Manchester United v Everton. The Everton Forum preview.
Warning – The following preview will be glum….
After what seemed like an okay, if fairly dull, start to the season, Everton have sent many blues spiraling into a state of panic after a series of worrying displays on the trot –
The Hajduk Split away performance was poor.
The Chelsea away performance was poor.
The Spurs home performance was very poor.
The Atalanta away performance was even worse.
Earlier this week I banged the drum for patience and perspective (give it a read if you haven’t) after a congested and challenging start to the season with many new faces but even the most optimistic of blues (of which I’m not) must be at the very least a bit concerned by what they’re seeing.
Whilst we just about got the job done against Ruzomberok, Stoke and Hajduk Split (with a well-earned point at City thrown in for good measure) we were hardly fluent in any of those matches. In fact, looking back, I can only think of 2 good halves of football we’ve played in our 9 matches (the first against Hajduk Split at home and the first against City away).
The other 16 halves of footy have been dull, slow, uninspiring, unimaginative, laboured, full of mistakes and lacking in any form of backbone. We allegedly signed leaders all summer long but I’ve seen zero leadership from any Everton player this season (with the potential exception of Jordan Pickford).
Fans are starting to question Ronald Koeman and I’d be burying my head in the sand if I said I didn’t know why.
So just when you think that things couldn’t get much worse, we’re on TV at 4pm on Sunday when we run into Manchester United at Old Trafford –
After a poor Premier League campaign last term, United find themselves setting the early pace this season.
Our opponents have found a way of playing a fast, physical and devastating brand of football that most teams simply can’t deal with.
Everton’s Premier League top scorer Romelu Lukaku has hit the ground running since his bargain move to Old Trafford and currently has more goals this season on his own (10 in 8 matches) than Everton have scored in in all competitions (6 in 9 matches).
As we know, the Belgian won’t give you every little thing that a footballer can contribute (something many Everton fans were too keen to hammer him with) but he’ll provide you with the most important commodity in football – goals.
The other key signing United made over the summer comes in the form of Nemenja Matic.
The twice Premier League winner with Chelsea came to Old Trafford in a move that raised a few eyebrows, but ultimately showed that United manager Jose Mourinho still knows what he’s doing.
It won’t be evident for the blues watching on Sunday but the arrival of the Serbian has freed the dynamic Frenchman, Paul Pogba (injured) to be the expressive player he was bought to be.
Whilst Pogba has benefited from the presence of Matic, a player who’s simply benefited from time to adjust to the league (Evertonians take note before writing off Sandro Ramirez and Davy Klaassen) is Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
I was really surprised by the Armenian’s slow start to life in the Premier League. When I picked my fantasy football team last season, I wanted him in it from the get-go. I saw a player at Borussia Dortmund who offered everything you need in the final third – the ability to score, the ability to assist and the ability to knit play together. As we know, he wasn’t brilliant last term but this time, having had that year in England to find his feet, Mkhitaryan looks like a player reborn.
Another mainstay in attacking areas this season has been the gifted Spaniard Juan Mata. I personally didn’t have him nailed down to start for United this season but he’s so far started 4 of their 5 matches to date with the last Premier League match (Stoke away, a 2-2 draw) being the only time he’s seen the bench.
So whilst Lukaku, Mkhitaryan and Mata will almost likely form three quarters of a dangerous United front 4, the other position depends on a toss of a coin choice between two young speedsters.
Mourinho has always stuck with pace in this role but rotated the lively duo of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. Both players have started the season very well (and it isn’t impossible that both start here, with Mata potentially dropping out) but given that Rashford was largely rested for United’s comfortable 3-0 Champions League win over Basel on Tuesday, I’d expect him to be given the nod.
Behind the well-balanced and in-form front 4, I think we’re likely to see Ander Herrera take the place of Paul Pogba. It’s been a bit of surprise to see fans favourite Herrera only starting 1 of 4 Premier league games so far, but Mourinho’s signing of Matic combined with a preference for a more attacking shape has often seen the Spaniard lose out.
I don’t know if we’re good enough to expose it but I do think Pogba will be a big miss for United whilst he remains sidelined. With Matic taking care of the defensive responsibilities he’s been allowed to roam free and has really looked a threat going forwards. Of course, Herrera is a nice and tenacious footballer who brings a different set of qualities, however he doesn’t have the same goal threat offered by the flamboyant Frenchman.
The defence, who I’m sure will currently be selecting what magazines they’ll have time to read against Everton, are yet to concede a goal at Old Trafford this season.
The foursome of Valencia, Jones, Bailly and Blind have been Mourinho’s preferred combination this season with 3 of the 4 starting every match and only the Dutchman Daley Blind missing one (the 2-2 at Stoke) at the hands of Matteo Darmian.
And finally, David De Gea, arguably the best keeper in the league must surely be counting his clean sheet bonus already with a shot-shy Everton to visit.
It’s said Mourinho often wins a league in his second season and as usual, he’s built a really imposing, physical, strong team. They’re tall, they’re fast, they’re solid and they score goals. It’s tried and tested and it works. It’s still early days and the big boys are yet to come for United but the initial evidence suggests they won’t be far off winning the title this season.
Ok, they’re missing one key player but they’re top of the league for a reason. 4 games played 12 scored and 2 conceded (0 at home).
A horrible task for Everton on Sunday.
