorian winger will provide some defensive cover when Rafael decides to bomb forward on his frequent attacking forays that often see him near or even inside the opponent’s box. It is also possible that LvG might switch to his 4-3-3 formation to paper over the cracks left by Herrera’s absence. This would warrant playing Januzaj on the other wing opposite Angel di Maria with Mata supplying to RvP and Falcao in front of him.
A recent welcome news from training has been the return of Marouane Fellaini from an ankle injury that has put him out of action since before the start of the season. However, owing to his extended periods on the sidelines and a general lack of confidence that Louis van Gaal seems to have in Fellaini’s ability, it is unlikely that the ex-Everton man will get any game time against his former side, leave alone starting the game at least in midfield. Fellaini’s game unfortunately is too unidimensional to be able to keep out the more multidimensional midfielders in United’s possession currently.
Up front there should be no surprises, as in Rooney’s absence, RvP and Falcao are the natural choices to start in a 2 man attack.
Louis van Gaal’s defense would be under the maximum pressure to hold strong. Everton are significantly stronger than Leicester and that side shipped 5 goals against United only 2 weeks ago. United go into this game on the back of a win and would like to sustain their form by securing all 3 games in a home clash that, come May next year, could well change the complexion of the European competitors from the league. The contest gains a very vital angle for United also because it marks the start of a very difficult phase where they will host Chelsea before traveling across town to Eastlands and then the Emirates Stadium to face Manchester City and Arsenal respectively over the space of the next five matches. It would thus be a perfect start to this difficult phase if United could bag all 3 points against them. Everton though are particularly strong on the break and Herrera and Rooney’s ability to break up play would have been a very valuable asset to have. However, both the players are unavailable for this game and the side will have to make do in the best way possible with the players that remain for selection. Every passing week, it seems LvG is picking a side not on the basis of skill but on the basis of who is not unavailable through injury (and suspension this time).
Probable Lineup (4-4-2 (diamond)): De Gea; Shaw, McNair, Rojo, Rafael; Blind; Di Maria, Mata, Januzaj; Falcao, Van Persie
If Manchester United have started the season poorly, Everton have had a pretty forgettable start to this season under Roberto Martinez themselves too. They have won only one of their first 6 fixtures this season, drawing three other games and the losses include a 6-3 drubbing handed out to them at home by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. Everton however should not be underestimated by United. After having pulled the double on United last season, Everton would be eager to extend their victorious record against their more illustrious compatriots. Manchester United have won only one of the five previous games between the two clubs, Everton winning three of them.
Everton will miss the services of James McCarthy, Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley while Seamus Coleman is due for a late physical on Sunday. United would take some solace from this especially the absence of Mirallas who is a wily striker and would have exploited their defensive frailities. However his replacement Romelu Lukaku would not be a pushover. In fact the Everton forward’s physical presence may cause serious issues to young guns McNair and Blackett and it is imperative that Rojo will have to put in a mammoth performance in the back four to keep the defense together and keep the Toffees from running rampant on their goal. Everton themselves though are not sitting very comfortably with regards to their back four either. John Stones has filled in admirably well for Distin but Everton’s worries are far from sorted. Everton have let in 16 goals in their first six games of the season which is the worst defensive record in the season so far, and 5 goals more than United have allowed with their threadbare defence. Albeit both teams conceded 5 and 6 goals a piece in a single match but it speaks of their defensive frailities that the other can exploit. If compared head to head, Everton have the seemingly stronger of the defence while United march ahead in the attacking department. The likes of Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie, Angel di Maria, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj bearing down on a defense can send chills down the spines of all but the most experienced defenders. That said, Everton’s defense will not keel over as easily as that of QPR, Leicester and West Ham whom United have played before them. What would definitely make the contest more interesting, and complicated for Everton, is the fact that they have traveled nearly 5000 miles and played a Europa league tie as late as Thursday. And the tie did not go easily for The Toffees who needed Samuel Eto’o’s skill to inch them to a draw against FC Krasnodar, a club that was set up in 2008 when Everton turned 130 years old.
The biggest risk for Everton, which will probably be ever present this season unless they buy more players in January, is the fact that their squad is largely unchanged from last season. All their purchases this year have been conversions of loan spells from last year. In effect, the Merseyside club paid money to stay where they are (in terms of squad) while the other clubs around them in the league table have plugged gaps with summer signings.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Howard; Baines, Jagielka, Stones, Coleman; Barry, Gibson; McGeady, Osman, Lukaku; Eto’o
Match Prediction: Manchester United 1 – 1 Everton
Manchester United have a significantly stronger attack from the last time this fixture was played. Yet it is common knowledge that their defense is severely inexperienced, a fact that a seasoned campaigner like Eto’o or Gareth Barry would be quick to exploit. Add to that the raw physicality and surprising turn of speed of Romelu Lukaku and Everton have themselves a potent attacking combination. The fact that Lukaku and Eto’o are two of the only 4 players to score a hat trick against Manchester United in Premier League history does not hurt matters for Everton. Herrera and Rooney’s absence is practically a shot in the kneecaps for United’s midfield that struggled all last season and had just started showing a modicum of order with Herrera’s arrival. Everton have continued with a strong defensive base that was built for them by David Moyes. With the knowledge that they had managed to beat the home team last time around, Everton will walk into Old Trafford and the match not with the customary sense of foreboding that those hallowed grounds were habituated to eliciting from visitors but with confidence that if they did it last year, they can do it again this year. In conclusion, Sunday’s game would largely be between United’s attack and Everton’s defense. United would look to outscore their opponents while Everton will need to keep goals down to a minimum to allow their strikers (or a Jagielka blind strike) to score the one decisive goal.
Player to watch out for
Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)
The young Belgian is right on the periphery of the first team’s starting lineup and it is only the quality of his peers that is keeping him out. With both Roney and Herrera unavailable, it leaves two spots in midfield, one if we consider that Mata is practically a shut eye sub in. Januzaj has been impressive in games for the reserve and U-21 sides and would be more than eager to run out against Everton on Sunday. If he does go out to play the right wing opposite Di Maria, he would be operating in the lane patrolled by Leighton Baines. The English International has been a valuable competitor for his club for the last many seasons and has started this one in fine fettle as well. Where he can, however, get exposed is against the speed of Januzaj. The young United player moves very fast with the ball at his feet and Baines could easily get caught flat footed in a counter attack situation. Everton have, hitherto, depended on Gareth Barry to hold fort as Baines and Coleman bombed forward but again Barry’s speed is no match to Januzaj’s. Januzaj, and in fact even Mata, have probably this month to make a positive impression on the manager before Herrera and Rooney return to reclaim their respective slots. And both the aforementioned players possess the quality to encash the opportunity given to them.