There’s been much change at Old Trafford since Manchester United last took on Everton in April, a match which signaled the end of David Moyes’ ill-fated reign in charge of the Red Devils. Louis van Gaal has come in, along with an abundance of new players, and his new-look side will be looking to secure back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
Van Gaal’s start to life at Old Trafford has failed to meet expectations as of yet, winning only two competitive matches so far, but he will fancy his chances against an Everton side that has failed to hit form so far this season. Lurking down in 15th position, a stark contrast to their unforeseen 5th place finish last time around, the Toffees have only picked up one victory this season and needed a last minute equalizer, albeit a spectacular one, against Liverpool last week to prevent consecutive league defeats.
In all competitions, Everton have failed to win in their last four and are on the back of a long trip to Russia in midweek for the Europa League, returning home to the country only early Friday morning. A trip to Old Trafford for the early noon kick off on Sunday is far from ideal, even if an away game to Manchester United has lost some of its fear factor in recent times. Van Gaal, on the other hand, has had the luxury of a full week to prepare, due to United’s lack of European competition this season, and will look to reap the full benefits of such a major advantage.
Stats will mean nothing once the players step out on the pitch - as the old saying goes, the game is not played on paper - but recent history seems to favor the visitors. Everton have won three of their last four meetings against Manchester United, and also effectively cost United the title in the 2011/12 season by salvaging a 4-4 draw at Old Trafford from 4-2 down, whilst both Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes lost their first battles against the Toffees.
The Manchester United side that will walk out at noon tomorrow will most likely be unrecognizable when compared to the side that lined up last April, partly due to a host of new signings but a large part down to the ever-growing list of injuries that seem to be continuously haunting van Gaal. Only ten league games have passed since that fateful day at Goodison Park, yet the side on Sunday is only likely to include two or three of the starting XI from April. It’s a sign of how fast things are changing at Old Trafford.
Ander Herrera suffered a fractured rib in last Saturday’s win over West Ham, joining a multitude of other players in the physio room, including Michael Carrick and Chris Smalling, whilst Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Marouane Fellaini all remain major doubts. Tyler Blackett’s return from suspension has been offset by Wayne Rooney’s latest sending off, resulting in a three-match ban for the new United skipper, leaving the pool of players that van Gaal has available to him still a paltry size.
Everton have some injury problems of their own to mull over, with late fitness checks needed for Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy, both of whom missed the Europa League clash against FK Krasnodar, whilst Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley remain long-term absentees. Roberto Martinez may be boosted by the return of Sylvain Distin and Steven Pienaar, however, with the latter finally recovered from a thigh injury which has kept him out for a month.
Projected Starting XIs
Manchester United (4-1-2-1-2): De Gea; Rafael, McNair, Rojo, Shaw; Blind; Fletcher, Di Maria; Mata; Falcao, van Persie.
Juan Mata is set to take Rooney’s place at the top of the midfield diamond whilst Darren Fletcher looks the obvious candidate to replace Ander Herrera. The defense still remains ambiguous, with so many uncertainties over injuries, but Paddy McNair is fancied to keep his spot in the side after an impressive debut against West Ham. Radamel Falcao is yet to open his account in United colors and will hope that Mata’s introduction to the team may be just the catalyst he needs to get started. Herrera’s dynamism, both on and off the ball, something Fletcher cannot really bring to the team, will be sorely missed and even more emphasis will be placed on Angel Di Maria to drive the team forward from midfield, a key struggle for United last season.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Browning, Stones, Jagielka, Baines; Besic, Barry; Naismith, Osman, McGeady; Lukaku.
Coleman’s possible absence at right back is a key concern for Roberto Martinez, and following Tony Hibbert’s below-par performance against Liverpool, youngster Tyias Browning may be given his first start for the Toffees after an impressive substitute appearance in the Merseyside derby. Muhamed Besic is likely to take James McCarthy’s place in midfield whilst Aiden McGeady and Steven Pienaar will fight to fill the void left by Kevin Mirallas’ injury. Romelu Lukaku is expected to start up front, despite Samuel Eto’o’s late equalizer on Thursday.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Everton