Tuesday night’s stand out Premier League fixture sees Manchester United take on Everton, as both sides look to quickly bounce back from disappointing results at the weekend.
A forcibly weakened United side managed only three shots on target despite dominating possession in a frustrating home draw with West Bromwich Albion, whilst the Toffees suffered yet another Merseyside derby defeat.
The game is a good opportunity for Jose Mourinho’s side to gain ground on the top four, as Manchester City travel to Chelsea on Wednesday and could well drop points. Alternatively, a loss could prove disastrous. Everton would leapfrog them with a win (having played two matches more) whilst an Arsenal victory against West Ham United could leave the Red Devils in 7th by Thursday.
Both sides have proven tough to beat for long periods this season, Everton’s loss to Liverpool only their 2nd in thirteen league games. United, meanwhile, are now 19 matches unbeaten in the competition, they have suffered fewer defeats than Chelsea, who are 16 points better off.
Mourinho’s problem has been finding a way of converting draws into wins, frequently struggling at home against mid-table sides who more often than not leave with a point. The Toffees rank slightly above this section of sides and have shown in recent weeks that attacking is usually the best policy.
Back in December, the reverse fixture ended in a 1-1 stalemate, Leighton Baines’ 89th-minute penalty cancelling out Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s first-half strike.
Ronald Koeman and Jose Mourinho have both shown tactical flexibility this season, fielding different starting XI’s and utilising various formations. Saturday’s 3-4-2-1/3-4-3 experiment failed for Everton, who are likely to return to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 for the Old Trafford trip.
The same formation which let Koeman down on Saturday has been favoured by Mourinho for much of the season, utilising Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian or Ashley Young as wing-backs. However, due to current injuries in the squad, 4-2-3-1 was used on at the weekend and will make a return on Tuesday.
United welcome the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic after his three-match ban, Ander Herrera is also available after a two-game suspension following his red card against Chelsea.
Manchester United Everton
As well as the return of Ibrahimovic and Herrera, United hope to welcome back Paul Pogba who was seen training at Old Trafford after Saturday’s game:
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There is, however, worse news at the back, as Chris Smalling and Phil Jones remain out, with Marcos Rojo set to retain his place in central defence.
Everton certainly missed the presence of Morgan Schneiderlin against Liverpool, as the midfielder missed the derby with a calf problem. He remains a doubt for Tuesday and could join Ramiro Funes Mori and James McCarthy as recent additions to Koeman’s list of absentees. Seamus Coleman won’t return this season, whilst Muhamed Besic and Yannick Bolasie are yet to come back from long-term injuries.
Verdict: Manchester United 1-0 Everton
This should be a tight game between two sides who don’t often taste defeat, with United under pressure to perform in front of a frustrated home crowd.
Everton have little to lose as this is almost their last chance to gain ground on the top-six but will struggle again in midfield should Schneiderlin not return.
United should be boosted enough by the return of three key players, two of whom have the advantage of a recent rest, to secure three points.