We're hoping Everton has more of these to celebrate tomorrow. - Michael Regan
Everton face a big test of their European football credentials this weekend when they travel to League leaders Manchester United.
There's two ways to look at last week's draw against Aston Villa - relief that Everton came back to tie it up, or else frustration that they dropped crucial points. This weekend promises a whole different challenge, as the Toffees travel to runaway League leaders Manchester United. The Red Devils are nine points clear with thirteen games to play, but after last year's late season meltdown, Sir Alex Ferguson will have his boys on full caution especially after Everton scuppered their chances with a thrilling 4-4 draw at Old Trafford. However, United do have a huge Champions League game coming up on Wednesday at Real Madrid, and they could be forgiven for using an economy of effort on Sunday.
Everton's fixtures against Manchester United always deliver on their promise of being hard-fought games, especially with so many players exchanging sides over the years - Wayne Rooney, Tim Howard, Phil Neville, and Darron Gibson most recently. David Moyes has often been talked about as Fergie's most likely successor at Old Trafford, which includes an added twist to the plotline.
Team News -
Moyes is still missing rightbacks Seamus Coleman and Tony Hibbert, but everyone else is eligible for selection. Marouane Fellaini missed Belgium's international on Wednesday but Moyes said he should be fit for Sunday. Whether that was some reverse psychology considering Fellaini's tremendous impact on the first leg of this fixture or not, we'll only know on Sunday.
United will also be almost at full strength, with Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Ashley Young all recovering from knocks to be eligible. Darren Fletcher has been ruled out for the rest of the season after bowel surgery.
Keys To The Game -
United have been in fantastic form lately, and will look to burst out of the gates to put the game to bed so that they can rest some of their stars for Wednesday's game. The home side are an explosive lot and can score at any given time so Everton will have to play a full ninety minute game (plus Fergie time, of course!). Everton for their part will have to maintain their shape in midfield and pressure the United playmakers, forcing them to make mistakes and not give them a chance to settle on the ball. With the Toffees defensive frailties, defending deep for long periods is likely to lead to disaster.
The home side's defence has been suspect by their usual standards, and have shown weaknesses both to pace and size. It will be interesting to see how aggressive Moyes chooses to be on Sunday, and it could all hinge on Fellaini's fitness. Fergie has a plethora of talent available to him at midfield and attack, and even a side without household names like Robin van Persie and Rooney could still give Everton fits. Again, it will all come down to how far ahead Fergie is thinking.
Match Facts -
- Everton last beat United at Old Trafford in 1992, winning 3-0 with goals from Beardsley, Warzycha and Johnston.
- The Toffees have a marginally better defence, conceding 30 goals to United's 31.
- The Red Devils have won the most points from losing positions this season, with Everton second.
- United have won their last nine home games in the Premier League, and eleven of twelve this season.
- United's tally of 62 points is the highest total after 25 games in the history of the Premier League.