David Moyes will not have anticipated that his first match against former club Everton would come with them above his new side Manchester United in the Premier League table. Yet that is the situation ahead of Wednesday’s match at Old Trafford and is what makes it a massive match for both sides involved.
After an uneasy start to his time as Sir Alex Ferguson’s replacement, there have been signs in recent times -- in a victory over Arsenal and particularly in the 5-0 destruction of Bayer Leverkusen -- that Moyes was beginning to find his feet in the United hot seat. Yet successive Premier League draws means that the champions are nine points adrift of leaders Arsenal and in danger of being cut adrift before Christmas.
A draw at Tottenham on Sunday was certainly no disgrace, but there must be a concern for Moyes that a familiar problem was again very much in evidence. A midfield duo of Phil Jones had plenty of endeavor but far too little quality on the ball for a club of United’s standing. Absent was 40-year-old Ryan Giggs, who rolled back the years in Leverkusen but cannot be relied upon on a regular basis. Meanwhile, conspicuous by his place on the bench for the entire 90 minutes was United’s sole major signing of the summer, the man procured from Wednesday’s opponents, Marouane Fellaini.
Unfortunately for Moyes, his one foray into the transfer market can be used as every bit as much of a symbol of the failures of his first transfer window at Old Trafford as those many players that got away. The physical Belgian has struggled to adapt to his new role as a holding midfielder when he is expected to help initiate the play from deep.
With more than £27 million in the bank, it is fair to say that Everton will currently be feeling the better of the two clubs about the deal. That is particularly true when considering the style of play favored by Moyes’s replacement at Goodison Park. Roberto Martinez has been highly successful in implementing his possession-based philosophy, taking Everton’s possession percentage up from 52.9 last term under Moyes, good enough for ninth in the Premier League, to its current 57.2 this term, the fourth best in the division.
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To replace Fellaini, Martinez recruited two midfielders that may not make the same eye-catching rampaging impact, but are more suited to the way he wants to play in James McCarthy and Gareth Barry. In scoring seven goals in their past two matches, Everton are also displaying the kind of flair that some fans began weary of Moyes for failing to produce. Indeed, the Scot is still striving for United to show the same attacking cohesion and invention that they produced against Leverkusen on a regular basis.
Everton currently sitting fifth in the Premier League, two points above United, and Wednesday’s contest provides a test of their pretensions to seriously challenge for a top-four berth. In that aim, Martinez will be aided by something Moyes rarely had in his time at Everton: a reliable and imposing presence up front. With Romelu Lukaku, who scored a hat-trick the last time he took on United, in a rich vein of form and Martinez’s side capable of at least matching United in midfield, Moyes may endure further frustration, this time at the hands of his former employers.
Prediction: Manchester United 1-1 Everton