MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 23: Javier Hernandez of Manchester United skips past Phil Neville of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on April 23, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Manchester United look to move on from their derby disaster when they travel to Goodison Park on Saturday for an English Premier League clash with Everton FC. During this fixture last season, the Toffees stunned United with two stoppage time goal to dramatically earn a 3-3 draw. It was also a match that saw Wayne Rooney left behind in Manchester as manager Sir Alex Ferguson claimed that he was protecting the striker from possible abuse by the supporters of his former club. In the return fixture at Old Trafford, Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) scored the winner in the 84th minute during the Reds' 1-0 victory.
United come into the match reeling after last week's 1-6 home defeat to rival Manchester City. The Reds currently sit 2nd in the table -- City are 5 points clear -- but Saturday's tie at Everton is one of 29 left for United to chase down their 'noisy neighbours.' A midweek 3-0 away victory over Aldershot Town saw United advance to the quarter-final of the Carling Cup. In UEFA Champions League play, the Reds currently sit 2nd in Group C after three matches and next week during the midweek, an important home fixture against Otelul Galati awaits them.
The match at Aldershot saw the return of Tom Cleverley from his recent injury lay-off. Therefore, United mostly have a clean bill of health. Ryan Giggs is rumored to be dealing with a hamstring injury and Federico Macheda is rumored to have an arm or elbow injury. Rafael continues to be out as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Jonny Evans is unavailable due to suspension after he was sent off last week versus City.
The Toffees currently sit 13th in the table. However, they have played one less match than the rest of the league besides Tottenham Hotspur. On a points per match comparison, Everton sit 11th. Prior to their 3-1 victory away to Fulham last weekend, Everton had lost their last three league encounters -- albeit against quality sides such as City, Liverpool, and Chelsea. During the midweek, Everton were eliminated from the Carling Cup after Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge struck late in extra-time to send the London-side through.
Everton mostly have a clean bill of health. Johnny Heitinga has been battling a knee knock but he is expected to be available on Saturday. Victor Anichebe has been dealing with a groin injury and his status for this match is uncertain. Royston Drenthe is out due to suspension after being sent off versus Chelsea on Wednesday during the Carling Cup clash.
If some recent rumors are to be believed, then Fergie might be dropping players en masse for this tie. This makes projecting a starting XI even more difficult than usual. Despite conceding six goals versus City, No 1 David De Gea can hardly be considered at fault and he is almost certain to be in goal at Goodison. In central defense, if Rio Ferdinand is dropped, captain Nemanja Vidic may could end up forming a partnership with Phil Jones. Chris Smalling is a candidate at both right-back and center-back. Patrice Evra has been an automatic choice at left-back but if Fergie is seeking retribution, then Fabio is a possibility for Saturday. In central midfield, it was Anderson and Darren Fletcher that were overran last weekend and they could make way for Cleverley and Michael Carrick. Out wide, Nani and Ashley Young have been first-choice but Ji-Sung Park could be deployed out on one of the flanks versus Everton. Up front, Wayne Rooney is an automatic selection when healthy and he likely will be partnered by either Chicharito or Danny Welbeck.
For Toffees manager David Moyes, his selection choices are more straight-forward. Tim Howard is the No 1 and the central defense pairing is likely to be Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka. Leighton Baines will be marauding forward from left-back and Tony Hibbert is expected at right-back. If Moyes plays his side in a 4-2-3-1 shape, then Jack Rodwell, Phil Neville, and Marouane Fellaini are possibilities as 'double-pivots.' Both Rodwell and Fellaini are also possible in a more advanced role, as is Tim Cahill. Out wide, expect to see Leon Osman on the left in a narrow role and Seamus Coleman on the right. Up top, former United striker Louis Saha is a possibility as is Cahill.
* Containing Leighton Baines: For those unfamiliar with Everton, it may come as a surprise to hear that their left-back is their biggest attacking threat. Perhaps only Dani Alves for FC Barcelona provides a more incisive threat from a full-back in the footballing world. For Everton, Leighton Baines has provided an impressive 2.5 key passes (defense-splitting passes) per match this season -- nearly twice that of any other teammate. The genesis of the majority of Everton's goalscoring chances are created from their left side. Leon Osman is the wide left player in attack but he tends to drift inwards and link play from a more central position. This provides acres of space for Baines to bomb forward into with overlapping runs. From here, Baines continually whips in crosses for the likes of Tim Cahill, Louis Saha, and Marouane Fellaini -- his superb 2.3 accurate crosses per game attests to this.
How do you contain Baines and his marauding runs forward? One possible solution is to exploit the space behind Baines after winning the ball back. While Everton generates goalscoring chances from their left side, they also are vulnerable to giving up goalscoring chances from the same area of the pitch. Last season, United's Antonio Valencia did well to track Baines -- in fact, the Everton left-back was pinned back somewhat by the threat of Ecuadorian in attack. Unfortunately for the Reds, Valencia isn't in top form at the moment and it is unlikely that he will be selected. Nani has improved in his ability to track back and the threat of his attacking ability could provide an interesting match-up. Perhaps though, it will be Ji-Sung Park that is deployed on the right flank. The Korean midfielder is often used in attack to nullify an opposition's deep-lying playmaker -- whether that be a central player or an attacking full-back. Park was used in this role two weeks ago at Anfield versus Jose Enrique -- he may be tasked with the same assignment on Saturday.
* Wayne Rooney vs a possible 'double pivot': Last week versus City, it was a tale of two halves for United's talisman. In the first half, Wayne Rooney found it difficlt to provide the incisive passes to breakdown the City defense. Perhaps credit should be given to the 'double pivot' of Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure. Each did well to compact the space between the lines -- space that Rooney prefers to operate in. Wazza may find himself up against a 'double pivot' again on Saturday.
It is likely that two of Phil Neville, Jack Rodwell, and Marouane Fellaini will be deployed as deep-lying central midfielders. Rooney typically does well to intelligently search for enough space so that he can create goalscoring chances for both his teammates and himself. Often only a sliver of space is generally needed for him.
In this match, Rooney will likely look to occupy the same space and especially so if he's partnered up top with Chicharito. 'Double pivots' are a natural positional foil for him. If Rooney is contained, then this would make United's attack quite predictable -- the flanks would be only other creative option. Can Wazza return to his old club and provide a talisman type of performance for his current club?
* Will the United defense continue to be vulnerable?: Even prior to the six goals conceded in last weekend's match, the high number of shots on goal that United was conceding on goal was a concern. Fergie has hinted that he may drop Rio Ferdinand and it'll be interesting to see how United cope with their recent poor defensive form. Will Michacel Carrick come into the side and play as a holding-midfielder? Will Nemanja Vidic return to the starting XI? Will Patrice Evra be benched for his recent leaky performances at left-back?
United will likely control possession in this match and earn numerous goalscoring chances. But they also must focus on minimizing goalscoring for their opponent because because of poor positioning by defenders or because they don't have anyone occupying the space between the lines of their own defense and midfield. Both Evra and Fabio have been prone to being caught out and the opposition have continually hit United in that unoccupied space. Furthermore, when central midfielders get caught out too high, they fail to keep it compact enough when the opposition counterattacks or builds-up an attack. Thus, acres of space is open behind them and they expose the back four. The possibility of both personnel and tactical changes will be interesting to watch.
Odds: Everton 7/2, Draw 12/5, Manchester United 4/5
Prediction: Everton 1-2 Manchester United