For an Evertonian is there a more daunting fixture in the Premier League calendar Manchester United v Everton?
If you consider the stats – no!
With no Everton win at Old Trafford since 1992, no win away against the top three for 15 years, Manchester United being unbeaten on their home turf all season, winning 13 on the trot, conceding just nine and a massive +42 in the goals for column – do we have any chance at all on Saturday?
Well I will make a case for the defence. Everton go into this game full of confidence on the back of their best run this season. The team haven't lost in the league since the soggy disaster at Bolton in February, the nadir the club annually needs to reach before launching on a upward trajectory again (I had a certain amount of empathy for those dejected Wanderers supporters who went to Wembley last weekend only to see their side lose 5-0, watching us at the Reebok was just as torturous).
We also have a decent away record this season despite our frequent woes, with only United and Arsenal having lost fewer games away from home this season. Jermaine Beckford also knows what it takes to win at Man United, having bagged the winner there for Leeds United in the FA Cup third round clash last season.
We have always been hard to beat this year – 14 draws tell us that. But our main problem was converting chances into goals. Things though seem to have clicked into place with 14 goals flying in from all angles in our last seven league games. This is a side that likes to go on ‘runs’, good or bad, and when we are in a great run of form like we are at the moment, we are a very tough proposition.
United, despite seeking to go nine points clear at the top of the Premier League, have stumbled this week. They lost the FA Cup semi-final against rivals Manchester City last Saturday and then looked subdued in a 0-0 draw away at Newcastle on Tuesday. With a Champions League semi-final against Schalke to come just 72 hours after the Everton game Sir Alex Ferguson may well rotate his squad, meaning that lovely young man Wayne Rooney may sit this one out. And even if he doesn't we needn't be to afraid, he is yet to score against us at Old Trafford (oops I’ve just jinxed it now haven’t I?)
Ironically our new goalscoring prowess will take a back seat on Saturday as being tight at the back will become a priority. I expect us to play a suffocating game with our usual 4-5-1 formation being employed. Though I expect Leon Osman to keep his place in the centre of that formation given the excellent contribution he has made in recent weeks. It won’t be pretty but it is essential given United’s firepower. Beckford is going to have to work very hard on his own upfront – something he dare not do after his public dressing down by David Moyes a fortnight ago.
The odds are stacked against us and a recent tendency to lie down in front of United at Old Trafford is worrying and frustrating, but who gave us a chance at 1-3 going into injury at Goodison last September?
We are approaching this game in the best form for almost a year which means we have a chance, albeit a slim one.
Mikel Arteta, Louis Saha, Jose Baxter and Marouane Fellaini are all missing, with only Arteta likely to play again this season. Tim Cahill is also struggling with a foot injury while Jonny Heitnga will have a fitness test after limping off against Blackburn last week.
• Since losing to Everton in their first Premier League encounter, United have won 14 and drawn three of 17 games against the Toffees at Old Trafford.
• Everton's last win at Old Trafford came in the inaugural Premier League season, when Peter Beardsley, Robert Warzycha and Mo Johnston scored in a 3-0 win on 19 August 1992.
• Everton have scored six goals in their last two games against Manchester United, although both matches were at Goodison Park. The sides drew 3-3 earlier this season, while Everton won 3-1 in February 2010.
• The Red Devils have taken 52 points from a possible 54 in their last 18 Premier League games at Old Trafford. The only slip-up in that run was a 2-2 draw with West Brom in October.
• No opposition player has scored a first-half goal in a domestic match at Old Trafford since Joe Cole on 3 April 2010.
• They have kept clean sheets in three of their last four league games.
• The Toffees have won five of their last seven league matches (W5, D2), having previously won just six of their opening 26 games.
• They have scored nine goals in their last four league games, and have failed to score in only one league match since New Year's Day.
• Everton have opened the scoring in 16 league matches this season, losing only one (at Arsenal in February).
Referee: Peter Walton
Assistant referees: Mike Cairns & Ron Ganfield
Fourth official: Kevin Friend