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.
Salif Sane is the centre-back Everton must sign in the summer
The Senegal defender has been in fine form for Hannover 96 this season.
Salif Sane may not be a player well known to many fans in England, but this season he has emerged as a superstar in German football.
The 27-year-old has been in incredible form for Hannover 96 this season. According to the stats aggregator, WhoScored, Sane is rated as the second-best player in the Bundesliga, with only Bayern Munich’s James Rodriguez ahead of him.
His form should surely have caught the eye of Everton.
The Toffees have had a torrid time defensively this season.
Ashley Williams has been in awful form and has lost the backing of fans with his recent red card versus Burnley.
Michael Keane has struggled to replicate his Burnley form at Goodison Park.
Phil Jagielka’s age is catching up with him whilst Mason Holgate has been erratic.
The less said about loan signing Eliaquim Mangala the better. With Ramiro Funes Mori sidelined for most of the campaign, Everton have leaked goals.
Sane could be the perfect plug.
The Senegal defender, who came through the ranks at Bordeaux and later Nancy, is exactly what Everton need.
Sane is a no-nonsense defender whose main aim is to keep out goals. Defending is his first priority.
One area of his game where he is imperious is in the air. Not many players beat the 6ft 5 ins powerhouse in an aerial battle.
This season has been a breakthrough campaign for Sane.
This summer he will be in the Senegal squad at the World Cup in Russia, with plenty expected of a side containing the likes of Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao.
Sane would join his international colleague Idrissa Gana Gueye at Everton and would arrive more than capable of finally steadying the ship in Everton’s woefully inept defensive unit.
If not Sane, then someone else, but it is fair to say not many players in Everton’s price-range would be able to have the impact the Senegal defender might if given the chance.
Matthew Pennington’s future looks away from Everton after loan woes
The defender has been on loan at Leeds United this season.
This season Everton decided to send Matthew Pennington out on loan to Leeds United. The centre-back had little chance of getting into the Everton first-team. The Toffees had signed Michael Keane in the summer from Burnley. He joined a centre-back contingent containing Ashley Williams, Phil Jagielka and Mason Holgate. With Ramiro Funes Mori also on the books Pennington’s chances of football at Goodison Park looked slim.
Leeds needed a new centre-back this summer. Kyle Bartley’s loan deal had come to an end so Pennington looked like a good recruit.
However, he has struggled since his switch to Elland Road. Pennington has battled niggling injury problems throughout the campaign.
The injuries began on the opening day of the season. Pennington played 64 minutes of the Bolton Wanderers clash before limping out of action. He had suffered an ankle injury and was not seen again until the 26th September defeat against Cardiff City.
Pennington also had injuries in November and throughout January. Leeds have not been able to rely on the 23-year-old and that has left Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper exposed at times this campaign.
Everton will no doubt be disappointed to see their talented defender struggling for form in the Championship.
Pennington looked assured, composed and fit in his Leeds debut, but limping out in the 64th minute truly defines the campaign he has had at Elland Road.
This summer his contract at Everton comes to an end. Based on his performances in West Yorkshire the Everton graduate is unlikely to have a future at Goodison Park in the long run.
It is certainly a shame as the 23-year-old has the potential to be a very talented player. Everton however does not look like being his long-term home.
Hopefully this summer Pennington can find himself a new home and find some consistency in terms of form and fitness.
Everton fans will certainly like to see him come good elsewhere and wish him the best of luck.
Sevilla triumph will have Everton fans regretting Steven N’Zonzi failure
The French midfielder was heavily linked with a move to Everton in January.
Manchester United were sent crashing out of the Champions League last night, with Spanish side Sevilla doing the damage at Old Trafford. Two goals from substitute Wissam Ben Yedder sent United on their way and fans were left frustrated at their side’s negative and reactive tactics. United were dominated in midfield, with Steven N’Zonzi in fine form.
His performance would have been hard to take for Everton fans. In January it certainly looked as though the Frenchman was on his way to Goodison Park. The Liverpool Echo reported that Everton were keen, with the player valued at £25 million.
Toward the end of December Everton manager Sam Allardyce made his interest in the midfielder clear, being quoted by the Daily Mail as stating:
“I’d be very interested in Steven but if you have a look at how many footballers there are at the club, then it is impossible for me to block that up even more.
“We would be better served in other areas – like another goalscorer, maybe a full-back. After that who knows.”
It seemed that Everton’s litany of midfield options put paid to any actual deal. Allardyce, who had tried calling N’Zonzi up for England duty and first brought him to England with Blackburn Rovers, was clearly a fan. But unless Morgan Schneiderlin or another midfielder moved on a deal was off the cards for the player.
At the time the French midfielder’s Sevilla career looked over. He had fallen out with manager Eduardo Berizzo and was in danger of being frozen out. When Italian Vincenzo Montella replaced Berizzo, N’Zonzi was back in favour.
Everton therefore never managed to bring in the player in January. Based on the evidence of last night they are clearly missing out. The French international provided the perfect basis for Ever Banega to pull the strings in midfield for Sevilla. N’Zonzi, who also had a successful spell at Stoke City, was composed, athletic and commanding in the midfield.
Everton have struggled to find consistency this season. Much of that has been down to the fluctuating performances of their central midfielders. N’Zonzi would have been an immense January arrival for the Toffees.
Allardyce is a massive fan, but his future at Everton looks to be on the ropes itself. Any dream Everton have of bringing in N’Zonzi looks to be dead. After watching him dominate United last night, that is a bitter pill to swallow.
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