David Moyes returns to Goodison Park for the first time since his controversial exit last summer in what is a must win game for the hosts
Everton fluffed their lines on Wednesday night in front of a sell-out crowd, losing 3-2 to Crystal Palace and their hopes of finishing in fourth place in the Premier League have suffered a huge blow.
Fingers were pointed at Roberto Martinez and his gung-ho starting line up, while the absence of James McCarthy was cited as a contributing factor to Everton leaking three goals at home.
But the visit of Manchester United provides Martinez’ men with an ideal opportunity to kick-start another winning streak which is essential if Everton are serious about ousting Arsenal from the the final Champions League spot.
Before Arsenal take on Hull City in the north-east on Sunday afternoon, just one point will separate the Gunners and Everton. Moyes’ United on the other hand are nine points behind the club he jumped ship from almost 12 months ago and while that difference will no doubt rankle with the ginger-topped Scot, it has prompted nothing but delight among Evertonians.
One man who excelled under Moyes while steering the Goodison ship was Phil Jagielka, although Sunday’s clash is likely to come too early for the England defender. As such, the man (or boy) who snubbed Martinez at Wigan in favour of Everton in January of last year will come up against the man who signed him. John Stones has been in superb form of late and it’s easy to see why the two managers fought over his signature.
McCarthy is expected to be fit to start after only making the bench on Wednesday. The Scottish born Republic of Ireland midfielder was introduced in the second half and it was later revealed his absence was due to a muscle injury, rather than falling victim to Martinez’s carousel-like rotation policy.
Staying true to such a policy, it’s likely Gerard Deulofeu and Aiden McGeady will make way for Steven Naismith and McCarthy, while Leon Osman could also step in for Ross Barkley.
Evertonians will need no introduction to the fiery Scot currently at the Old Trafford helm. Moyes was given a guard of honour and a rapturous reception for his final home game of his 11 years in charge of Everton last May but his welcome on Sunday will be frosty at best.
The fact that Moyes turned down a contract extension with the Blues in January 2013 and that it was later revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson came to him and told him that he was going to be the next Manchester United manager (while still in charge at Goodison) did not sit well in the ale-houses of County Road.
The embarrassing courtship of two of Everton’s most-prized assets during the summer infuriated Evertonians the most, not least comments which demanded Everton allow Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines to leave the club:
“I always felt that the right thing was to do what was right for the players,”
Source: The Independent, 24th August 2013 http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/roberto-martinez-should-let-leighton-baines-and-marouane-fellaini-go-says-david-moyes-8782997.html
Not the mantra Moyes seemed be abiding by when Manchester City came knocking for Joleon Lescott’s services in 2009.
Add to these a struggling United who have barely moved from their new home in 7th place, a first away win at Old Trafford for the Toffees and the subsequent fall-out when Moyes reportedly labelled Everton fans “a disgrace” (claims he quickly denied). If this fixture needed any added significance, Everton are in desperate need of three points in their bid for Champions League qualification.
While Moyes has un-done just about every Premier League team’s Old Trafford hoodoo this season, his team’s form on the road is un-rivalled. United have won 10 times away from home, the league’s most and if away form was the deciding factor in the Premier League, United would be on course for another title.
Ex-Toffee Wayne Rooney is expected to play some part having overcome a toe injury while Fellaini -who wore the Blue of Everton as recently as August 2013- is also available. Rafael and Johnny Evans are likely to miss out.
Likely Line Ups
Everton: Howard; Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman; Barry, McCarthy; Osman, Naismith, Mirallas; Lukaku
Manchester United: De Gea; Evra, Vidic, Smalling, Evans; Carrick, Fletcher; Valencia, Mata, Welbeck, Rooney
McCarthy- the Irishman featured as the key man in the preview to Wednesday’s game with Crystal Palace, only for the midfielder to watch from the bench.
But it was obvious after a poor 45 minutes that the Blues were missing his presence in the middle of the park. Barkley came in alongside Barry and by no means disgraced himself. But the pair see the game in very different ways and while Barkley preferred to bring the ball out of his own half himself and look to push on, McCarthy’s tendency to spot the gaps made by other forward-thinking players allows him to spot danger and snuff it out.
Against Palace, Everton were slow to deny opposition space when they flooded forward. Without McCarthy’s marathon-man presence, Pulis’ side found it all too easy to advance and exploit space left by the likes of Deulofeu, McGeady, Baines and Barkley.
Should McCarthy get the nod on Sunday, he will play a vital part in shunning United’s path to goal while having the discipline to unleash other players when in possession.
Rooney- there’s no need to tell Evertonians what this man can do- he was doing it as a boy in an Everton shirt and has only gotten better since leaving the club in 2004.
The man who brought him through the ranks at Goodison Park has now been reunited with the Croxteth-born striker at Old Trafford. Moyes and Rooney enjoyed a spiteful relationship after the latter was sold, with Moyes pursuing legal action against him for comments made in an autobiography.
But since taking the reigns at United, Rooney has been Moyes’ most productive player, often rising to the occasion when so many others have fallen way below standard. The England striker sits third in the Premier League combined goals/assists table with 15 strikes and an impressive 10 assists to go with it. Only Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez have been more productive.
There is no doubt Rooney is United’s talisman and players, staff and fans are often looking at the 28 year-old to carry the club when they’re down. The signing of Juan Mata has somewhat eased the pressure on Rooney, the Spaniard netting three times and setting up 6 goals for team mates since arriving in January. There has been some incompatibility between Rooney, Mata and Robin van Persie at times but regardless of how well the three are linking up, the one-time youngest ever Premier League goalscorer is capable of coming up with something special.
Last Time Out
Manchester United 0-1 Everton, Old Trafford, 4th December 2013
Blues have fond memories of the sides’ last meeting in Manchester. Moyes had been trying (clearly not very hard) for 11 years to win at Old Trafford and it took a mere move of residence up the M62 to achieve it. Martinez was bold in his line up and his attitude that night, and a Bryan Oviedo strike gave the Toffees their first win at Old Trafford in over 20 years.
Manchester United- WLWLWW