It’s weird to think that last week we were high on Everton’s chances to fight into a European spot, and this week the Toffees might be looking at a must-win match. But their slow start to the season wrote them a big check to cash, and things have very quickly gotten complicated near the top of the table.
With a victory against Manchester United, Carlo Ancelotti’s side could feasibly find itself in ninth place and just two points out of fifth. A loss could see them still stuck in 11th with an eight-point gap between themselves and the fifth-placed Red Devils.
That’s the backdrop against which Carlo Ancelotti must pick one of his more difficult starting lineups of the season. Andre Gomes and Theo Walcott are back, but Morgan Schneiderlin is now out, with Lucas Digne potentially sidelined as well.
Coming off a poor defensive performance there’s at least got to be some consideration about the starting center-back duo as well — so the Italian faces legitimate choices at basically every position.
Tactics and Formation
Manchester United added Bruno Fernandes in the January transfer window, and the Portuguese midfielder already has a goal and two assists in his first three Premier League appearances — not to mention another goal in the Europa League.
With Marcus Rashford out injured, it’ll be Fernandes and an in-form Anthony Martial that most concerns Ancelotti. While youngsters Mason Greenwood and Daniel James have impressed in flashes this season, their presence out wide doesn’t measure up to the central danger Fernandes and Martial can bring.
That puts Ancelotti in something of an interesting spot. His preferred 4-4-2 could potentially provide too much space for Fernandes to operate between the lines — creating a suicide mission for a back four that likely enters the match low on confidence.
He could, then, counter Manchester United’s 4-2-3-1 with a 4-2-3-1 of his own — but in the process threaten his team’s good run of attacking form.
In the end, I suspect he sticks with the 4-4-2 and trusts that a two-man high press can make it difficult for United’s backline and holding midfielders to get the ball to Fernandes — but it’s a big gamble, and one that could bite him if it doesn’t pay off.
Starters (likelihood of starting rated out of 10)
Jordan Pickford - 10/10
Leighton Baines - 7/10
We know that if Lucas Digne is healthy, he will start. But Ancelotti hasn’t been particularly keen to rush players back from injury (a good thing), so I’d wager the Frenchman sits out for one more week.
You’d suspect that leaves another start on the table for Leighton Baines, who was probably the least culpable defender in last week’s defensive mess. That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Fabian Delph played his fair share of left-back for Manchester City, and could theoretically also be an option here if Digne can’t go.
Yerry Mina - 6/10
Mason Holgate - 9/10
If there’s one thing the Manchester United front three definitely has, it’s pace. As such, I wouldn’t necessarily expect Michael Keane to come in for either Mina or Holgate, despite underwhelming performances from both last week. It’s by no means impossible though, just unlikely.
Seamus Coleman - 6/10
Djibril Sidibe has been very good this season, and Everton should pick up the option to purchase him from Monaco without a second thought.
That said, he was horrid in defense last week against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and this week Everton’s starting right-back will face one of the few players in the league who can match PEA for pace — Daniel James. As such, I’d give Coleman the slight edge in the race to start on the right of defense.
Andre Gomes - 8/10
Morgan Schneiderlin’s knee injury means an increased chance that Andre Gomes gets his first start since returning from his own injury. Fabian Delph remains an option, but frankly I just don’t trust him to do a good enough job of tracking Fernandes.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - 8/10
Ancelotti spoke pretty highly of the Icelander in his media availability on Friday, essentially saying that he’s not concerned with Sigurdsson’s lack of goals because he has been playing a deeper role in midfield.
To me, that seems to signal that the manager sees Sigurdsson as a continued preferred option in this position of the 4-4-2, especially with Schneiderlin now hurt.
Theo Walcott - 9/10
Ancelotti has reported that Walcott’s knee injury is not a concern for this week, so I fully expect to see him back in action. The Toffees missed his directness down the right flank last week.
Bernard - 6/10
As for the left side of midfield, things remain essentially a toss-up between Bernard and Alex Iwobi. I personally think that Bernard has adapted to the role better than Iwobi, but Ancelotti has continued to give the former Arsenal man chances as well.
The case for playing Iwobi is reasonable as well — he certainly figures to be an important figure going forward given his age. But, in a match as important as this one, I think the present-day impact that Bernard is providing gives him a slight edge.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - 10/10
Richarlison - 10/10
Not much new to say about the striker partnership up top. It’s clearly working — Dom is getting chances, Richarlison is both getting and creating them. Calvert-Lewin’s finishing let Everton down last week, really the first time we’ve seen that in several months.
But his overall play (and spectacular opening goal) will surely keep him in the lineup despite last week’s hiccup.
Ancelotti went a little outside the norm last week by playing Sigurdsson wide left, but his plan essentially worked in attack — though let’s not talk about defense.
Does he go with something unexpected once again, or is it back to the tried and true in a game with enormous implication on the remainder of Everton’s season?