The FourFourTwo Preview: Everton vs Man United
"Home is where the hatred is… home is filled with pain and it might not be such a bad idea if I never, never went home again."
David Moyes can probably identify with the words of Gil Scott Heron right now.
- Everton 2-3 Palace (Prem)
- S'land 0-1 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 3-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Fulham 1-3 Everton (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-3 Everton (Prem)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Bayern 3-1 Man Utd (CL)
- Newcastle 0-4 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-1 Bayern (CL)
- Man Utd 4-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Man Utd 0-3 Man City (Prem)
When Moyes sauntered onto the pitch at Goodison Park for the last time as Everton boss after a 2-0 win over West Ham last May, embracing the reception of gratitude from all four corners of the stadium after 11 years as gaffer prior to joining Manchester United, he cannot have seen what would come next.
Moving from Everton to United, the 20-time champions and reigning Premier League holders, this was supposed to be a huge step up for Moyes, the crowning of a career's worth of hard graft, a reward for his diligence in keeping Everton above water for so long despite meagre resources.
Now he was moving onwards and upwards - now the Scot would be rubbing shoulders with the Guardiolas and Ancelottis of this world, working with the best facilities imaginable and challenging for the sport's biggest prizes. Moyes was leaving the past behind - never again would he have to toil away among the league's also-rans slogging for upper mid-table positions, hoping to finish 7th, 6th or 5th.
As we all now know, it didn't quite work out this way. Indeed, if someone had whispered to Sir Alex Ferguson, who hand-picked Moyes as his successor, that United would be travelling to Goodison the following April out of the running for every trophy and battling to finish 6th while the Toffees would be scrapping for a Champions League place, it would have been interesting to see his face.
Or that of Bill Kenwright's who, upon learning Moyes would be leaving, said the Red Devils 'were very lucky' to be getting him.
While Ferguson and United despair, Kenwright and Everton delight. It speaks volumes about Roberto Martinez's managerial qualities that, in just 10 months and on more or less the same budget available to Moyes, he has taken the honest, hard-working side he inherited and transformed it into one of the most expansive and entertaining teams in the Premier League.
Anyone who witnessed Everton's 3-0 dismantling of Arsenal cannot have failed to be impressed by the energy, the speed of thought and movement, the vibrancy and tactical intelligence of their football and the sheer, wondrous joy with which they dispatched an Arsenal side that looked helpless and outdated by comparison.
Moyes failed to win once at Old Trafford during his time at Everton (though a 4-4 draw in 2012 effectively cost his current team the title). Martinez achieved it in his first season with a Bryan Oviedo-inspired 1-0 win in December, and if the Toffees manage to do the double over United they will take a big step in the race to finish fourth, which is now out of their hands after a 3-2 home defeat to Crystal Palace.
Opinion towards Moyes among Evertonians has cooled in the months since his departure; the warmth and admiration for his fighting-the-odds narrative replaced with a suspicion that perhaps, after all, his dour realism and conservative style may eventually have held them back. The reception will not be as friendly as this time last May, and a defeat on his return home would heap yet further misery upon his already furrowed brow.
For Moyes, and United, this match is about saving face and a Europa League place. Everton are where it's at now. They have more to play for and an enduring hope that fourth could be theirs for the first time since 2005.
Steven Pienaar, Oviedo, Arouna Kone, Darron Gibson and Lacina Traore are out injured. Fitness doubts also remain over Phil Jagielka - the player one Manchester United fanzine reported Moyes had told Rio Ferdinand he should play more like, causing bemusement and unrest at Old Trafford and amusement to much of the rest of the country. Shame really, the pair could have exchanged notes.
For United, Rafael and Marouane Fellaini are close to returning, the latter to his former club, while Wayne Rooney is a bigger doubt due to a toe injury that saw him limp around aimlessly in the Red Devils' last game, a 3-1 defeat to Bayern Munich. Robin van Persie's twisted knee once again keeps him out here.
Key battle: Seamus Coleman vs Patrice Evra
Manchester United past versus Manchester United future? OK, so even helping an old lady cross the road is enough for an Everton player to be linked with Manchester United these days (Ross Barkley? A £50 million bid? Seriously, Roberto?) but if whispers are to be believed then Moyes has switched his Everton full-back affections from Leighton Baines to Coleman in recent months, and is supposedly interested in signing the Irishman to either compete with Rafael or just straight up take his place.
Coleman has been exceptional this season and is the league's second-top-scoring defender. He has added greater attacking urgency and thrust to his already-capable defensive skills this season, flying up and down the flank causing real problems for opposing left-backs to deal with. Case in point: the 3-0 win over Arsenal in which Coleman was absolutely outstanding, even throwing in a bit of cheeky juggling for good measure.
With 32-year-old Evra approaching the end of his United contract, a summer move appears increasingly likely, despite his renowned influence in the dressing room. Evra has been a magnificent servant to United and is one of the club's all-time greatest defenders. Old Father Time is catching up to him and he's become more of a weak link, particularly in the second half of games where his declining stamina leads to tired defending.
Coleman will likely have plenty of space therefore in which to profit from this - interestingly he made all 4 of his successful dribbles against Arsenal in the second half. This battle could be pivotal to the game's outcome.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 0-1 Everton (Prem, Dec 13)
- United 2-0 Everton (Prem, Feb 13)
- Everton 1-0 United (Prem, Aug 12)
- United 4-4 Everton (Prem, Apr 12)
- Everton 0-1 United (Prem, Oct 11)
Much has been made of the differences between Martinez and Moyes this season. FFT has looked at the pair in detail in two of the first four FourFourTwo Weekly editions, assessing how Moyes' mindset dragged down United and, by contrast, how Martinez completely transformed Everton. Have a read, if you like. Suffice to say that, with 66 points after 34 games, Martinez has already bested Moyes' highest points total in 11 years at Goodison (65 points in 2007/8) - with four games to spare.
Facts and figures
- 5 of the last 6 meetings between the teams have produced Under 2.5 Goals.
- 5 of Everton’s 10 matches this season against the top 7 have seen fewer than 2 goals, which increases to 5 of 7 excluding City and Liverpool.
- United have kept 5 consecutive clean sheets on the road and have both the most away wins and the best goal difference on the road this season.
- Since 2011/12 8 of Everton’s 9 home defeats have been by exactly 1 goal and 5 were 0-1.
United will have had a solid 11 days to prepare for this game come kick-off, while Everton's midweek morale-buster against Palace may have taken its toll physically. Moyes has had enough humiliation this season, surely there can be no more. A 2-2 draw further hampers his former charges' Champions League chase.