Premier League | Goodison Park | Sat 17 Oct | 3pm
When Wayne Rooney returns to Merseyside to take on his former (and future?) club... if he's fit.
- Everton 1-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- WBA 2-3 Everton (Prem)
- Reading 1-2 Everton (LC)
- Swansea 0-0 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 3-1 Chelsea (Prem)
MAN UTD FORM
- Arsenal 3-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-1 Wolfsburg (CL)
- Man Utd 3-0 S’land (Prem)
- Man Utd 3-0 Ipswich (LC)
- So’ton 2-3 Man Utd (Prem)
It's difficult to know what to make of Manchester United at present. A glance at the Premier League table would suggest that everything in the Old Trafford garden is rosy: United are just two points off the top after winning five of their first eight matches, and appear to be very much a part of the title race for the first time in three years.
Dig a little deeper, though, and it isn't hard to find clear problems with this side. Rooney’s poor form shows no sign of abating, Memphis Depay has also struggled in recent weeks and questions remain about the sturdiness of the backline. More generally, criticism of United’s slow-tempo and risk-averse style tends to resurface after every setback, with Louis van Gaal’s philosophy discussed more often than any other manager’s in the country.
At this stage it's hard to work out whether United deserve credit for picking up points despite their largely below-par performances, or whether results are simply masking problems that will come to a head later in the campaign. Van Gaal could rightly point out that Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams routinely began seasons off the pace before picking up after Christmas, and United fans will hope the current side will do something similar if the're still in contention after the festive period.
Everton, meanwhile, look to have put last season’s woes behind them with a respectable start to 2015/16. A battling 1-1 draw against city rivals Liverpool two weeks ago was the Toffees’ fifth consecutive match without defeat, with the come-from-behind 3-2 victory against West Brom a few days previously further evidence of their spirit and never-say-die attitude.
There has been plenty of quality on show too: Romelu Lukaku looks to have added consistency to his game, Ross Barkley has recaptured his form from 2013/14 after struggling last year, youngsters Brendan Galloway and Tyias Browning are thriving in defence, James McCarthy continues to improve in the engine room and Steven Naismith remains one of the division’s most underrated players.
John Stones could return for Everton after missing the West Brom and Liverpool games with a thigh injury, but fellow defenders Leighton Baines and Tony Hibbert remain sidelined. Tom Cleverley, Mo Besic and Steven Pienaar are all also absent, with Aaron Lennon vying for his first league start since moving to the club on a permanent basis in the summer.
Rooney, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera are all expected to be included in Van Gaal’s matchday squad despite nursing slight knocks. Marcos Rojo is still out with a hamstring issue, but Phil Jones has now fully recovered from thrombosis and is available for selection once more.
Key battle: Romelu Lukaku vs Daley Blind
Lukaku has enjoyed a fine start to the campaign, scoring five goals in eight Premier League games and generally proving a handful for opposing defences.
United's Blind has also played well for much of the season despite his deployment in an unfamiliar centre-back role. The Dutchman is a fine reader of the game and good distributor of the ball, but he is still liable to be bullied by burly frontmen like Lukaku, with the similarly physical Graziano Pelle performing well and scoring twice against United for Southampton last month.
Everton’s No.10 will therefore look to attach himself to Blind, with Everton likely to send multiple crosses in his direction. If the United man can find a way to triumph in this individual battle, the visitors will stand an excellent chance of leaving Goodison Park with all three points.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Everton 3-0 United (PL, Apr 15)
- United 2-1 Everton (PL, Oct 14)
- Everton 2-0 United (PL, Apr 14)
- United 0-1 Everton (PL, Dec 13)
- United 2-0 Everton (PL, Feb 13)
Van Gaal admitted he was “amazed” by his side’s capitulation against Arsenal before the international break, implying that his players didn't properly enact his gameplan in their hefty 3-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium. The Dutchman must take some credit for United’s dreadful display, however. The selection of Schweinsteiger over Morgan Schneiderlin didn't make any sense given that United’s tactics involved energetic pressing in midfield, while the Red Devils’ attempts to impose their own game early on had disastrous consequences.
Like Van Gaal, Martinez has been criticised in the past for his preoccupation with possession, but the Toffees manager seems to have found the right balance at Goodison so far this term. Everton have looked solid and difficult to break down, having lost just one of their first eight encounters and recorded three clean sheets along the way, a total that only United, Arsenal, Manchester City and West Brom have bettered.
Van Gaal and Martinez each got the better of one another last term, United defeating Everton at Old Trafford but the Merseysiders running out 3-0 winners in the return fixture in April.
Facts and figures
- Romelu Lukaku is 1 of only 4 players to score a Premier League hat-trick against Manchester United (Bentley, Kuyt, Eto’o).
- Wayne Rooney has not scored an away Premier League goal since last November (17 games) and hasn't scored at Goodison Park since April 2007 (6 games).
- Everton have won 3 consecutive home league games against Man United, keeping a clean sheet in each victory. The last team to win 4 consecutive home league matches against Man United was also Everton (1984-1987).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Everton’s unbeaten run to continue, United to get their second draw of the campaign. 1-1.