Everton have been rubbish for a while now.
I’d like to say it differently and take the positives but I can’t dress it up any other way.
I wrote at the top of the piece that fans are losing patience with the manager and anybody who’s watched us this past month or so can see why.
It’s now reached the point where, as fans who devote our emotions, our time and our money into supporting the club, we feel we’re entitled to start asking questions.
I could go on all day making a list of what any half decent journalist should be asking Ronald Koeman at press conferences but basically I’m looking at the recruitment, I’m looking at tactics and the strategy, I’m looking at fitness coaching and I’m looking at character among the group and each time I’m wondering – what’s going on?
I feel like, whether it’s Farhad Moshiri or Bill Kenwright, somebody needs to sit everybody (the manager, the director of football, coaching staff, the players) down in a room and aggressively reel off some home truths. They need to know that this steaming pile of ____ being churned out repeatedly isn’t good enough for this great football club and it’s loyal supporters.
The club have bought a lot in (and I include the manager in this) for a lot of money with big wages and the club deserves more than what’s being served up.
I know I’m going off on a tangent here, but I feel it’s almost like somebody should say ‘forget the United match, they’re flying, anything there is a bonus. We’ve got 4 home games coming before the next international break – Sunderland, Bournemouth, Limassol and Burnley – you win all 4 of them or we’ll be considering changes around here.’
Anyway, back to said United match.
If I’m being absolutely honest, having seen what we’ve seen since our last visit to Manchester, I can’t see how we can win this match. I can’t see how United don’t score twice at the very minimum and more likely 3, 4 or 5+ We look that bad at the moment.
And it’s mad, because before Chelsea, having seen us do a decent defensive number on a strong Manchester City side, I thought we could at least function as a containing unit. I knew we’d struggle for goals with this group of players but defensively I thought we’d be quite solid.
4 awful displays later and here we are. We concede one goal and our heads drop to the point we blink and we’re already 2 nil down – it’s gutless and being the realistic Evertonian that I am, I can’t see how anything else is happening on Sunday.
There’s no turnaround time, no time to implement something new, no time to pick heads off the floor. It just spells disaster to me.
As for our approach, I think we’ll revert to the default Koeman ‘away at a good side back 5’ here. It’s as negative as anything but having seen our exploits as a back four this week, Koeman won’t have faith in us keeping United out with that defensive line up.
I’d like to see Holgate come into the middle to at least provide us with some recovery pace against a quick United attack but he’ll probably be at right back. In the middle will be the ‘turn like the Titanic’ duo of Jagielka and Williams with Michael Keane whilst Leighton Baines will have to start at left back (signing no left back cover looks absolutely criminal, by the way).
In the middle of the park, Gana will surely return to provide us some much-needed energy after being rested in Italy and presumably he’ll sit there with the shadow of the player that was once called Morgan Schneiderlin.
Tom Davies, a lad many have called for to rejuvenate us (despite his poor form) looks set to miss out as the manager calls for experienced heads. So, with that in mind the other central midfielder could be Besic or Klaassen – neither of whom fill me with confidence.
The ‘forward’ duo who’ll no doubt find themselves playing in conventional midfield to leave us with absolutely nothing up top will probably be big-money Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney, returning to the club where he’s rightfully considered a legend.
So my predicted 11 is – Pickford, Holgate, Keane, Williams, Jagielka, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gana, Klaassen, Sigurdsson, Rooney.
I think that side gets battered. But who knows maybe they’ll get it together.
Personally, I’d try something different from the same old, same old here and call me crazy but it would involve wingers down the flanks who could actually protect our invisible full backs.
The winger who’d be straight in my team for this would be Aaron Lennon. You can say what you want about him and whether he’s good enough long term but he’s a ‘back to basics’ player that works hard, gets back and supports his full back. He’s got some pace to take you up the pitch and occasionally can score you a goal.
On the other flank I’d select Ademola Lookman. He’s not the most experienced and can make mistakes but he has the spark and the pace we lack. At a time when nobody is putting their hand up and being counted, why not look to youth?
Up front, I’d play Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a willing runner who’ll break his back for the cause and Wayne Rooney – the only player we have to score in the Premier League this season and the only one with a good track record of scoring goals.
Central midfield, I revert to asking, where’s James McCarthy? If he’s available I’d replace the woefully out of form Schneiderlin with him. If he’s injured Gana can be partnered with Schneiderlin (I’m very much up for dropping Morgan, but I simply don’t see anybody else who can play his screening the back 4 role).
At the back, we need to play Leighton Baines, Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford. If I selected the team the other two would be, Phil Jagielka (again not ideal and should’ve been upgraded on in the summer) and Jonjo Kenny – who surely can’t be worse than what we’ve had at right back.
So maybe they’d get tonked but I’d just have a go with something different and pick this –
Anyway, I think it’ll be a long slog of an afternoon and if United score early, it could be a real pasting after our heads inevitably drop.
I would usually write how we’ll try and play after going through the likely line up and what I’d go with but let’s face it, who knows how we’ll play, I’m not even sure Ronald Koeman does right now. It all stinks of ‘lets throw 11 lads out there and hope for the best’.
The referee is Andre Marriner.
That’ll do for this. Just effin’ do something, Everton.
I hope the result is happier than this preview has been. Come on blues, prove me wrong.