It’s the 187th meeting between Manchester United and Everton this Sunday, and there may never have been a more important one than this for the reds – match number 35 of the 2011-2012 Premier League season.
As tight and tetchy a title race as you could imagine, United could find themselves eight points clear at the top come full time on Sunday, with second place City kicking off at 4.00pm. United must record their 82nd victory over the Toffee’s, to enable us to travel across Manchester next week for the so-called ‘title decider’ against Manchester City with a five point cushion.
United don’t have any new injury concerns with the regulars for Sunday, and Sir Alex Ferguson has pretty much the same squad to pick from as he did for the Villa game last week.
Rio Ferdinand is expected make the team sheet, making his 450th career league start, and man in the news Ashley Young could play his 200th Premier League game. The missing players are: Anderson (hamstring), Pogba (ankle), Owen (match fitness), Fletcher (bowel condition), Lindegaard, Macheda (both ankle), Vidic (knee).
For Everton, Leighton Baines picked up a hamstring injury in last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Liverpool, so he wont play. Jack Rodwell remains out, although Steven Pienaar is available for selection again after being cup tied last week, and is likely to feature at Old Trafford.
Royston Drenthe will also be missing, due to an internal disciplinary matter concerning him being late for training before the FA Cup semi final.
What is there to play for?
Well, for United it is obvious. Within touching distance of title number 20, we can’t afford to slip up against Everton and allow our neighbours to start breathing down our necks again. It’s very likely that they will pick up all three points against Wolves on Sunday afternoon, and if we don’t take all three points on Sunday it’ll mean our game with them could turn the season on it’s head again.
Would this acceptable after being eight points clear of them just a couple of weeks ago?
As for Everton, automatic qualification for Europe is mathematically possible, but not a reality. A week after having been put out of the FA Cup in the semi finals at Wembley, Everton’s season is not yet over. The Merseyside rivalry between them and Liverpool means that they will want to finish the season above their fellow scousers for bragging rights, and as it stands they are one place and one point higher than the Anfield lot, and they will still give their all until the end of the season.
This is also a David Moyes side, who have always pushed United, caused us problems, and caused us shocks when we least want it to happen. Having said that, United are unbeaten at home to Everton in the past 18 league meetings spanning nearly 20 years (W15, D3).
Which way will it go?
I think that Everton will set out to tactically stifle United as they regularly do. They will aim to take the sting out of the game by patiently being hard to break down, and will be happy to come away from Old Trafford with a share of the points.
Attacking options for Everton aren’t huge. That’ll mean that whilst our defence shouldn’t be caused many problems over the 90 minutes, it’ll give Everton all the more reason to pack their midfield when they don’t have the ball and sit back and soak up the pressure when we press them.
Our passing needs to be sharper than in recent games, especially when we’re looking at being in the final third, and Ashley Young’s antics will be under scrutiny should he play. After a talking to from the boss in midweek, and legends such as Bryan Robson telling him to cut out a flaw that’s been with him throughout his career, we may see a galvanised Ashley Young for this one, with a point to prove…something that we will need.
Referee’d by Mark Clattenburg who’s shown six red cards and 62 yellows in the 21 Premier League games he’s taken charge of, I can see United forcing a narrow victory over Everton – and finishing the game eight points clear at the top.
Wherever you’re watching it, enjoy the game.
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