BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
VENUE – Old Trafford (Capacity – 75,811)
KO – 1600 GMT
Referee – Mark Halsey
Manchester United host Everton on Sunday with the 4-4 draw of last season still hurting. United led 4-2 at a juncture in the match. Everton though, fought back and leveled things late in the match to leave United reeling. The match quite possibly was the beginning of the end for Sir Alex Ferguson’s team in the title race. They were still leading the points table but this match had a damaging effect on the team and they blew the league. Everton always pose a tough challenge to Manchester United. The reverse fixture this season, also the first league match was won by Everton at Goodison Park. Monsters at Goodison Park but at Old Trafford it is a completely different picture. The Toffees have not registered a win at the Theatre of Dreams since August 1992. Given the fact that Manchester United has won 11 out of the 12 home games played so far this season, Everton face a daunting task if they are to change the long winless run at Old Trafford. 9 points clear at the top of the table, Alex Ferguson will leave no stone unturned to claim back the league title this season but with Real Madrid waiting on Wednesday, he would not want to risk any of his star players. The 4-4 draw last season and Everton’s brilliant run this season means the match will be an entertaining prospect.
Manchester City’s draw with Liverpool meant Manchester United has a 9 point lead over the reigning league champions. The manager will be happy with a bit of breathing space between them and their city rivals. The more significant thing about the gap is that United can afford to rest key players for the visit of Everton as they have an important match Real Madrid in the Champions League coming up. Everton are enjoying a good season and will be no pushovers. Top scorer Robin van Persie may be rested for the game or start on the bench. Rooney is hitting form at the right time and his performance against Brazil was extremely good. The defensive quartet has been getting some game time together which means better understanding. The Spanish goalkeeper may have been criticized harshly but his performances have been very good and he will need to be at his very best. Manchester United has an important run of games in February. The results could make or break the club’s season and Ferguson will make sure it doesn’t crash and burn like last season. Real Madrid though, is waiting on the wings and Ferguson will have to be very careful as to how his top players are kept fresh for the challenges ahead.
David Moyes is quite often tipped to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson and it is not without any valid arguments. He has virtually no funds at Everton and yet his team is sitting in 5th position in the league table ahead of teams like Arsenal and Liverpool. Maroune Felliani has been outstanding this season and has carried the team very well. The Belgian is the top scorer for the club and his assist count is extremely good as well. Nikica Jelavic has been a revelation since joining the club and with Felliani leads the attack brilliantly. Moyes has done a great job at Everton and this season has been exceptional. Usually the Toffees start the season slowly before picking up the pace in the latter stages of the season. This season has been a different story. They have been consistent throughout the course of the season and are not playing catch up like previous seasons. They will be a menace again for Manchester United. Felliani may not be fit for the match as he faces a late fitness test for a hip injury. Even if he misses the match, Moyes has a lot of players to call upon to step up to the plate. Champions league may be still be a distant dream but playing in the Europa league is definitely possible this season. With the financial incentives, Moyes will be want his team to qualify for European competitions next season.
Manchester United – Any match in the league is important for Sir Alex Ferguson but this week will be slightly different. Given the match against Real Madrid on Wednesday the Scot will have to alter his plans. The goalkeeping situation is the least bit tricky as the Spaniard will start in goal on Sunday as well as in the Spanish capital. Upfront Robin van Persie may start on the bench with Hernandez and Rooney starting the match. The Dutchman has been in scintillating form this season but the Spanish champions wait on Wednesday. Kagawa has been in good form lately and might get a place in the starting lineup. Carrick is injured and even if fit will be saved for the Madrid game which makes Cleverly an obvious starter. Antonio Valencia and Nani will start on the wings. Ferdinand and Vidic will be the partnership in the centre of defense even though Evans is back in the fold. Rafael and Evra are the first choice full backs and both will start the game against the Merseyside club.
Everton – David Moyes has a very thin squad. He usually prefers a limited squad and his team delivers results on it. Tim Howard, a former Manchester United keeper has been a consistent performer since leaving Old Trafford. He is one of the first names on the team sheet. Phil Jagielka and Sylvin Distin have formed a formidable partnership for Moyes’s team and form their starting point for attack. The right back situation is a worry for the Scot as Hibbert and Coleman are both out injured. Dutchman Heitinga may start in the right back slot while Leighton Baines in an automatic starter on the left side. Leon Osman and Phil Neville are the generals in the middle of the park. Mirallas has been enjoying on his preferred position at right wing while Steven Pienaar who is having a second stint at the club starts on the left wings supplying to the Felliani and Jelavic. The two frontmen have led the line with great efficiency this season and is one of the reasons why Everton are having such a fruitful season.
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney– The English striker had a productive midweek for his country against Brazil. Rooney has had a stop start season thus far but since the last injury setback he has returned fit and keen. He has been very eager to get involved and is slowly getting back to his best. With important matches in the Champions league coming up, Sir Alex Ferguson will need his striker to be at his very best. The performance against Brazil was very good and he will have to replicate that performance at his club. He is not invincible in the team with the presence of Robin van Persie which makes him more determined to make a place in the first team a certainty for the games against Madrid. The new challenge that has been posed by the Dutchman will only get the best out of the England striker which is good for the manager and the club.
Everton – Maroune Felliani– The Belgian has been in sensational form this season and is the top scorer for the team. He is a constant threat and a menace for the opposition defenders. He may be not fully fit for the match but having Felliani on the pitch will make a huge difference for the team. The tall Belgian is devastating in the air and never gives opposition breathing space when he is looking to attack. The opening league fixture this season when Everton faced Manchester United, Felliani was brilliant. The United defense was not able to cope up with the Everton man. He was practically unplayable in that match and Moyes will be hoping that Felliani passes the fitness test.
Written by ABHIMANYU HALAKHANDI
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