Preview: Everton FC vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: Steven Pienaar of Everton competes with Antonio Valencia of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on April 22, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

A new campaign kicks off for Manchester United on Monday night when they stroll over to Goodison Park for a Premier League clash with Everton. These two sides squared off twice last season and in this same fixture in October, Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) scored the lone goal in a tightly-contested match. During the reverse fixture in April, United squandered a late 4-2 lead at Old Trafford and when Steven Pienaar leveled the match, they also squandered their lead in the title-race. It is perhaps that incredible match -- for a neutral or an Everton supporter anyway -- that may have cost the club it's 20th league title.


Team News: Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has the luxury of having 5 very good center-backs on his first-team squad. However, for this match, it appears that he may only have one available as Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Rio Ferdinand are all out with injuries. Ferdinand apparently picked up a groin knock in training on Friday. Darren Fletcher's bowel condition makes his availability questionable as well.


Team News: Marouane Fellaini has a groin knock and Darron Gibson has a thigh issue. However, both are expected to feature in this match.


United: David de Gea will be in goal and because of the dire injury situation in defense, midfielder Michael Carrick is expected to partner captain Nemanja Vidic at center-back. Patrice Evra is certain to start at left-back while either Rafael -- who has been on Brazil duty throughout the summer -- or right-winger Antonio Valencia -- who featured at right-back a number of times during United's preseason tour -- is likely at right-back. It's worth noting that Pienaar certainly got the best of our Brazilian right-back during the 4-4 tie in April. In central-midfield, Paul Scholes is expected and he could be partnered by any of Anderson, Ryan Giggs, or Tom Cleverley. If Valencia does start at right-back, Nani is expected as the right-winger while Ashley Young or Shinji Kagawa could feature out on the left. Up front, Wayne Rooney is certain to start. If the newly acquired Robin van Persie starts, Rooney will play in support of the Dutchman but if Danny Welbeck starts, then Rooney likely plays as a false 9. Kagawa is also a possibility to play in support of Rooney.

Everton: Trying to predict David Moyes' starting XI is an easier task than trying to sort out what Sir Alex will do. Former United goalkeeper Tim Howard is the No. 1 and ahead of him, Phil Jagielka and Johnny Heitinga are the likely center-back pairing while Phil Neville and Leighton Baines are the anticipated full-backs. Neville is also a possibility in midfield but Gibson is likely to partner Fellaini there. The big Belgian terrorized United in the air last season so he's also possible higher up the pitch in support of lead striker Nikica Jelavic. If Fellaini plays deeper, expect to see Leon Osman in behind Jelavic. Out wide, Pienaar is expected on the left while newly signed James Naismith is probable to pop up on the right.


* Contain Fellaini in aerial duels: Fellaini was stellar at Old Trafford in April and here's what I wrote about him in our tactical analysis for that match:

"The big Belgian impressively won 7 aerial duels in this match as his combativeness troubled Evans and Ferdinand all afternoon -- the United center-backs combined to only win a single aerial duel. The long balls out of the back, mostly from Howard or Jagielka, tended to be sent towards the left-center in attack and this resulted in Evans and Rafael struggling to cope with Fellaini. From here, the big-haired outlet would attempt to flick the ball on for Jelavic, whose runs were typically horizontal rather than in behind. The nominally wide players, Pienaar and Osman, looked to get on the end of knock downs or they would make inward runs into the vacated space created by Jelavic's lateral movement."

Fellaini was positioned high up the pitch that day and if he's in a similar role in this match, then a big performance from Vidic will be expected. I would take pre-injury Nemanja over any defender in the world for this task so it'll be interesting to see what kind of form our captain is in now as he makes his first post-surgery start in a competitive match. Even if Fellaini starts deeper, Moyes could move him higher up the pitch at any point in the match if the manager feels that his side needs an outlet. At the very least, Vida will need to nullify Fellaini on set-pieces.

* Everton's left-side is the key to their attack: Pienaar's return to Everton has been made permanent and before he left for Spurs, he formed a terrific left-sided partnership with left-back Baines. The South African was also a key player in the 4-4 match at Old Trafford as he absolutely got the best of Rafael. For that reason, and because he's been with Brazil for most of the past month, I have a hunch that Valencia may start at right-back. When in possession, Pienaar will look to come inside and Baines is almost Dani Alves-esque in his willingness to bomb forward on overlapping runs. In fact, one could argue that Baines is actually their key man in creating chances. The Englishman's service is superb from both open-play and on set-pieces. Whatever combination exists on the right for United -- Valencia (RB)/Nani (RW) or Rafa (RB)/Valenia (RW) -- their defensive contribution will be absolutely vital in attempting to stymie the Everton attack.

* United's movement in attack: Baines bombing forward on a regular basis also offers up possibilities for the opposition's attack. Specifically, the channel between Baines whoever the nearest center-back is to him. The Rooney-Welbeck partnership was tremendous in the 4-4 match and perhaps the biggest strength to this tandem is their movement. Whenever Baines gets forward, United's forwards should look to exploit the space in behind the defender when the ball is won back. From here, a center-back -- likely to be Heitinga -- might get dragged out too far wide and the other forward should look to exploit the vacated space. Everton typically is a disciplined side defensively but this chain of events could create chances and it will be dependent on intelligent movement by United in the attacking third of the pitch. It's very likely that Fergie's boys will control possession in this match so this will be key in trying to breakdown this Everton side.

KO: 8:00pm BST, 3:00pm EST | Goodison Park

Live TV: Sky Sports (U.K.), ESPN2 (U.S.A.)

Referee: Andre Marriner

Odds: Everton 17/5, Draw 5/2, Manchester United 4/5

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