Manchester United vs Everton

, 4 December, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
Match Preview
This time it's different.

That's the feeling, at least, emanating from the Blue fraternity as another trip to Manchester United looms for a fixture that is, quite categorically, Everton's worst since the inception of the Premier League in 1992.

That also happens to be the year of the Blues' last victory at Old Trafford and Evertonians have grown tired in the interim of the ever-growing litany of failures and disappointments on that ground and the ever-lengthening epoch between victories there.

This time it's different.

That is the hope, at least. Hope strengthened by the infectiously positive demeanour of Everton's new manager and the impressive first third of the campaign that he has overseen; one in which the Blues are not merely punching above their weight but are cursing their own failure to press home their superiority in a catalogue of draws. Victory in any two of those six stalemates would have seen Roberto Martinez's Blues sitting alone in second place in the table going into two tough away games in the space of five days.

That David Moyes's era at Goodison has moved so seamlessly into that of Martinez isn't always given the appreciation it deserves. Transitions between managerial tenures are rarely so smooth and that is testament to both the team that the former assembled and the impressive evolution of that foundation overseen by the latter.

The two men face off against each other for the first time in their new roles at an interesting juncture of the season. After stumbling through an awkward baptism as United's "chosen one", Moyes seems to have steadied the ship somewhat at Old Trafford and though they come into this game in the almost unprecedented position of being below Everton in the table, they can leapfrog the Blues if they win.

Under the ancien regime, that would likely have been viewed as the resumption of the natural order of things but, encouragingly, Martinez is eager to banish the inferiority complex under the burden of which Everton teams of the past decade have traveled to Old Trafford and for his team to enhance their chances of achieving "something special" this season by finally winning some of the four away fixtures that became increasingly heavy millstones around his predecessor's neck during his time at Goodison.

Though there were occasions where Moyes's Everton teams fought United every inch of the way — the 4-4 draw in April 2012, a gritty 1-1 draw in December 2005, and Tim Cahill's debut in a goalless draw in August 2004 readily spring to mind — the Evertonian experience at Old Trafford between 2002 and 2013 meant that few Blues fans were surprised to hearthe ex-manager admit this past summer that his first priority was to merely "get out of [the 'Theatre of Dreams'] alive".

And yet, as his own players proved in that thrilling 4-4 nail-biter, United don't generally like "it up 'em", as the saying goes, and that when you dotake the game to them, you often find greater success than you'd thought was possible. With an aging squad, an under-pressure manager in the infancy of his tenure, a propensity to concede late goes from set-pieces, and the feeling that Old Trafford's fear factor has been greatly diminished with the Ferguson's departure, at no time in recent memory have Manchester United appeared so fallible.

No doubt that will be a theme of Martinez's preparations for this game but more important will be the affirmation through his team's performance of the mantra, "be yourselves". That means controlling possession as much as possible in the manner in which he has schooled the players since arriving in June, remaining disciplined and focused at the back, and attacking with the incisiveness and fluidity with which they tore Stoke apart on Saturday and should really have beaten Liverpool the week before.

Of course, United will be a different proposition and Martinez could shuffle his pack again accordingly, with Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley potential returnees to the starting line-up, although the Spaniard will probably keep Moyes guessing over Gerard Deulofeu. His teenage compatriot may have lit up Goodison Park in Saturday's 4-0 romp but his defensive weaknesses may tip selection in favour of Mirallas, leaving Deulofeu as a trump card up the sleeve for the second half.

While the pairing of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy will do their usual tireless work incentral midfield, much will be expected of Steven Pienaar in terms of creativity in the final third and Bryan Oviedo will need to be on top of his defensive game to deal with Antonio Valencia's pace, Romelu Lukaku could be Everton's key in this intriguing, multi-faceted clash.

The Belgian comes into the match level-pegging with Wayne Rooney with eight League goals — another marker of the parity of the two teams so far this season — and if Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Tim Howard can keep the former Everton hero (and Robin van Persie, if he's fit to play) quiet, the stage could be set for Lukaku to steal the show.

Please, let this time be different...

Kick off: 7:45pm
Referee: Martin Atkinson

Quotes or other material sourced from ToffeeWeb Match Reports

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