Everton will look to bounce back from last weekend’s defeat at Arsenal when they host Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday.
The Blues have fond recent memories of facing United, including a thumping 4-0 home win over the Red Devils last season and a battling 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in December.
They go into this weekend five points behind Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side, who sit fifth after a recent upturn in form including league wins over Chelsea and Watford and a 5-0 hammering of Club Bruges in the Europa League.
United will return to the top four for the first time since September should they beat Everton and Chelsea lose at Bournemouth this weekend.
Ahead of Sunday’s game, we spoke to Colin Damms, writer for SB Nation’s United site, The Busby Babe:
RBM: Firstly, United are now unbeaten in seven in all competitions, with six clean sheets in that time, too. What do you think is behind this sudden resurgence?
Colin: I think a couple of those clean sheets came down to either luck or David de Gea, or both. VAR came in handy a couple of times against Chelsea and Watford, and de Gea has been back in pretty good form.
I do think that the return of Eric Bailly has also helped a bit, and the Victor Lindelöf-Harry Maguire partnership is coming along too. Also I think the arrival of Bruno Fernandes has helped to take some pressure off of a mostly underwhelming midfield. We haven’t seen Andreas Pereira play as much of a role, and they’ve actually been pretty effective creating chances. It’s easy to daydream about his potential long-term impact for the club, but right now he’s looked a cut above the rest of our creative midfield options.
RBM: Solskjær’s position seems to have been under constant scrutiny this season. How much has United’s great recent run enhanced your confidence in him as manager?
Colin: I’ve been pretty critical of Ole this season, but the recent run has given me a bit of hope that with the right players and a bit of time he may be up for the job.
Still far too early to say that with confidence, as we’ve notoriously squandered potential runs of form with bad losses a couple times this season, and I’m still pretty certain he’s more of a rebuild caretaker than a long-term, serious manager.
RBM: United eased into the Europa League last 16 with a 5-0 win over Club Bruges on Thursday. Is that competition a bigger priority for you this season than the league?
Colin: I feel like it could be, though qualifying for the Champions League via a top four/five finish seems like a real possibility with Tottenham’s injury problems, Manchester City’s ban, and Chelsea’s recent dip in form. However, we usually start losing when we’re in reach of a Champions League spot, so perhaps the Europa League is the better option.
The opposition seems pretty tough this year, but we’ve avoided tough knockout matches so far. Though, it would be nice to experience a classic European tie again, and of course, winning a trophy always softens the blow of an otherwise disappointing season.
RBM: Given United have taken just eight points from their six league games following Europa games this season, do you believe the competition has a debilitating effect? And does the fact United played on Thursday add any nerves for Sunday?
Colin: Yes. We saw it in 2016-17 as well, and this squad is not as deep as that one was. Marcus Rashford being out for what sounds like the rest of the season was a huge blow, but Scott McTominay and (supposedly) Paul Pogba coming back will help.
Ole is also more willing to rotate youth players into the squad than José Mourinho was, so perhaps he’ll be able to plan the squad more effectively.
RBM: For those who haven’t seen much of Bruno Fernandes since his January move to United from Sporting Lisbon, how great an impact has the midfielder already made on the side?
Colin: He’s been a superstar compared to what we had with Jesse Lingard and Pereira in that role. As I said earlier I’m trying not to get too excited about him, but he’s really impressed so far.
He’s forward-thinking, quick to try a through ball, and has a pretty sharp eye for goal. He does give the ball away with his enterprising play, but he’s much more effective in that attacking midfield role than anyone else we’ve had play there under Ole.
RBM: Solskjær has failed to beat Everton in two attempts as United manager. Do you think these previous meetings will influence how he approaches Sunday’s game?
Colin: I think he’ll have to approach it differently, but mostly because of personnel. Carlo Ancelotti has Everton on a pretty good run of form of their own, and he’s always been a great tactician.
I expect Everton’s recent attacking prowess to weigh on Ole’s mind, and we may see another iteration of starting three at the back, which he’s been experimenting with.
RBM: How do you expect United to set up on Sunday?
Colin: (3-4-1-2) De Gea; Lindelöf, Maguire, Shaw; Wan-Bissaka, Matić, Fred, Williams; Fernandes; Greenwood, Ighalo.
RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Colin: Right now, Fernandes. Anthony Martial apparently picked up a knock before the second leg against Bruges so I’m assuming we won’t see him, and I’m not so sure anyone else is really capable of making a big impact right now.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
Colin: I’m not super confident given our last couple of outings against Everton, but I’ll say a 1-1 draw. United strike in the first half, but fail to double it, allowing Everton to equalize on a sloppy set-piece in the second half.
Our thanks to Colin for his time.