It is the longest running saga in Manchester United’s history – the 188th time the Reds have faced Everton since the teams first met in 1892. Everton hammered Newton Heath 6-0 at Goodison Park that September to set up an unbeaten run against ‘United’ that would last 15 years. More than a century on and the narrative is very different, of course, but rare are the occasions in the modern era when the Toffees hold the upper hand.
United visit Goodison on Sunday, but this time with the hosts nine points clear and riding the crest of new manager Roberto Martinez’ wave. Chasing a spot in the Champions League, Evertonians now talk of the belief and positivity the Spaniard has brought during his year in charge. That is to say little of the rapid metamorphosis in style Everton has undergone this season.
It is an observation in stark contrast to United, with David Moyes’ side arriving in north Liverpool with little to play for as the season winds down. The Reds’ 14 defeats across four competitions ensures Moyes remains under the kind of pressure Martinez distinctly does not.
This is, after all, not only a narrative about Everton and United, but Martinez and Moyes. United’s new manager suffers ill for the comparison.
Indeed, while Moyes spoke on Friday about the “legacy” he had left at Goodison Park after more than a decade in charge, Martinez was quick to remind just how far United has fallen – and that Moyes’ assertion that Sir Alex Ferguson left him with an ageing squad does not sit well against the backdrop of an 11 point Premier League victory just a year ago.
In truth, while Martinez has taken Moyes’ squad and actively sought to improve, the Scot has instilled an alien aura of negativity at Old Trafford. One that deeply frustrates. This is, after all, the English champion club; one now reduced to competing for sixth place and a spot in next season’s Europa League – Europe’s second tier competition.
“They are still the league champions and they haven’t lost anyone,” said Martinez pointedly on Friday.
“It’s the opposite. They have two players on top. United’s squad is bigger and better than people are trying to make out. Who are these United veterans? Rio Ferdinand? How many games has Rio played? Not many and Ryan Giggs hasn’t played many, either. You could look at Chelsea and say they are more of an ageing squad. In football, not everything is straightforward.
“An ageing squad if you win becomes an experienced squad with knowhow. If you lose, it becomes the players have no legs. It’s something in between those extremes. You look at Chelsea, title contenders, but squad-wise worse than United.”
It is an observation that hurts all the more for its truth. Yet, it is not only results that split the two managers this season, but a fundamental approach to the game. Martinez seeks big goals – and to achieve them in the spirit of adventure that has come to define his career. Moyes, by contrast, is a reactionary; grounding United’s approach in an attempt to mitigate opponents’ strengths.
Practically, this explains Martinez’ belief that Everton could qualify for the Champions League through incremental improvements over the season. And an absolute belief in a style of play that has rarely failed to impress this season even when results have not gone Everton’s way.
“The two managers are totally different, in every way,” left-back Leighton Baines told the Guardian.
“They both have things they are really good at but with the current manager, he’s ultra-positive. He takes the positive from every single scenario. That’s been the big thing for me: the difference in the style of play, committing to that and not feeling like we have to adapt to the opposition.
“The new manager has that confidence and belief in himself, in his own blueprint. And then in us. He tells us we’re not going to change, we’re just going to improve constantly. He spoke about the Champions League from the start.”
Moyes, by contrast, was quick to dismiss the comparison with Martinez. “First of all, the game is not about me, it’s about Everton and Manchester United,” he told the press on Friday. Little wonder, but with United nine points adrift of Everton, and suffering a 37-point swing from last season, it is a comparison that Moyes cannot win either.
Still, United travel to Goodison having revived domestic fortunes over recent weeks. There were four scored against both Newcastle United and Aston Villa, while the Reds have not conceded a Premier League goal away from home since defeat to Stoke City in February.
Everton, meanwhile, suffered home defeat to Crystal Palace in midweek. It was not a fatal blow to the Toffees’ hopes of qualifying for the Champions League, but in the context of a tough run-in, devastating nonetheless.
On the pitch, United take former Evertonians Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini in the matchday squad. However, Robin van Persie remains on the sidelines and may not play again this season. Jonny Evans could make the bench, but Rafael da Silva is definitely out.
Defensive injuries mean that both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones will probably start, while in attack Moyes must decide whether to stick with the trio of Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj and Shinji Kagawa that so impressed against Newcastle. It seems likely that the latter pair will find a place only on the bench.
Martinez, meanwhile, is unlikely to recall captain Phil Jagielka, who is not yet match fit following injury. However, James McCarthy has recovered from a muscle problem and will start after missing the midweek defeat to Palace.
Alongside, Moyes, Rooney and Fellaini, former Evertonians Phil Neville, Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden and Chris Woods also return to Goodison. The focus, of course, is on Moyes. After 11 largely successful seasons at Goodison there has been significant revisionism among Everton’s supporters this season. It is perhaps the effect of Moyes’ downbeat approach in contrast to Martinez’ positivity.
There appears little love lost for Moyes at Goodison, who may well receive a mixed response.
“The roles that Marouane Fellaini and Phil Neville and David Moyes have, they are well-known figures at Everton, they’ll always be respected, but they’ll be respected after the final whistle,” said Martinez.
“Now they’re representing Manchester United and that cannot be a nice atmosphere.”
Everton v Manchester United, Premier League, Goodison Park, 4.10pm, 20 April 2014
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Delanney, Stones, Distin, Baines; McCarthey, Barry; Deulofeu, Barkley, Mirallas; Lukaku
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Vidić, Smalling, Evra; Valencia, Fellaini, Carrick, Welbeck; Mata; Rooney
Everton: Robles, Hibbert, Garbutt, Jagielka, Browning, Alcaraz, Gueye, McGeady, Osman, Naismith
United: Lindegaard, Evans, Büttner, Ferdinand, Cleverley, Fletcher, Kagawa, Nani, Young, Giggs, Januzaj, Hernández
Head to Head
Everton 64 Draw 42 United 81
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistants: G Beswick, S Beck
Fourth Official: C Pawson
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