Manchester United – Everton (Premier League)
While both managers were quick to dismiss the issue, it is impossible to avoid the relevance of the first clash between Everton and David Moyes after the Scot left Goodison Park for Old Trafford in the summer, following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Despite the expected difficulties, it would still be hard to fathom Manchester United trailing Everton by three places in the Premier League table (5th and 8th, respectively).
David Moyes’ Manchester United have been in somewhat stuttering form, with the impressive 5-0 Champions League win at Leverkusen bookended by two 2-2 away draws (Cardiff City and Tottenham Hotspur). Marouane Fellaini was outstanding last season at Everton and played a decisive role in handing his (former and now current) manager the three points when the two teams met at Goodison Park, but the Belgian has been struggling with life in red, often cutting a lumbering, forlorn figure. This season, both he and his manager are on the other side of the barricade and will be looking to impress their supporters, yet to be persuaded. Even though United’s defensive record has not been exactly astonishing (they have conceded 20 goals in their last 10 Premier League away matches, failing to keep a clean sheet in all of them), it is not less true than no team – bar Chelsea – have kept the Red Devils from scoring in their last 74 matches at Old Trafford. Robin Van Persie, who’s expected to be fit for the bench in the best case scenario, has scored 6 and provided 5 assists in his 10 Premier League starts against Everton. If the Dutchman does not start, however, Wayne Rooney will certainly be more than happy to pick up the slack. The Englishman leads the team in Premier League goals (8), assists (5), chances created, shots and dribbles. In a team that is increasingly looking averagely talented, the former Everton star could indeed make the difference. On the injury front, Moyes will surely miss Phil Jones through suspension, as well as Michael Carrick. Robin van Persie, as mentioned before, is still in doubt.
Probable line-up: De Gea – Rafael, Evans, Vidic, Evra – Valencia, Fellaini, Cleverley, Nani – Kagawa, Rooney
Even though David Moyes’ successor at Everton, Roberto Martínez, praised his counterpart’s job while at Everton, the Spaniard had nonetheless a dig at the team’s less than impressive sheet against bigger sides such as Arsenal, Chelsea, United or Liverpool, claiming that was an issue the club had to improve on. After a thrilling 3-3 draw in the Merseyside Derby and a proper 4-0 drubbing of Stoke City last weekend, the Toffees certainly seem to meet the necessary requirements to cause an upset in Manchester – something they haven’t done in over two decades. Over those twenty years, Everton have not won a single time at Old Trafford, suffering 16 defeats in the process. Things have been looking a bit different under the new management. While it’s true that Everton have won just 2 of their last 14 away matches, it bears mentioning that both wins came this season. Moreover, Everton have kept it extremely tight at the back, conceding the lowest amount of shots on goal away from home in England’s top tier. In fact, Martinez’s team is the only side with no more than a single defeat. That record has no doubt been helped by Everton’s response to Wayne Rooney: Chelsea-owned Romelu Lukaku. The last the time the Belgian powerhouse met United, he scored a hat-trick (while on loan at West Brom), a feat that only Dirk Kuyt and David Bentley had previously equalled. Lukaku is the only player in the squad to have scored more than twice thus far (including full-backs Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman, with two goals apiece). The striker has an average of a goal every 90 minutes and has been nothing short of clinical, with a 38% chance conversion rate and an 80% clear-cut chance conversion rate. As far as match fitness is concerned, Martínez will be without Darron Gibson, Arouna Koné and Leighton Baines.
Probable line-up: Howard – Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Oviedo – Barry, McCarthy – Osman, Barkley, Pienaar – Lukaku
With most critics apparently expecting the match to end in disappointment for United, it bears mentioning that both clubs are on impressive unbeaten streaks (United with 7 and Everton with 6), but it should also be noted that the Mancunians have scored more goals against Everton than any other team has scored against any other opponent in Premier League history (a whopping 84). There is also the tasty piece of information that says Moyes never won at Old Trafford while at the helm of the Toffees. What will fate have in store for him now that he has switched allegiances?