What: English Premier League
Who: Manchester United vs Everton
When: Sunday 10th February, 2013, at 16:00 UK Time
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Minds Turn To Real Madrid As Title Looks Won
Manchester United may have given away an eight-point lead in the Premier League title race last season, but this year it does not seem realistic to think they can throw it away again. With a bigger lead, at nine points, and more importantly, a weaker rival in Manchester City, the title is surely Manchester United’s. Yet the fat lady has not quite woken up yet, let alone sung, so complacency must be kept at bay. The visit of Everton comes with perfect timing for those reasons, as this was the match last season that saw Manchester United throw away a comfortable lead, and when they began to lose the title.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s battle to keep his squad focused on the Premier League will be made a bit harder by the fact that his team will depart for Madrid shortly after Everton’s visit. With just 72 hours until they step out in the Bernabeu for a simply massive match, Manchester United will be looking to ensure they are at optimum condition for that encounter.
Ferguson is fond of rotation and he uses it to excellent effect to ensure his side are always at optimal fitness levels. With a mostly fit squad, will he be tempted to rest a big player, such as Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick or even Robin van Persie? It would be a risky gambit, particularly against this Everton team.
Champions League Dreams For Toffees
The 3-3 draw with Aston Villa last week was a blow for Everton, two big dropped points in the race for the Champions League, but there were at least some silver linings. Victor Anichebe looks like he could solve David Moyes’ striking dilemma, Marouane Fellaini is rediscovering his pre-Christmas form and the late fightback showed typical Evertonian character.
The visit to Old Trafford is one that Everton usually suffer on. The books must be turned back 20 meetings between these sides in Manchester to find an Everton victory, and Manchester United have won 15 of those games since. But a psychological block was lifted when Everton drew 4-4 at Old Trafford last year, giving these players belief that they can go toe-to-toe with Manchester United, something which was evident at the start of the season when they beat the same team 1-0. That belief can help propel Everton into a Champions League spot, as they look to take advantage of the European commitments of their top four rivals. Just three points off Tottenham with two thirds of the season gone, the Toffees are genuine contenders.
Everton’s uncharacteristically bright start to the season has fizzled out a touch but they are still in decent form, having lost just once in thirteen. The problem is converting draws into victories. Key to that would be scoring more second half goals; Everton are particularly prolific early on. They will also hope that their defence can improve after a woeful showing against Aston Villa, with Jonny Heitinga particularly guilty of some poor errors then. Such lapses will be ruthlessly punished at Old Trafford.
Manchester United 4-1 Fulham (26/01; FA Cup)
Manchester United 2-1 Southampton (30/01; Premier League)
Fulham 0-1 Manchester United (02/02; Premier League)
Bolton Wanderers 1-2 Everton (26/01; FA Cup)
Everton 2-1 West Brom (30/01; Premier League)
Everton 3-3 Aston Villa (02/02; Premier League)
Manchester United: Darren Fletcher
Everton: Phil Jagielka (doubt); Seamus Coleman; Tony Hibbert
Players to watch
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney: Rooney has rediscovered his goalscoring touch of late, scoring 10 times in his last 10 outings for Manchester United. He was particularly impressive for England in midweek too, opening the scoring against Brazil and linking up well with Jack Wilshere. Rooney’s finish against Fulham last week was composed and technically superb, and he will be raring to go against his former team this weekend.
Everton – Victor Anichebe: Anichebe has been a revelation in recent weeks, as Moyes toys with the dilemma of what to do over previously prolific Nikica Jelavic. Anichebe has taken the opportunity to try and cement his place in the first team with a series of accomplished performances. The combination between the powerful forward and Fellaini is particularly enticing for Everton fans. Both strong but technically good forwards, they can prove a handful for any defence. Anichebe could cause problems for Nemanja Vidic, as the Serb tends to mark forwards tightly, but the Everton man has the attributes to more than cope with that and roll his man before getting accurate shots away. His ability to operate in those tight spaces will be fascinating to watch at Old Trafford.
The statistics offer some interesting clues about the outcome of this match. Everton have scored a larger proportion of their goals in the first half of matches than any other side, whilst Manchester United have recovered more points from losing positions than anyone else. Another interesting fact is that whilst the Premier League leaders have scored more goals from headers than any other team in the division, Everton have conceded the most headers, a surprising stat given their physical strength.
Everton could be light in defence if Phil Jagielka is not fit and the old problem of injuries is threatening to undermine their campaign. Much could also rest on whether Fellaini is fully fit; his link-up play with Anichebe could be key to their chances in this game. Manchester United will look to use wide areas through Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young to stretch Everton’s weakened backline and create the space for Van Persie and Rooney to exploit. Former Manchester United man Darron Gibson could have a particularly crucial role shielding the defence.
Both teams have lost just three of their 25 games this season and with Manchester United minds perhaps a little on Real Madrid, a draw could be a decent bet. Yet such is the strength in reserve that Ferguson can call up, and the goals that can come from anywhere in his side, a typically dogged late winner could just strengthen Manchester United’s grip on a 20th league title. Manchester United 2-1 Everton.
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