Two of the league’s most resilient teams will meet at Old Trafford on Sunday as Manchester United take on Everton in the 16:00 kick off.
Both teams are famously tough to beat, with Everton having lost only one of their last 13 league games (W5 D7 L1) and United having lost none (W11 D2). United are also the only team to have recovered more points from losing positions than Everton (27 to Everton’s 21). Recent fixtures have struggled to separate the two sides, with the last six meetings between the clubs bearing 2 wins and 2 draws for each team.
Everton’s record at Old Trafford is, regrettably, rather less impressive. Of the last 19 meetings between the two sides at United’s ground, the home side have won 15 games and lost none. Couple this with Everton’s hard-earned draw there last season which all but ended United’s title challenge, and it seems that Everton may face a side confident of the win with determination to set the record straight.
The dangermen for this game have to be Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Both are phenomenal players who’ve scored copiously against us in their career. van Persie’s form has dipped in recent matches, but that by no means rules him out as a threat, and Rooney has in fact stepped up to the plate, scoring 8 goals in his last 7 league appearances.
Everton’s main hope will be that, with an away trip to Real Madrid looming 72 hours after the game, Sir Alex Ferguson will feel the need to rest some key members of his squad. The Champions’ League last 16 fixture will seem by far the most important tie to United supporters, and as such we may see one of Rooney and van Persie rested. If so that will likely leave Danny Welbeck as the threat to Johnny Heitinga, who looked unable to cope with the pace of Christian Benteke last week against Aston Villa.
Other threats will come in the shape of Michael Carrick, the creative hub of the United team who has miraculously recovered from the ankle problem which kept him out of England’s midweek friendly. He may also be rested, but will need to be controlled by the likes of Gibson and Fellaini should he play. Further threat will come in the unlikely shape of Patrice Evra, who has become a major threat from set pieces this season, despite entering the winter of his United career.
It wouldn’t be international friendly time if one of our players didn’t get crocked in it, and sure enough Jagielka picked up a knock in training for the England-Brazil game. If the injury is serious enough to keep him out of the game it no doubt means Heitinga will start on the right side of central defence with Phil Neville filling in at right back. This will no doubt force Everton to defend even deeper, since the Neville-Heitinga partnership would struggle to outpace a tortoise with snails strapped to its feet.
Another potential spanner in the works thanks to the international schedule is Marouane Fellaini, who picked up a hip injury when training with Belgium and had to pull out of the squad.
‘It still hurts’ Fellaini said in an interview to Belgian television. ‘and it was impossible for me to play against Slovakia. My health is the most important thing, but if I can make it, I certainly will, because I love playing against United. I scored in a 1-0 win against them at Goodison on the opening weekend of the season, and it was a little bit my match. I couldn’t have done it without my team-mates, though, and I hope to be out there with them again on Sunday. We will just have to wait and see.’
Long term absentees include Tony Hibbert and Seamus Coleman, while United’s only certain absentee will be Darren Fletcher, who is out for the rest of the season after an operation to treat his Ulcerative Colitis. Other than the aforementioned Carrick, United’s other doubt will be over defender/midfielder/slightly melted Action Man lookalike Phil Jones, who picked up shingles during the week.
Team: Howard, Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines, Gibson, Osman, Mirallas, Fellaini, Pienaar, Anichebe
Score: 3-1 United
Referee: some useless twerp