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It’s not that Everton are a ‘bogey side’ for United but the last two games against them have been unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. Moyes’ men are having another very solid season and are unquestionably the best side on Merseyside right now. With United travelling to Madrid in a few days this game has a dangerous look about it as Fergie may be tempted to leave a couple of players out. As ever, we welcome comments and opinions from both sets of fans.
View from the opposition
Everton look to be having a great season so far. How would you sum it up?
It’s been a great season so far although not surprising given how we finished last season. We’ve only lost 3 times although the draws (we’ve had more deadlocks than anyone in the top flight) have cost us. We’re not in the form of summer/autumn but are still a match for anyone on our day.
David Moyes continues to defy logic in a football world dominated by money. What are your thoughts on your manager and will he replace Fergie?
Moyes has been great for Everton and vice versa. I’m a fan of his… some of the dross that went before he took over back in 2002 was unacceptable for a club of our history and Moyes has done a lot to change the way the club is viewed in that respect. He is still without a trophy though, or for that matter a league win at either Old Trafford, Klanfield, Arsenal or Chelsea and has lost most of the big games he has been in charge of. Whilst I think he would do a great job for United I doubt someone without a trophy to his name would get offered one of the biggest jobs in world football.
Fellaini has been brilliant this season, but there are reports he’ll be off in the summer. Do you think you’ll hang on to him?
Fellaini is ace for us… he is the main man and we play to his strengths, e.g hitting him early and using his skills as a link man. He is a decent midfield anchor man and also good playing off the striker. I’m still not convinced that he will go – if a club like United wanted a number ten they would buy a bonafide playmaker, or if Chelsea wanted an anchor man they would get the best in that position. Fellaini is decent at both but for £25m you would surely want a specialist. It’s also a big fee for someone who is better with their head than their feet and who has a suspect mentality against old school defenders as highlighted by his red card vs shawcross and similar situations vs Wigan and WBA where he has unravelled this season. For this reason I think he will stay.
Where do you think Everton will finish this season?
If it was based on the 1-11 we are an equal match for Spurs and Arsenal but our squad is wafer thin in comparison and thus I think we’ll be pipped to 4th spot and will more than likely end up 5th or 6th which is still a decent return.
What have you made of United this season?
As an Everton fan who works in Trafford I see a lot of United games and chat to a lot of United fans about the club’s fortunes so I have a decent knowledge of the current situation. I always enjoy watching United for their attacking style and this season their games have been even more entertaining than usual… and I guess for some fans they’ve been too exciting with few clean sheets to speak of. I like Carrick in midfield, Rafael has developed this season and van Persie has been a great buy. I’ve also been impressed with Cleverley and although he hasn’t had much game time Welbeck always impresses me. I’d be amazed if you didn’t win the league given the edge you have on City and the consistency you have shown so far.
If you could take one United player, who would it be and why?
I’d get some abuse on an Everton site for saying it, but Rooney would be the one player I’d take just because as well as the talent he possesses he also has the mindset of an Evertonian from supporting the club as a kid. Deep down most fans would love to see him back at the club… alas its unlikely to happen until United have got the best out of him and he’s in the winter of his career.
What is your greatest memory of a United vs. Everton match?
It would have to be Wembley ’95 in the FA Cup Final. United had an ace team but with Cantona suspended had just lost the title to Blackburn. We had been on a good run since the turn of the year with Joe Royle steering us away from relegation after the ill-fated reign of Mike Walker who spent more time on the sunbeds than on the training pitch.
How will Everton line up and what will the score be?
Our team will probably be: (4-2-3-1) Howard – Neville, Distin, Jagielka, Baines – Gibson, Osman – Pienaar, Fellaini, Mirallas – Anichebe… whilst I’m apprehensive given United’s form it wouldn’t surprise me if we grabbed a score draw, 2-2 perhaps.
Who is the greatest Everton player of all time?
It’s hard to look past Dixie Dean for the 60 goals in a season haul. Alan Ball runs him a close second with Neville Southall in third place for me.
Tell us a fact about Everton that isn’t common knowledge for an average football fan.
