Frank Lampard’s Everton will look to make it three wins on the trot when they face off against Erik Ten Hag’s Manchester United under the Goodison Park floodlights on Sunday night. Despite winning six consecutive matches in all competitions following their shock 4-0 defeat to Brentford in August, now is actually a good time for Everton to host the Red Devils considering the battering they took at the Etihad Stadium last weekend; a game I was fortunate enough to attend.
The victory they mustered in Cyprus on Thursday in the Europa League was also very unconvincing, and it’s safe to say that United fans are apprehensive entering this match. The injury Raphael Varane suffered during the Manchester Derby was salt in the wounds of Manchester United, and the partnership of Victor Lindelof and Lisandro Martinez looked very vulnerable during the rest of that game and against Omonia Nicosia on Thursday; something Everton will certainly look to exploit. With the return of Dominic Calvert-Lewin to the squad, as announced by Frank Lampard during his pre-match presser, it’s challenging to look at this fixture as anything but an excellent opportunity for the Toffees to find an upset and continue building momentum.
United have consistently lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation this season with a double pivot of Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen in the middle of the park. However, rumors that Casemiro will start his first Premier League game on Sunday have been circulating after he played 82 minutes on Thursday. Should that be the case, Ten Hag will hope he can contribute to snuffing out potential counter-attacks, as they have been consistently conceding high-value scoring chances in transition over recent weeks.
Wingers Antony and Jaden Sancho have been criticized for not tracking back quickly enough, leaving Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia outnumbered on the break; something both Manchester City and Omonia took advantage of. It feels as if Casemiro must be at his transition-thwarting best in order for United to remain tight at the back, especially with the likes of Anthony Gordon and Demarai Gray running at him. He will also be vital in the midfield battle, as Manchester United have only averaged 49.1% possession in the league thus far without him starting.
As we’ve seen, Everton’s new-look midfield three of Alex Iwobi, Idrissa Gueye, and Amadou Onana is nothing if not formidable and has the potential to overrun Manchester United in the middle of the park if left unchecked. Although Eriksen has been a bright spark, his technical ability might not be as serviceable in this game against the physicality and relentless running of Everton’s midfield. So far this season, Manchester United rank dead last in the Premier League in “percentage of dribblers tackled” with a measly 31.3%, and so Alex Iwobi will be licking his lips as he enters this game with a career-high 70.6% dribble success rate.
United also rank third-bottom in pressures per game, only above Manchester City and Arsenal who understandably don’t need to press as much considering they are 1st and 4th in possession per game respectively. Everton, meanwhile, are joint 5th in pressures per game.
My tactical takeaways, therefore, are that this game is being played between a quite passive side and a quite active one. United will rely on their quality to get something from the game, but should Everton win their individual battles and out-work United as expected, they have a great opportunity to get a result.
Players to Watch
Upon his return from injury, Anthony Martial immediately became Manchester United’s most dangerous player, scoring three goals and assisting one in his three appearances thus far, none of which were starts. He scored twice off the bench at the Etihad Stadium, albeit both came after City had taken a 6-1 lead, but he also came off the bench to score in Cyprus on Thursday with an accomplished finish across his body. Coming into this game, he is averaging a goal contribution every 19 minutes this season. United fans are begging for him to start on Sunday, as the Frenchman has been notoriously fantastic against Everton through the years with 7 goals and 3 assists in 13 games against the Toffees. I believe he will be included in Ten Hag’s XI, and he will certainly be a problem for James Tarkowski and Conro Coady at the back if so.
Big-money signing Antony has also impressed since his arrival, scoring in both of his Premier League appearances thus far. His strike against City was nothing short of spectacular, and he would’ve scored an even better goal on Thursday if it weren’t for a fantastic diving save from the Omonia keeper. The Brazilian is very fun to watch due to his flair and love for pulling out somewhat frivolous tricks and skills on a whim. However, Vitaliy Mykolenko has proven himself to be a solid 1v1 defender, so Antony may have a hard time dancing his way past the Ukrainian.
At the back, eyes will be firmly fixed on Martinez, who has had an up-and-down start to life at Old Trafford. The Argentine was yanked by Ten Hag at half-time of the pummeling at Gtech Community Stadium but proceeded to deliver some excellent performances during United’s subsequent winning streak. He was then utterly exposed by the dominance of Erling Haaland, and the 5’9” center-back will certainly have his hands full should Dominic Calvert-Lewin make his first appearance of this season this weekend, nevermind man-mountain Onana. Set pieces may yet prove to be crucial in this game.
Sunday’s match will be a fantastic litmus test for both these teams and we are certain to learn a lot regardless of the outcome. Based on the composition and principles of the teams, I believe the game may play more into Everton’s strengths than United’s. With Goodison Park’s bearpit transformation seeming inevitable these days, the Toffees' intensity and power may prove overwhelming for Ten Hag’s side. On the contrary, United’s undoubted quality and cutting edge could finally end Pickford & co’s luck at the back. Regression to the mean will ultimately be achieved, and if Everton aren’t careful, this could be the game they are finally punished for the numerous shooting opportunities they have been allowing.
Regardless, it should be a fascinating game of football, and I cannot wait to attend my first (and likely only) game under the lights at Goodison. I’ll see you all there.