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Preview: Everton vs. Manchester United

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United face tough task at Goodison Park

Manchester United v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

After Tuesday night’s loss at Barcelona, Manchester United’s season all comes down to the Premier League. The Reds are now solely focused on finishing in the top four and clinching the Champions League spot that goes along with it. The domestic run-in starts with a difficult Easter Sunday trip to Everton.

United still sit sixth in the table, needing to jump two rivals to get back into the top four. Easier said than done. Tottenham Hotspur look like a new team since moving into their new stadium, even without Harry Kane and with the added distraction of the Champions League semis. Arsenal, too, are in strong form and won’t be easily passed. Chelsea, fresh off last week’s loss at Anfield, appear the most vulnerable.

With three teams above Manchester United — and with the Reds also trailing the pack in GD — there’s no easy route to the top four.

Ahead of the trip to Goodison Park, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must make sure that there’s no Champions League hangover. Hopefully, the 3-0 loss focuses and inspires the team to make it back into Europe’s elite competition in 2019/20.

“We want to play [Champions League] again next year, so we have a massive week coming up with Everton, City, and Chelsea,” Solskjaer said. “They’re disappointed, but there’s no point dwelling on what could have been. It could’ve been different if we had started better and we got the first goal, but now we have to concentrate on next week.”

Thankfully, there’s no fresh injuries after the Barcelona loss. Don’t be surprised if both Nemanja Matić and Alexis Sánchez make their league return on Sunday, too. Alexis got a few minutes at Camp Nou after a weeks-long layoff with a knee injury — and made his biggest impact in months.

That’s not exactly saying much, but he put himself in dangerous positions and nearly scored a late consolation goal for his troubles. Plus, Anthony Martial could use a rest. For whatever reason, he looks totally jaded and well off his best form.

“It was important that [Alexis] got 15 minutes on the pitch, for his mentality as well,” Solskjaer said. “He knows his knee is okay. He was close to getting a goal. Hopefully, he can give us a bit towards the end of the season so we can push to get into the top four.”

Luke Shaw finishes his two-match suspension on Sunday, leaving the boss with another tough call in filling out his backline. Ashley Young looks a shadow of himself and might need to clear his head after a particularly poor performance at Camp Nou. Diogo Dalot at right back and Marcos Rojo on the left is probably Solskjaer’s best option.

For Everton, it’s been a roller coaster of a season under Marco Silva. Their form seemed on an upswing after a draw in March’s Merseyside derby kicked off a run of three wins in four — including home victories over Chelsea and Arsenal. That momentum, though, came to a screeching halt with last weekend’s head-scratching loss at relegated Fulham.

Even with that setback, Everton remain in ninth place and with a decent shot at the Europa League. That would be a good stepping-stone for the club in Silva’s first season in charge.

Goodison Park brings out the best in this Everton side. In their last three home matches, they’ve taken seven points from Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal. Plus, all of those results were clean sheets. That's a lot of big-time attacking talent shut down by Everton’s defense.

Kurt Zouma and Michael Keane form the heart of Everton’s backline, but they also receive great support from midfielder Idrissa Gueye. The 29-year-old always chips in with extra protection from his defensive midfield spot.

They’re no slouch in attack, either. With Dominic Calvert-Lewin up top, Richarlison and Bernard on the wings, and Gylfi Sigurdsson pulling the strings in the middle, Silva has built a side that’s not overly-reliant on one player for all of the goals.

Everton don’t face any major injury worries, although Yerry Mina (hamstring) is doubtful for Sunday. Andre Gomes has been suspended for three matches after a red card at Fulham, but Morgan Schneiderlin might be ready to return from an ankle knock.

No doubt, this will be a very dangerous match for Manchester United. Marco Silva is slowly, but surely, turning Goodison Park back into a fortress for his side and United would do well to avoid Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal’s fate. With matches still to come this week against Manchester City and Chelsea, United need all three points to keep pace in the top four chase.