It really feels like there's not much for Everton to play for except for pride now. The ignominious exit from the FA Cup semis, at the hands of their Merseyside rivals no less, put paid to any chances of any silverware and enriching the depleted coffers at Goodison this year. This is probably a good time for the Toffees to blood a few more youngsters, giving them a chance to prove what they are capable of with little at stake.
The same cannot be said for this weekend's opponents Manchester United, who are right in the midst of a two-horse race with crosstown rivals Manchester City, with United a clear five points ahead and looking for their eighth consecutive home win. The Reds have been on a tear lately in the Premiership aside from the blip when they lost at Wigan, having won nine of their last ten games.
More on the game after the jump.
David Moyes has never won at Old Trafford in his career, and pulling one out now would offer a small crumb of satisfaction after the way this season has turned out. While Everton are not expected to roll over and die (Moyes would never stand for it), it is difficult to see where the players will find the motivation to play their best against a side on a roll, heading for yet another Premier League title.
Team News -
The biggest on-field loss of the year was quickly followed by the biggest off the pitch, with the news that Leighton Baines will miss the remainder of the season after suffering from a hamstring tear. Jack Rodwell is probably also going to miss what's left of the year after failing to recover from his injuries while mercurial winger Royston Drenthe can be considered done for the year too with disciplinary issues.
United are suffering from the rigors of multiple battles across various fronts, but thanks to their impressive depth will hardly feel the losses. Anders Lindegaard, Anderson, Paul Pogba, Darren Fletcher, Federico Macheda, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Owen are all still missing. Further, winger Ashley Young picked up an injury last week against Aston Villa and could miss the game.
Keys To The Game -
Without Baines' presence, Moyes might completely eschew the wing play that is a characteristic of the Toffee's gameplan, and choose to go Route One football especially with Vidic out. Steven Pienaar's return means all is not lost though and the link play between him, Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill could provide the bulk of the few scoring chances Everton will have.
Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick are going to be the source of all things offensive that United will do - their distribution of the ball for wingers Antonio Valencia and Young (or Nani) will attempt to stretch the Everton back-four, allowing former Blue Wayne Rooney and either Danny Welbeck or Dimitar Berbatov room to run in behind. If Everton decides to close up shop and park the bus in front of goal and pull back the two wingers, then Patrice Evra and Rafael will have even more license to roam. Sir Alex Ferguson might replace Rafael with Phil Jones to retain the attacking format but add some height to his backline.
Match Facts -
- Everton have only one win at Old Trafford in the Premiership era - their first Premier League away game in 1992.
- Baines streak of 99 consecutive games played comes to an end with his injury.
- Blues striker NIkica Jelavic has scored five goals in five games.
- Ex-United midfielder has not lost a Premiership game at Everton.
- Conversely, Paul Scholes has not lost a Premiership game with United since his return from retirement.
- Rooney needs two more goals to go clear at fourth on United's all-time scorers' list.