Manchester United and Everton lock horns at Old Trafford on Sunday with United boss Sir Alex Ferguson keen to gain revenge on counterpart, David Moyes, for two recent setbacks suffered at the hands of the men from Merseyside.
On the opening weekend of this season, Ferguson took his side to Goodison Park with the bitter disappointment of the previous campaign’s title loss to crosstown rivals Manchester City still all-too-fresh in the memory.
What they got on that Monday night in Liverpool was a good old fashioned beasting from the Blues who came flying out of the traps in the early weeks of the new season. The result, a 1-0 win for the hosts, was comprehensive and an excellent performance by Everton was topped off by the commanding display by Marouane Fellaini, who not only scored the winner but was utterly dominant against a weakened and timid United defence.
Although the defeat would have hurt the current league leaders, ultimately it probably gave them a welcome jolt and the realisation that last season was gone and finished, and if you look at results since that reverse back in August, the defeat certainly hasn’t done any long term damage.
For the Toffees, that victory went a very long way to laying the foundation to what’s been a very good campaign so far as they make a serious assault on a top four finish and Champions League football next year. In the opening few games, Moyes saw his side blow the opposition away with decisive attacking play and it will be frustrating to the Everton boss that his team have been unable to turn dominance in so many games into wins rather than draws. This folly may ultimately cost them the dream of European football next year.
In this corresponding fixture last season, it was United who ended up counting the cost of a draw snatched from the jaws of victory. The epic 4-4 game from last April has rightly entered into the Hall Of Fame of Premier League classic matches when Everton fought back from 3-1 and 4-2 down to snatch a well-earned point.
The Red Devils, who had taken advantage of City’s wobble, had gone clear in the table and were odds-on favourites to win their 20th league title. However, this collapse at home really dented United’s confidence at a crucial stage of the run-in and ultimately is seen as the point the tide turned in City’s favour in the championship race.
This Sunday’s encounter sees both clubs on course for their goals. United lead the pack and in control of this year’s title, while Everton lie 5th and in the mix for the top four. Therefore this game is likely to be another ding-dong battle.
Ferguson will be determined that there will be no repeat of either August or in particular last April’s results, while fellow Glaswegian Moyes, will send his men out to be as competitive and belligerent as ever.
Everton’s chances may be slightly enhanced by the fact that United will have one eye on next week’s colossal Champions League first leg tie with Real Madrid. Although it would be unwise to expect a team sent out by Fergie to be so complacent at home in the face of the impending European clash.
Whether Ferguson rests any of his big guns remains to be seen. The United squad is starting to reach full strength again after much injury issues, especially defensively so even if there is some rotation, a strong starting XI can be expected.
The Blues paper-thin squad is a constant juggling act for Moyes to deal with and with no other distraction, he will put out the best team he can. Crucially, Fellaini along with defensive rock, Phil Jagielka suffered knocks during the international week and will be given as much time as possible to recover in time to face United.
Rafael v Steven Pienaar
Moyes will target the Brazilian full back as a weak link. Defensively he is suspect and often spends too much time meandering forward rather than keeping his station. Pienaar and his cohort Leighton Baines will look to take full advantage of any lapse in concentration by the United right-back.
Patrice Evra v Kevin Mirallas
Mirallas has been one of the stars of the show for Everton this season. Hamstring injuries have plagued the Belgian recently but now he is back in the side, he can be expected to give the Frenchman a tough afternoon.
Robin van Persie v Phil Jagielka
The Dutch striker is in the peak of his career and is rightly considered one of the top players in world football. Are there really any better finishers around right now? This quality will send shivers down the Everton spine, which has been unusually generous this season. Clean sheets have been hard to come by for the Blues and it’s really only Jagielka who has consistently performed to his best in the Everton back four.
Michael Carrick v Marouane Fellaini
This was the match-up that really decided the game at Goodison in August when Carrick was forced to play at centre back and Fellaini was pushed into his more advanced role. The giant Belgian gave the amiable Geordie a good going-over and will look to repeat the experience on Sunday, with Fellaini likely to play in a deeper position to go head-to-head with the England midfielder again.