We used to be known as the ‘midnight dribblers’ due to training late at night under gas lamps!
Surprisingly, United’s squad is largely healthy and fit. We’re more used to filling up this part of the preview with a list of names of ‘missing men’ but not this week. Ashley Young and Michael Carrick are both fit after missing England’s midweek game whilst Jones’ case of Shingles seems to be nowhere near as bad as reported and he’s very close to being back. Fletcher remains the only missing man and has been removed from the club’s registered players for the remainder of the season.
Everton will be hoping Fellaini is fit to play after he picked up a hip injury – he has of course been a real handful for United in recent meetings. David Moyes was confident he should be able to play a part. Hibbert and Coleman are expected to miss out but otherwise Everton have a strong squad to choose from. Old Trafford will of course be familiar territory for Phil Neville and Darron Gibson, both of whom should get a warm reception despite the latter’s odd relationship with many United fans.
Potential Man United line up
The Real Madrid tie on Wednesday poses a problem for Ferguson. It’s the harder of the two games but Everton aren’t a side that a fully rotated team can play against, it needs to be stronger. The predicted team above is a guess at how Fergie may try and rotate with Real Madrid in mind.
After de Gea’s superb performance at Fulham, (not that you’d know it if you read the papers), his place seems untouchable right now, not least because Lindegaard’s position is unclear. There was no mention of an injury last weekend and yet it was Ben Amos on the bench. It would see that for some reason Lindegaard is badly out of favour which is surely only making de Gea’s position more secure.
In front of David, I can see Fergie resting Rio for midweek despite him not being on international duty. One would assume Evans will play in both games and so Vidic and Rio will both partner him with it making sense to play Vidic against Everton’s aerial threat. Similarly Smalling could be favoured over Rafael at right back to help out at set pieces.
The midfield also could see some rotation. Cleverley and Welbeck both played for England midweek and could well be protected for Madrid with both seemingly important parts of a United side that’ll surely line up in a similar manner to how they did against Spurs. Valencia’s midweek goal for Ecuador will hopefully spur a return to form on the right but Nani showed at Fulham last week that his final third creativity output is better than Valencia’s right now. If Valencia starts on the right then maybe Nani could be on the left but hopefully it’ll be Kagawa, who’s finally starting to look the part.
Up front the predictable pairing of Rooney and Robin should continue with Rooney now in goalscoring form and Robin almost undroppable. Hernandez may be due a start but his late return from international duty might prevent that from happening and Welbeck as noted could be saved for Real.
Conclusion and prediction
All eyes will be on Southampton the day before to see if the Saints can take anything of Man City. The gap at worst will be six points at the start of play but anything more and it’ll provide a huge chance to further open the lead at the top.
United’s last two encounters with Everton will live long in the memory for both sets of fans. The game at Goodison Park earlier this season was one of United’s worst performances of the season as Everton dominated and with Fellaini at his best, bullied United off the pitch. The final score, 1-0, suggests it was probably a tight affair and despite United having a couple of decent chances, that probably couldn’t be further from the truth. The last meeting at Old Trafford, the 4-4, is often credited with being the day United threw the title away last season. Having been ahead and playing some good attacking football, defensive lapses and a United-like attitude by Everton, saw a 4-2 lead thrown away in the final minutes of the game. Revenge for both games will be very much at the forefront of the minds of United fans.
We shouldn’t forget that this is also an important game for Everton. By kick-off they’ll know whether they can go level on points with Spurs or whether Arsenal will have overtaken them. There is a feeling that if Everton’s typical late season surge comes that after their uncharacteristic strong start this year they could very well find themselves finishing inside the top four. They’re a team with a lot to admire, good players, a good manager and they play attractive football. Their issue, as ever, may well be a case of squad depth should injuries come their way.
After last year’s hideous mess-up, one hopes that United will get it right this time around and see off Everton to continue the momentum into the Real Madrid tie. The Old Trafford pitch has been dreadful recently but it’s had a good bit of time to try and recover now so if it lends itself to the football United try to play, I can see the Reds edging it. If not, then this is an open game that could be swung on Fellaini’s fitness, again.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Everton