There is a strange penchant in the modern game to overplay a rendezvous with former employers, although this is, of course, the very situation that David Moyes, his coaching staff, and Marouane Fellaini face on Wednesday night. Yet, it will somehow seem very strange if Moyes doesn’t vigorously celebrate victory, should it come against Everton at Old Trafford. There is respect and then there are three points in a Premier League season that could rapidly fall away from United if the Reds cannot find greater consistency in the weeks to come.
Indeed, while the Reds face Everton in Manchester, leaders Arsenal host Hull City in what could become a pivotal pre-Christmas round of matches. Nine points the gap, six or possibly 12 are the very real scenarios that face Moyes’ outfit ahead of Wednesday’s fixtures. And while no trophies are won in December, the old cliché that they can be lost is not so far from the truth.
Still, Moyes’ side is now unbeaten in 12 and faces six winnable league fixtures before the year is out. It is an opportunity that United must grasp if the Premier League title is to be retained this season.
First, though, Roberto Martinez’ outfit arrives at Old Trafford on a six match unbeaten run and playing some of the best football the club has produced in years. In that there is no little irony ahead of a game that Moyes claims means no more than any other, although after a decade at Everton Moyes will find vocal support in the visitors section.
“I’m not an emotional person and, in truth, I’d rather just get on with the game,” said Moyes on Tuesday.
“I’ve got great respect for Everton, their chairman, their players and their supporters but from my point of view I’m Manchester United manager now.
“I had a great time at Everton. It was a great club for me at the time in my career when I left Preston North End. They were fabulous to me. They gave me a chance to succeed at the club the best I could.
“I’ve got to say Roberto’s gone in and done a really good job and kept it going. All I know is that I’m manager of Manchester United. I’ve got respect for Everton, but from my point of view I’m United manager now and I don’t think they’d expect anything different.”
On the pitch United must recover from an entertaining draw at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, but one that saw the Reds slip further behind in the title race. While a point gained in the capital comes with plenty of merit, United’s situation in the table now demands a run of victories secured.
After all, it may be 12 unbeaten, but in that run there have been five draws. It is a level of form that if replicated across the league season might bring less than 80 points, and the title surely departing Old Trafford.
Still, at least Sunday’s draw brought no fresh injuries, while Robin van Persie is likely to return against the Toffees. Moyes welcomes back with some relief one of three key players to have missed recent matches, along with Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidić.
In the Dutchman’s frequent absence this season Wayne Rooney has once again taken on the mantle of United’s talisman. The Scouser has also struck up an exciting if embryonic partnership with playmaker Shinji Kagawa.
That duo is likely to be broken up at Old Trafford, with Moyes also considering changes elsewhere in the team ahead of a hectic December schedule. Newcastle United comes to Old Trafford at the weekend, with a pivotal European fixture against Shakhtar Donetsk to follow.
Elsewhere Nani, Adnan Januzaj, Ryan Giggs and Marouanne Fellini will all hope to be involved against Everton after missing out of United’s game in north London. However, Phil Jones is suspended for one match after picking up five yellow cards this season, meaning at least one change in central midfield.
Meanwhile, Matinez’ side arrives in good form having thrashed Stoke City at Goodison on Saturday. The 4-0 victory was inspired by on-loan Barcelona forward Gerard Deulofeu, while Romelu Lukaku scored his eighth goal of an increasing productive season.
Everton’s run leaves the Toffees fourth in the Premier League table, with a renewed believe that victory at Old Trafford is very obtainable and a negative approach now a thing of the past.
“This week will have a huge bearing on our season,” said Martinez, whose side faces United and then Arsenal this week.
“It would be very easy for me to play it down but we are going to go to Old Trafford and the Emirates. They are games that we are not expected to win but, clearly, if we want to achieve something special, we need to be able to break the mentality of going to the big grounds and getting some wins.
“Over the last 10 years we have not beaten Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool at their grounds and we need to address that. We need to make sure we are ourselves. We need to know how we are going to play and who we are.”
Everton arrives with no new injuries, although Leighton Baines – the subject of three bids from United in the summer – misses out with a broken toe. Bryan Oviedo, who started only his second league game for Everton at the weekend, again plays at left-back.
Martinez is likely to retain the three-man forward line, with Deulofeu and Steven Pienaar flanking Belgian striker Lukaku in a potent attack. Indeed, Deulofeu and Lukaka might well form the most dangerous on-loan forward lines in Europe, albeit in a niche category.
Yet, this is smart business that could still fire Everton in to Europe next season despite the Merseyside club operating with far less income than the ‘big four’ of United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
“We need to be realistic. There are six clubs with six incredible budgets and we need to be different in the way we play,” admitted Martinez, who reacted angrily to United’s £28 million bid for Fellaini and Baines in August.
“Unless you experiment with that on the pitch you will never be able to beat teams with bigger budgets. If you are going to be brave and try to win games then you need to be flexible as a player and as a team. That is the attitude we have had from the beginning. We have had one defeat in 13. The next test and the next challenge is can we go to the big places like the Old Trafford, the Emirates, Anfield and Stamford Bridge and get wins?”
It is a scenario that Old Trafford will not countenance; one in which United’s title dreams might lie of the altar of hope. After all, while Arsenal’s form might well tail off after Christmas, it might also take a poor run from Chelsea and City for United to retain the title.
But only if the Reds keep on dropping points, of course.s
Manchester United v Everton, Premier League, Old Trafford, 8pm, 3 December 2013
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Smalling, Evans, Vidić, Evra; Cleverley, Fellaini; Nani, Rooney, Kagawa; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Rafael, Ferdinand, Anderson, Young, Valencia, Giggs, Januzaj, Welbeck, Hernández
Everton (4-5-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Oviedo; Barry, McCarthy, Osman; Deulofeu, Lukaku, Pienaar. Subs from: Robles, Hibbert, Heitinga, Jelavic, Mirallas, Barkley, Stones
United 81 Draw 42 Everton 63
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: S Burt, H Lennard
Fourth Official: R Madley