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Everton at Manchester United: The Opposition View

We spoke to United blogger Colin Damms prior to Sunday’s clash at Old Trafford on the weekend’s game and the Reds’ disappointing start

Manchester United v Everton - Premier League
Romelu Lukaku scored against his former club for United in last season’s fixture
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Everton will look to record a fourth consecutive win for the first time since September 2016 when they visit Manchester United on Sunday.

The Blues have won only once at Old Trafford in the last 25 years, when a late Bryan Oviedo goal secured the points against the Red Devils - then managed by former Toffees boss David Moyes - in December 2013.

It has been a tortuous beginning to this campaign for United; they have won only two home league matches and sit tenth after nine games, with the position of manager José Mourinho under constant scrutiny.

But despite a 1-0 loss to Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday, they have found form in the league in recent weeks. They came from 2-0 down to beat Newcastle United in the last minute, before Ross Barkley denied them three points away at unbeaten Chelsea by equalising with almost the final kick.

Ahead of Sunday’s game, RBM spoke to Colin Damms (@Colintheshots95), writer for SB Nation’s United blog, The Busby Babe, about his team’s season so far, and his expectations of Everton’s trip to the Theatre of Dreams:

RBM: Firstly, does José Mourinho have a future at Manchester United?

Colin: That question is a bit more difficult to answer now than it was a couple weeks ago. Despite achieving a few minor successes in his first few seasons, José Mourinho’s biggest problem managing the club has been maintaining a motivated squad.

A terrific start to the 2017/18 season was quickly derailed by injuries and distractions that led to inconsistent form, notably from Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Alexis Sánchez and Lukaku. Now it seems as though the dressing room has rallied behind their manager, but the results have yet to come.

Right now I’m going to say no, but it’s not over for him yet. The 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge was a huge missed opportunity, but if United can continue creating goals and at least slow the bleeding in defense they have an opportunity to get some monumental results over the next two months.

If that happens, Mourinho will almost certainly have bought himself some time, and trust to make more signings. If not, it could be just a matter of time before the search for a new manager begins.

RBM: Mourinho is often perceived as playing dull football, but United have scored only one league goal less than Liverpool, who many hail as the great entertainers.

Since his arrival at United, Mourinho has also won two more trophies than Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool or Mauricio Pochettino with Tottenham Hotspur, both of whom are widely praised. Has criticism of Mourinho been unfair?

Colin: I wouldn’t say it’s been unfair, but it’s been unfairly persistent. Mourinho is someone who has dealt with that sort of focus for some time now, and at times he’s welcomed it as an opportunity for him to be cheeky. There are a few heated moments and lectures that make me cringe, but if the club try to reel him in it will only cause more problems.

I do believe in comparison to other managers he is unfairly criticized, but I don’t think anyone would argue that Tottenham or Liverpool aren’t better than they were three or four years ago.

Klopp and Pochettino are now at the stage where trophies need to start coming after their respective rebuilding jobs whereas United have had enormous expectations and have failed to live up to them despite winning silverware post-Sir Alex Ferguson.

Manchester United v Newcastle United - Premier League
The pressure on Mourinho this season has been endless
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

RBM: As someone who watches United every week, is their style of play really as unbearable as most pundits would have you believe?

Colin: To me, it’s not as bad as others make it out to be. I do get frustrated when goals don’t go in, but I am still entertained by the attacking players we have.

Recently it’s been worse, but last season (viewed by most as a failed campaign) United produced some remarkable football. They don’t yet have the stamina to produce consistently throughout the campaign, and of course Mourinho’s style doesn’t always help boost the offensive production.

I witnessed extraordinary United teams growing up so my bar for entertaining football is pretty high, but Mourinho’s teams are not as dull as it’s made out to be. I believe it’s more complicated than just tactical problems.

RBM: Paul Pogba, much like Mourinho, seems to be constantly under the microscope. How do United get the best out of him?

Colin: I’m not sure it’s possible to get the best out of him in the way everyone seems to expect. It’s hard to be so impactful in midfield that you influence the entire team’s form. Only a few players seem capable of doing that, and I think Pogba has that potential, but it’s not reasonable to expect him to set the Premier League on fire with his play. His status as a celebrity off the pitch probably plays into people’s expectations of him.

I actually haven’t been that disappointed with Pogba since he’s joined, but I don’t expect him to score 20 goals a season. I certainly don’t think he’s worth completely reshaping the team for, but this team is lacking in quality for the way Mourinho likes to play.

Midfielders are still subject to the team around them whether they’re Tom Cleverley or Luka Modrić. Pogba just isn’t a player in a position to dramatically influences United’s performances, but that doesn’t mean he should be lambasted for it.

