Everton will attempt to right the wrongs of last weekend’s feeble 2-0 defeat at Fulham when Manchester United visit Goodison Park on Sunday.
The Blues will also want to exact revenge on the Red Devils after they beat Marco Silva’s men 2-1 at Old Trafford in October’s reverse fixture.
United have just their top four challenge to play for now, having exited the Champions League at the quarter-final stage in midweek in a 4-0 aggregate loss to Barcelona.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who was made permanent manager last month, is enduring his first blip as boss since taking charge in December.
Solskjær won 14 of his first 17 games after replacing the sacked José Mourinho, but is now on a run of five defeats in his last seven matches.
Ahead of Sunday’s game, RBM spoke to Colin Damms (@Colintheshots95), from SB Nation’s United blog, The Busby Babe:
RBM: Firstly, did you agree with the decision to give Ole Gunnar Solskjær the job on a full-time basis?
Colin: I do agree with the decision to give Solskjær the full time job, but I’m not sure I agree with the decision to get it done before the end of the season.
I think the move to a man manager rather than a system manager is better suited for the current stand-outs in the squad, and perhaps now that the manager for the future is set, it will be easier for the club to conduct their summer business early, but the club loses nothing else by waiting until the end of the season to appoint him, or consider their options if that was still on the agenda as well.
RBM: Four of United’s back five against Barcelona have been at the club for at least eight years. How much of an overhaul do Solskjær and the United hierarchy need to oversee this summer?
Colin: I would like to see at least Marcos Rojo sold. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones aren’t of the quality we need them to be, but they’ve got better at staying healthy, and could be good squad players under Solskjær.
United certainly need at least one big centre-back purchase; maybe two if Eric Bailly remains out of favour. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are clearly past it, so a couple of new full-backs would be nice as well. Players I’ve been keen on are Harry Maguire, Matthijs De Ligt, and Kalidou Koulibaly at centre back and Kieran Tierney, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Ricardo Pereira at full back.
As for the rest of the squad, I’d like to see significant investment in the midfield and a right winger/wide forward (Jadon Sancho, please). Alexis Sánchez absolutely has to go. Of course, a lot of United’s business will depend on whether or not they can secure Champions League football next season.
RBM: What do you put United’s sticky recent spell down to?
Colin: I’m not sure it’s one particular thing, but certainly the injuries played a part. Solskjær had found his favorite 11 before the injuries hit in the first leg defeat against Paris Saint-Germain, and the infamous first-half against Liverpool, and he tried to bring it all back against Arsenal and Wolves.
It may have been to early to do so, and the poor form has continued since as he tries to find a formula that works again. The coming week of fixtures away to Everton and then Manchester City and Chelsea at Old Trafford in the span of seven days will certainly decide where United land in the table, so hopefully he finds that formula soon.
RBM: United have lost all of their last four away games, twice against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and to Arsenal and Barcelona. Does that put any extra doubt in your mind ahead of their trip to Goodison?
Colin: I’m almost always a bit scared of United playing at Goodison, especially since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Last season they only got away with three points because of two spectacular efforts from Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.
United have struggled recently, Goodison Park is always a tough atmosphere, and Everton have two or three playmakers who I could see giving the United defence a lot of trouble.
RBM: Going into this weekend, United sit sixth, two points off fourth with five games to play. Can you see them qualifying for the Champions League next season?
Colin: It’s definitely still a possibility, but they can’t drop any more points. They’ll need to get wins against Chelsea and Everton, and at least a draw against City, but all of that is easier said than done.
The fact that three of the last four Premier League fixtures are at home should be a big boost. Huddersfield away and Cardiff City at home should be six easy points for United, even with their current struggles, but I think this coming week will be where top four is either won or lost.
RBM: Having missed this fixture last season through injury, Romelu Lukaku could return to his old ground for the first time since leaving Everton in July 2017. Despite scoring 15 goals this campaign he seems to have received a fair amount of criticism; how much of it has been fair?
Colin: I would say most of it has been fair. He has shown whenever he’s on it that he is more than capable of providing what you would expect from a £75 million striker. The problem is he doesn’t do it consistently, and his dry spells over the last two seasons have cost United points.
He’s gone through a lot this season. I think he missed almost two weeks on personal leave for an undisclosed family matter, and he’s had to adapt to life under new management. Like everyone else, we’ll just have to wait and see if Solskjær keeps his number nine or looks for a new one, but I think it’s safe to say he’ll get his chance before the end of the season to prove his worth again.
RBM: How do you expect United to set up on Sunday?
Colin: I expect to see an attacking lineup. Solskjær’s strategy has been to press early and often for goals, and he’s also driven home the point that these are matches Manchester United are always expected to win. It’s ‘squeaky bum time,” and Solskjær knows that.
I think this is where Lukaku gets his chance, alongside Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford up top, with a Pogba, Fred, McTominay midfield and a Shaw, Lindelof, Smalling, Young back four. David De Gea in goal, of course. A 4-3-3 formation with Fred playing and McTominay in deeper midfield roles and a front three given freedom to adapt positionally.
RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Colin: Right now, I think Scott McTominay and Fred are the best midfield partners for Paul Pogba. They’ve played very well with Nemanja Matić and Ander Herrera out of the squad, and I think against Everton, whose offensive production can often come from their midfielders, their ability to smother the opponents and win back possession will be crucial.
This midfield will also ideally allow Pogba to play further up the pitch and link up with the attackers. I’m almost certain I said the same thing the last time I did this Q&A, and Pogba set up Martial for the winning goal. Hopefully we’ll see a similar result.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
Colin: I’m going to go with a 2-1 United win. Sigurðsson answers an early Rashford goal with a free kick, and Lukaku wins it late with a scrappy goal.
Our thanks to Colin for his time.