Everton have picked up points against Liverpool, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur this year, to name but a few teams; Manchester United is not one of those teams however. In the first match of the season against them, the Blues scored early through Bernard Duarte, before the onslaught became too much to bear over the rest of the match. While a good showing was put up to start, the visitors’ talent and ability outshone the Blues from the half hour mark on. That first game, in early November, was in the midst of the hardest stretch of this footballing season for the Toffees to date.
That loss at home to United would be the last of that poor run of form, as the victory versus Fulham after that subsequent international break would act as relief before the loss to Leeds United the following week. In any event, the chance to face United again, this time in the EFL Cup Quarterfinals at the end of December would be a proper chance to take revenge against Manchester United on a bigger stage than the loss had occurred on. Yet even with a fairly positive run of form in the lead up to the match, Everton could not put up even a single goal in a good defensive showing by both sides.
While the first goal in the first Everton-United match came in under twenty minutes, the second match saw nearly an hour-and-a-half before even a single goal. Despite missed chances throughout the match, the Toffees were truly in the match until the very end; had even a single goal had been found by the Royal Blue, the result of the match might have been very very different. Yet one was not found, and when Anthony Martial finally scored, the subsequent Edinson Cavani goal minutes later felt like unnecessary salt in the twice opened wound.
No Time Like The Present
Now, in still the beginning of February, Everton has to beat Manchester United, and with the way the table is sitting currently, it is not necessarily all about positioning. Everton could very well lose the match, their third loss to United this season, and still finish in a top four spot of course. Should things fall correctly for all teams involved, they could still even win the Premier League, even with the great form Manchester City has found themselves in in recent weeks and months. No, the Toffees need to beat United to demonstrate that they are able to play with this team, currently contending for the title, and take three points. The players need this showing for themselves, and not anybody else in terms of the fans or punditry.
Losing twice to Newcastle United this season is embarrassing but as the Magpies are not near top five contention, the psychological impact is different. The losses end up qualifying more as the Liverpool loss to Brighton looked, or the United loss to Sheffield United; results that are simply a product of the grind of the football season, mixed with the quality of talent across the league. But a third loss to Manchester United, a top side this season and likely moving forward, would really sting the pride of the Toffees. And well it should, the loss in late December was almost inexcusable with the amount of goals we have scored this season; the defense did its best and should not be looked down on after keeping a clean sheet for nearly 90 minutes.
Yet for this third meeting, Everton have a real chance to change the result. While Allan will not be featuring in the middle of the pitch, the combination of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison must always give the Toffees a shot to score with the best of the league. The service that Lucas Digne can provide now that he’s healthy, wherever he plays on the pitch, is also a positive factor that the Royal Blue have behind them. Should Joshua King be on the bench, the new signing could also make his mark for Everton against the Red Devils.
First and foremost however, the defense and goalkeeper will be front and center against the potent attack of United. Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate have been remarkable as defensive fullbacks, while Yerry Mina has provided positive, physical play in the middle. Michael Keane meanwhile, pairs well with these younger defenders and must be complimented on the work he has done this season. With all of this, offensively and then defensively, in front of Robin Olsen, Everton will have to take the pressure away from the backend. We must use offensive pace and execution to score, and punish a United defense that has not been impressive all season. When we don’t score like we’re capable of, games which we should win turn into draws and outright losses; in this third game against United, that cannot happen.
There will be difficult games, must-win games further down the line as well for Everton. But this is one of them, and it is one we must demonstrate we are ready to capitalize on. While six of the seven teams ahead of us have played 22 matches in the Premier League (Manchester City have played 21), the Toffees have played just 20. Still, we sit just four points off of fourth place Liverpool and six off of third place Leicester City. Above them are only United, eight points superior, and City a further three points ahead.
While easier weeks are visible in the not so distant future, there is no better and more useful time to climb back into the top five than now. A loss will leave us still very much in it, but perhaps a bit despondent at the inability to get a result in three tries against a vital opponent like United. Yet I believe that Everton can and will win, and by doing so, the points will begin to demonstrate that we are in a different tier than Chelsea, Tottenham, Aston Villa, Arsenal and West Ham United; failure to do so will prove that we are not there yet, and while time remains to fix that, “A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.”