Chelsea FC v Manchester United - Premier League
Many are still yet to be convinced by Pogba, now in his third season back at Old Trafford

RBM: A title challenge is not impossible for United but looks unfeasible, given they are already nine points off top spot. What are United fans now hoping for this season?

Colin: A lot of our readers are still “José Out.” ‘United Twitter’ is more on his side now that the team is playing better, but I’ve not seen a lot on what everyone expects after the poor start to the campaign.

The draw at the Bridge really hurts for that reason. United could have made up some ground on the leaders while restoring confidence, but there is still time if they can capitalize on the momentum they’ve created for themselves.

I’m not very optimistic about our title chances, but as long as it’s a race that multiple teams are in anything can happen. The past few seasons we’ve seen the eventual champion separate from the pack by January, but Manchester City may have their hands full dealing with Chelsea and Liverpool. Even Arsenal seem like they could make up ground.

Mourinho will almost certainly need a Champions League spot to save his job, but it seems less and less likely that that will happen. I expect we’ll finish somewhere in the fourth to sixth range in the table.

RBM: Do you feel United have turned a corner in recent weeks?

Colin: I think they have. We recorded an open-ended discussion episode of The Busby Babe Podcast over the international break, and our guest Phil said he thinks the Newcastle win can be a momentous turning point for the season.

The way United played at Chelsea is evidence that the squad is carrying themselves with more confidence than before, but they have to start defending better. United have conceded 16 goals in the league (they had conceded four at this point last season), and it’s cost us dearly.

However, the loss to Juventus exposed some glaring problems concerning the quality of this team. The Italians were by no means dominant, but their average display was still enough to comfortably win 1-0 at Old Trafford. There’s a lot of work to be done.

RBM: Romelu Lukaku never endeared himself to some Evertonians, primarily due to his attitude. What have you made of Lukaku, now in his second season at United?

Colin: I’m a big fan of Lukaku. He’s had a poor run of form, but he’s still been our most consistent scoring option since arriving at Old Trafford. He’s getting chances in every game and it’s only a matter of time before he starts converting them again.

Football fans are so bipolar these days. As soon as he starts scoring again he’ll get back his hero status that he had for a lot of last season.

I think he never really bought into the culture at Everton because to him it was always a proving ground to move to a bigger club. He never got a chance at Chelsea despite having proven himself during his spells on loan.

Wayne Rooney faced similar stick from Evertonians in his first few seasons at United, but of course it was much more personal for him.

Everton v Watford - Premier League
Lukaku rarely had his goalscoring record at Everton questioned, unlike his work rate
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

RBM: Everton can attack exceptionally quickly with the pace of Bernard, Richarlison and Theo Walcott. Do you fear United’s defence is too fragile to cope with this?

Colin: The thought of Richarlison being marked by Victor Lindelöf or Chris Smalling terrifies me. The speed will be a lot to deal with for our back line, but I’m a lot more confident in our full backs.

Ashley Young had a good World Cup and has continued that form last weekend against Eden Hazard, who is the consensus player of the year so far. Luke Shaw has also had a good season, and if he can stay healthy I expect his form to continue. They’ve been our most consistent position group this season, and they’ll be vital to winning all three points this weekend.

RBM: How do you expect United to set up on Sunday?

Colin: José seems to be happy with the 4-3-3 he’s used against Newcastle and Chelsea. The defence has been bad still, and Lindelöf in particular has been poor. He’s at fault for several conceded goals, and continued that form against Juventus. Eric Bailly could start next to Smalling instead.

Juan Mata has been stellar the past two league games and needs to start in midfield. I think Marcus Rashford is lacking in confidence, but an injury to Alexis will probably mean we see the same front 3 as the last couple games.

My predicted XI: De Gea, Shaw, Smalling, Bailly, Young, Pogba, Matić, Mata, Martial, Lukaku, Alexis

Manchester United v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Group H
United will want to bounce back from Tuesday’s home defeat to Juventus
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Colin: I think Pogba could have a solid performance. He and Martial have developed a nice connection on the left, and their skill and speed make them an intimidating challenge for Seamus Coleman and Michael Keane.

Juan Mata’s presence in midfield has also opened things up a bit, and Everton’s confidence going forward might create even more space for them on quick counter attacks. He has a physical advantage over Everton’s midfielders; it just depends on how physical he wants to play.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?

Colin: I predict United will win 3-2. Tough loss against Juventus, but they still showed enough attacking mentality to give me confidence this weekend. United’s forwards have found their footing, but the struggles at the back will cost us against a confident and prolific Everton front line. Also, Gylfi Sigurðsson always plays well against United.

Our thanks to Colin for his time.