Manchester United need a win. After a tough-luck result at Chelsea and a humbling 1-0 loss to Juventus, the Reds welcome Everton to Old Trafford on Sunday hoping for a change in fortune. Marco Silva’s side have won three matches in a row and now sit one point above United in the Premier League table.
Despite all the doom and gloom, there’s been much to build on in the last week. Most predicted Sarri-ball would dominate the visiting Reds, but only a heartbreaking stoppage time equalizer kept Chelsea’s unbeaten run intact.
And, even with that loss to Juventus, United’s Champions League outlook grew quite a bit brighter. The Reds remain in second place in Group H thanks to the shocking draw between Valencia and Young Boys. That result completely upended the conventional wisdom that everyone would take full points off the Swiss champs.
Most importantly, it leaves United in great position to advance to the knockout rounds — even with another loss to Juventus next month. Unless Valencia pull off a huge upset in their own trip to Turin, United should only need a draw in the Group H finale to qualify. Assuming, of course, that they beat Young Boys at Old Trafford.
But, before any of that happens, Manchester United must sort out two key problems to beat Everton on Sunday — the suddenly goal-poor Romelu Lukaku and the much-maligned defense.
Some hope that, if Alexis Sánchez is passed fit, he might replace Lukaku up top. José Mourinho, though, refused to give anything away when discussing his striker’s struggles. “The player is a fantastic professional who wants to give everything for the team,” he said. “But, I agree, his moment is not sweet. Not just for the goals he’s not scoring, but his confidence, movement, and touch. He is not linking the game well with the team.”
“But he’s our striker,” the United boss continued. “He’s a good striker and a striker we believe in. Could I play Rashford there? Then I don’t have a winger as we’re in this difficult [injury] situation. He’s a hard-working professional. One day, the goals will arrive and the confidence will be back.”
United’s defense is equally bereft of confidence after allowing 8 goals in the last 5 games. Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelöf earned praise from the manager after the Juventus match, but something’s got to change. Some call for Eric Bailly, but, honestly, there just might not be any combination that will consistently produce results. A top-class central defender in January — if such a player even hits the open market — is a must.
Everton, on the other hand, are loving life under new manager Marco Silva. After publicly flirting with the then-Watford manager last January, the Toffees finally got their man this summer.
Alongside Everton’s new director of football, Marcel Brands, Silva started his Goodison Park reign with a summer shopping spree that must have left José Mourinho glowering with envy. Richarlison, Bernard, Kurt Zouma, Lucas Digne, Yerry Mina, and Andre Gomes all signed up for Silva’s Merseyside project.
The new manager brings an up-tempo, high-pressing style of football that’s easy on the eyes. It also leads to high-scoring matches that put undue pressure on the defense.
But, with this Everton backline, Silva might finally have a stable defense. He’s already had success partnering Zouma with Michael Keane at center back, and Yerry Mina will only add to that now that he’s back in training.
The man of the hour for Everton, though, is Richarlison. Silva paid £40 million to bring over his former player from Watford and the early returns have been astounding. The fee seemed like a lot at the time, but the 21-year-old Brazilian has hit the ground running in a blue shirt. He plays out wide, scores goals, and puts in a defensive shift too. Richarlison is the complete package.
Also, keep an eye on Bernard. Mourinho should task his midfielders to use their physicality to outmuscle and disrupt the 5’5 playmaker. United did well to control Chelsea’s Jorginho and must repeat that performance with Bernard.
Last time out, Everton needed two late goals to extend their winning streak and defeat Crystal Palace. That result lifted the Merseyside club over Manchester United into 8th place in the Premier League. A couple of wins in the next two weeks would put the Reds in a much healthier league position.
That starts with Everton on Sunday. Three points, please.