Manchester United welcome Everton to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon, in a game which quite a few pundits are already confidently predicting will be a ‘comfortable’ win for the hosts, particularly given the Toffees’ horrendous showing both against Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park last Saturday and in Italy against Atalanta in the Europa League, where a 3-0 defeat could feasibly have been much worse against a team with little reputation who were playing the game 120 miles from their home ground….
However, I’m cautious about “writing off” any Premier League opponent, particularly a club that spent extravagantly during the summer transfer window, and Everton now possess players who are more than capable of hurting United, especially if our players take to the pitch with the wrong attitude.
With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (a very “fluid” 4-5-1)
GK: David de Gea – the Spanish No. 1 made the save of the season to date last Sunday at Stoke City, tipping a point-blank strike from compatriot Jese over the crossbar, and his selection by Mourinho in the side that defeated FC Basel in the Champions League on Tuesday evening suggests that Sergio Romero will be ‘kicking his heels’ on the bench quite often this season! Look away now Real Madrid, but there isn’t a better goalkeeper in Europe right now than David de Gea.
RB: Antonio Valencia – the Ecuadorian has been a revelation since Jose Mourinho arrived, and barring injury, has the fitness and ability to be first-choice right-back for a few seasons to come. Needs to improve his crossing accuracy, but I have no hesitation in selecting him, though Ashley Young proved against FC Basel that he is a very able deputy for the position, and should be retained at the Club for season 2018-19 as well. Young is a much more capable player than many give him credit for.
LB: Daley Blind – if and until Luke Shaw proves he is fit enough and worthy to take the shirt from the Dutchman, Blind has been steady and deserves to remain in the starting XI. Despite lacking genuine pace, Blind rarely gets caught out of position and is careful with possession too. Daley’s bad games during a season could be counted on one hand, and he is hugely preferable to the right-footed Matteo Darmian, though I will be delighted if Shaw eventually emerges to become the player I think he is capable of being for us in this position.
CBs: Eric Bailly & Phil Jones – both lads had poor games at Stoke City last time out, with Eric beaten far too easily by Eric Choupo-Moting for the Potters’ opening goal… Bailly looked like he was daydreaming as the ball came back down our left side, and reacted far too late to prevent the Stoke City midfielder reaching the crossed ball first and easily slotting home past the stranded de Gea. Jones was equally culpable for the Stoke equaliser, slipping as he misjudged the flight of the ball from Joe Allen’s corner-kick, which allowed Choupo-Moting a free header at the back post, again giving de Gea no chance. They both know they need to be MUCH better against Everton, and both should be fresh after missing the mid-week FC Basel game through suspension. Coming up against Wayne Rooney holds no secrets for either, and I expect them to boss the game back there.
DMs: Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini & Ander Herrera – yes, I’m going to play all three lads in the middle of the park, as I feel that is Everton’s strongest position, with dangerous players like Gylfi Sigurdsson, Tom Davies and Idrissa Gueye in there. In all honesty, at Old Trafford I expect us to have the largest share of possession of the ball, and I will expect these three to alternate as to which of them has licence to roam forward to support the attack when we are on the ‘front foot’, though Fellaini is the one who I would instruct to push forward the most. This decision will ultimately mean Henrikh Mkhitaryan starts on the bench, but starting this way allows me to change it up if the ‘three in the middle’ either isn’t working or is costing us as a creative force after about an hour of the game… Matic will sit and protect the centre-backs, which will be crucial as I expect Everton to play a very counter-attacking game. Matic has the discipline to ensure they will need to be very inventive to succeed in creating chances against us. Herrera may be asked to do a man-marking job on Sigurdsson, who is easily Everton’s biggest threat to our defence. Paul Pogba is now likely to be out of action for at least 6 weeks with a hamstring injury sustained against Basel, and his influence will certainly be missed, but this is a chance for the likes of Herrera and Fellaini to show they are capable of contributing to a winning United team.
RM: Juan Mata – busy, inventive, and what he lacks in pace is made up for by having Valencia behind him. Everton will be set up by Ronald Koeman to be very conservative, especially in the 1st half, and I will expect Mata to be one of the main architects in trying to find a ‘key’ to unlock their defence. He will come up against Leighton Baines, who is no longer that pacy either, so I have no concerns about the little Spaniard getting caught out of position. If he is having a bad day, Mkhitaryan can come into this position without a problem.
LM: Marcus Rashford – it’s a tight call between Marcus and Anthony Martial for this position, but I am going with Rashford simply because I think he works harder off the ball and gets back to help Daley Blind more willingly than the young Frenchman. Going forward there is little to choose between them, and if Rashford is having an ‘off’ day I will readily replace him with Martial. The Everton right-back, probably Mason Holgate, will have his hands full, no matter which of these two he is trying to pick up! Rashford will have a lot of responsibility to provide another target for balls coming into the Everton final third, and I’d fancy him in a straight race with any of the Toffees’ centre-backs, though Michael Keane is no slouch either, to be fair.
CF: Romelu Lukaku – who else?! I don’t think this will be the easiest day for the big man, coming up against players who know him better than anyone, and I think Koeman will probably start with three centre-halves (Michael Keane, Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams) on the pitch, as well as defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, but in his current form you wouldn’t bet against the Belgian hitman extending his ‘goals for the season’ tally to 7 or more….but finding space in amongst all those blue shirts won’t be easy, and Lukaku will probably take a kick or two during the proceedings.
BENCH: Romero, Mkhitaryan, Martial, Lingard, Young, Carrick, Shaw (if fit enough, Darmian if not).
I expect this to be a hard-fought battle, with Everton desperate for any kind of result to halt the alarming run of poor results they have had recently, but whereas I wouldn’t have been overly confident of this United side finding a way through a stubborn visiting defence last year, this season I expect us to create numerous chances to test young Jordan Pickford, who has had an indifferent start to his Goodison career. Being a home game, and after dropping points at Stoke City last weekend, we need a victory, and I expect this side to put Everton under pressure all afternoon, but this won’t be the “easy” victory a lot of pundits are currently predicting… Everton are a dangerous ‘wounded animal’ in my opinion, albeit one whose ‘cutting edge’ (Lukaku) we now possess!