Not many predicted that Everton would have more to play for than Manchester United at this stage of the season, or that Everton would finish higher than the current champions, but that has proved the case this campaign. David Moyes must be left dumbfounded at how he has struggled at Old Trafford, yet Roberto Martinez has enhanced his old Everton side. Obviously the two have only had one season at their new clubs and it would be extraordinary for the Spaniard to finish above Moyes on a regular basis, given the stature of the two clubs, but this season has been an eye opener for fans of both sides.
Although they are no longer in the driving seat for the Champions League after a disappointing defeat at home against Crystal Palace, Everton have a great chance of finishing in the top four with 4 games to go. They will need to win their final four games to have the best chance of finishing above Arsenal as the North Londoners have an easy run in. Despite their excellent season, which should see them finish above Manchester United, Everton may struggle to build upon it without the finances that come with Champions League football, which makes the loss to Palace all the more damaging.
Manchester United will be pleased to see the end of this transitional year in order to get back to their usual position in the league next season. The summer will be very important to them to strengthen the squad in areas that have been lacking this season. There have been rumours that the club have agreed a fee for Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho already, which suggests that the club are already active in the transfer market, which is imperative given the lumbered approach in Moyes’ first summer at the helm. They’ll still be keen to finish the season strong, and finish as high as possible. They won’t get into the top four, but if they win at the weekend, they would close the gap on Everton, which would make a 5th finish possible.
In the previous meeting this season, Everton claimed their first win at Old Trafford in 21 years with a 1-0 victory. Bryan Oviedo scored the only goal of the game. In the corresponding match last season, Everton triumphed 1-0 on the opening day of the season, with Marouane Fellaini scoring the goal. The Belgian will be playing on the opposing side this time around.
Everton’s loss against Crystal Palace was only their second home defeat of the campaign. They’ll be keen not to lose another at home this weekend as it could end their hopes for Champions League football.
Manchester United have the best away form in the league, picking up 33 points from 17 matches. They have lost four on the road, compared to six at Old Trafford.
Ross Barkley has had a breakthrough season at Everton, attracting interest from many clubs, while a place on the plane for the World Cup looks likely. He needs a strong end to the season to ensure he makes the trip to Brazil. Everton will also be hoping he plays a big part in a final surge for Champions League football, as they will need everyone to play at the top of their game while hoping Arsenal drop points. He has five goals to his name this season, with no assists, but this doesn’t give justice to his role in the side. His goals have all been extremely good, with his run from the half way line and finish against Newcastle being the standout. Also he has shown that he has ability from set pieces after scoring a crucial free kick away at Swansea.
The most impressive part of the young midfielder’s game is that he doesn’t appear to fear anybody at the top level and he relishes the opportunity to assert his ability in matches. He will be crucial on Saturday as Manchester United’s defence is not what it was and a direct player like Barkley with pace and strength will cause them problems.
Juan Mata has taken a while to settle in the Manchester United side since his mega money move from Chelsea, but he has started to show his undoubted quality during the past month. He was exceptional against Newcastle, scoring twice, before setting up Adnan Januzaj with a superb back heel inside the penalty area.
The Spaniard already has four assists to his name in a red shirt, while he creates a chance every 34 minutes, which puts him up there with the most creative players in the division. David Moyes has struggled at times to fit the Spaniard into the side with Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney both playing, but then the two were missing, Mata showed his class in the number ten role. It will be interesting to see what Moyes does to fit all three into his side.
Many are suggesting he should go forward with Mata in the number ten role and Rooney as the main striker, but it would be brave of Moyes to drop Van Persie. Everton showed that their defence can be cut open in midweek and if their morale has been damaged by the defeat to Palace, Mata can really take advantage of that.
Phil Jagielka faces a late fitness test after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, but he may not walk straight back into the side due to John Stones impressive form. Steven Pienaar and Darron Gibson remain a couple of weeks from a return. Meanwhile it looks unlikely that Lacina Traore, Arouna Kone and Bryan Oviedo will play any more part in the Everton season.
Robin van Persie is very likely to be missing this game as he continues to suffer from a knee injury. Wayne Rooney, Rafael, Marouane Fellaini and Johnny Evans are all returning from knocks and could all play a part on Sunday. Juan Mata is likely to come back into the starting eleven after missing the Champions League tie against Bayern Munich due to being cup-tied.
I think that Manchester United could get the victory this weekend. David Moyes will be keen to return to his old club and pick up three points, especially after losing to Everton at Old Trafford. Everton may be affected by the loss at home to Palace and the pressure on them could tell once again. Manchester United have a very strong away record, therefore I expect them to triumph, especially if Mata is played behind the striker and not on the wing.