Teenager Paddy McNair will start for Manchester United for the second straight game when Everton visit Old Trafford on Sunday, with Louis van Gaal’s injury crisis continuing unabated. With Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones all unavailable, McNair, 19, was thrown into the side for his debut last week, but coped admirably in a 2-1 won over West Ham.
“We still have three central defenders injured so he [McNair] shall play,” Van Gaal said, reports Manchester United’s official website. “He is the only player who can play in the right-sided defensive position. I chose him last week and he was very good. It's difficult for a player like him to maintain that level -- that is his biggest challenge.
Injuries continue to blight the early part of Van Gaal’s reign. A new name joined the list of absentees this week with Ander Herrera suffering a fractured rib. The Dutchman will also be missing his captain, after Wayne Rooney was shown a straight red card against West Ham, meaning Juan Mata is likely to come into the starting lineup.
“We have eight injuries and one red card so nine players are not available. It's difficult to explain. You can be fit but not match fit -- that's a big difference. For example, Ander Herrera is fit but he cannot play because of his rib pressure. Marouane Fellaini has trained for one week but is not fit to play 90 minutes.”
Despite the continued injury problems, Van Gaal will doubtless be in better spirits this week after the much-needed victory at West Ham, secured when United showed some rare defensive resilience to hang on with 10 men. It has unquestionably been a far more difficult start to Van Gaal’s reign than he could have imagined, but United are just three points away from a Champions League spot and four behind third place -- the stated target for this season.
Everton will have also been targeting a Champions League berth at the start of the season having narrowly missed out last time around. But Roberto Martinez’s men currently find themselves languishing in 15th spot -- although it is a sign of the compactness of the early Premier League table that they will go above Manchester United with a win. While remaining on just one Premier League win this campaign, Everton garnered a considerable boost last week when Phil Jagielka’s stunning injury-time goal secured them a point at the home of Merseyside rivals Liverpool. Their preparations for Old Trafford have not been helped, though, by a trip to Russia and a 1-1 draw in the Europa League on Thursday with Kuban Krasnodar. Despite conceding that a lunchtime kickoff time on Sundau isn’t exactly ideal, Martinez is not using the tough schedule to prepare an early excuse.
“The kickoff time is a bit of a disappointment because every hour you can get is a bonus, but we don't see that as an excuse or reason to moan,” he said, reports Everton’s official website. “It's exactly what we wanted - to be involved in Europe and be traveling around. “We just have to have the right mentality in every game we go into. I don't see it as a problem at all.”
Martinez could have his squad bolstered by the return of James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman and Steven Pienaar from injury, with the Everton boss believing that Pienaar has the best chance of being involved. Ross Barkley is set to return to full training next week.
Prediction: Both teams have had major problems at the back this season, and, while there were signs of improvement last week, there should still be ample goals on show on Sunday. The loss of Herrera’s midfield dynamism will be a significant blow for United, although Rooney’s loss may be less so. But against an Everton team missing the direct running of Kevin Mirallas and most of the squad experiencing the quick turnaround from a European away trip for the first time, United’s attacking threat should be enough to get a win.
Manchester United 2-1 Everton
Kickoff time: 7 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra