Rejoice! After a fortnight of international football, we are blessed with the return of the Premier League this weekend. A bumper Saturday fixture list sees 16 top-flight teams in action, including the clash between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park.
Both sides have made solid starts to the season. Roberto Martinez’s Everton 7th in the fledging Premier League table, unbeaten in five. Indeed, they have only lost once so far this campaign. The Red Devils sit in third, three points behind table-topping rivals, Manchester City. A win for the visitors could send them top. A win for the Toffees would put them level with United in their pursuit of a top four spot. Fine margins indeed.
With Halloween on the horizon, October has already proved a chilling month for Louis Van Gaal. With defeat at home to the Czech Republic on Tuesday, his former Dutch side failed to qualify for the European Championships for the first time since 1984. Prior to that, his current Manchester United side slumped to a dismal 3-0 loss at the Emirates. He’ll be hoping for a change in fortune before 3pm on the 17th. I’m sure there’s a joke about ‘tricks’ and ‘treats’ in there somewhere. I’ll bypass it.
Having delved deep into the archives, I can confirm that this is to be the 193rd meeting between the Premier League ever-presents. The head to head history stands at 82-41-69 in favour of Manchester United. In the last ten meetings, a more relevant indication of who has dominated the fixture in recent times, the record is dead even; four wins apiece, with two draws.
It is, arguably, that pair of stalemates that were the most exciting matches. A 3-3 draw on Merseyside in September 2010 saw injury time goals from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta rob United of two points. Two years later, an eight-goal thriller at Old Trafford ended 4-4, once again thanks to two late strikes from the boys in blue.
Both Everton and Manchester United are nursing injuries to key players. Full-backs Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw are long term absentees, with John Stones, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger all doubts for this weekend’s fixture.
Roberto Martinez is likely to stick with Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku up front. The former has forged a reputation for turning up for the big games, netting against Chelsea, Arsenal and both Manchester clubs in the last year. As for Lukaku, he has been in sensational form so far this season. He is one of only four players to score a Premier League hat-trick against Saturday’s opponents (Bentley, Kuyt, Eto’o).
Despite drawing a blank at the Emirates, United new boy Anthony Martial has taken to the English game like a duck (or should I say frog?) to water. He has touched the ball in the opposition box more frequently than any other player this season; every 9.2 minutes. Van Gaal should opt for the young Frenchman in his starting XI once again. He may be less likely to do the same for the misfiring Memphis Depay.
Should Gareth Barry start, he will become only the second player to make 550 Premier League starts. David James leads the way on 571.
Ross Barkley – I feel no shame in jumping on the Ross Barkley bandwagon. The midfielder has made an electric start to the season for club and country, with five goals and six assists in all competitions. With Phil Jagielka captaining England in Lithuania, the first Everton player ever to have the honour, the pair should be buoyed by their international success when they return to domestic action. We are, as a nation, guilty of piling the pressure on young players, expecting them to come up with the goods week in, week out. In Ross Barkley, we don’t want another David Bentley on our hands (that aforementioned hat-trick aside). For what it’s worth, I don’t think we will have. The scouser is developing well, adding maturity and nous to his obvious technical ability. Playing a more advanced role for Everton this season, he is the most likely to unlock the Manchester United defence. He could prove the creative difference between the sides this weekend.
Chris Smalling – I wasn’t overly convinced by Chris Smalling in the early stages of his Manchester United career. Sometimes, the former non-league defender can look just that. However, I am a convert. He has been one of his side’s standouts this season. His consistent inclusion in the Manchester United side and, indeed, England line-ups speaks volumes as to how highly he is rated in the game. A centre-back with pace, power and intelligence, Smalling has gone some way to filling the gap left by the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans. For ‘Jonny Evans’, read ‘Nemanja Vidic’. Smalling was not at the races against Arsenal last time out; in his defence, neither were any of his ten teammates. He will have to revert back to his usual consistent self if his side are to keep their fifth clean sheet of the season and keep free-scoring Everton at bay.
Based on my recent predictions, it’s probably best for me to keep my thoughts to myself. Where’s the fun in that, though? In a typically lively and exciting encounter, I think both sides will be on the scoresheet. As for who comes out on top? I’ll play safe and go for the draw.
Everton 1-1 Manchester United
The likelihood is that you don’t agree. I don’t blame you. However, if you do, the draw can be backed at 11/5 with Betway.
If you fancy a home win, you can get odds of 12/5 with BetVictor.