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Starting XI: Everton vs. Manchester United

The international break can’t come soon enough

Everton v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Saturday’s match:

(1) It’s all going wrong for Manchester United at the moment. The Reds languish in 15th place, after winning just twice in their first six league matches of the season. The most frustrating aspect of this slow start is that the top of the Premier League table remains completely unsettled. A VVD-less Liverpool could be vulnerable to a surprise title challenger, but United’s moribund record might have already killed that chance.

(2) Up until Wednesday, Manchester United could hang their hat on a red-hot run in Champions League Group H. That ended, though, with a shocking 2-1 reverse at Istanbul Basaksehir that plunges the club into deeper turmoil. It was another listless performance, even with a relatively strong side named by under-fire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. No matter, as the Turkish champs went toe-to-toe with their heavily-favored guests and came out on top. The United defense was a mess, Nemanja Matić actually made Demba Ba look fast, and possession bogged down without much purpose or creativity. Very poor.

(3) Speculation continues to mount that a loss to Everton on Saturday could spell the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United manager. The Reds desperately need a good showing to restore some faith after a difficult week. Some are even connecting the dots of Mauricio Pochettino’s appearance on Monday Night Football as a not-so-subtle reminder to the Manchester United board that he’s still out there waiting for a phone call.

(4) Solskjaer revealed that Victor Lindelöf is suffering a from a slight back injury, though he did travel with the team to Istanbul and was named as a substitute. Nevertheless, when replacing Axel Tuanzebe at halftime, the United manager skipped over the Swedish center back and chose Scott McTominay instead, which forced Matić into defense. If Lindelöf couldn’t even manage 45 minutes on Wednesday, his involvement at the weekend looks questionable at best.

(5) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the importance of bouncing back against Everton:

The last two results have been a punch in our stomach. And the only way I know of, and I hope the players as well — the only way to respond is to get your act together for Everton. That’s going to be tough and difficult. I’m glad we’ve got a game on Saturday.

(6) Erstwhile Premier League leaders Everton are reeling, too. The first blow came in the Merseyside derby as talisman Richarlison saw red for a poor challenge on Thiago Alcantara and was suspended for three matches. The Blues lost the first two of these games and will sorely miss the Brazilian attacker as he sits out again on Saturday. On the injury front, James Rodriguez missed the Newcastle loss (though he’s expected back this weekend) and right back Seamus Coleman has been out with a bad hamstring.

(7) A very good omen for Manchester United...

(8) With his options severely curtailed by these missing players (plus the suspended Lucas Digne), Carlo Ancelotti had little choice but to select a conservative lineup for the trip to Newcastle last weekend that was laughably short on attacking intent. Sure, Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been prolific this season with 11 goals in all competitions, but he was completely stranded up top as the makeshift Everton midfield showed little fluidity going forward. No surprise that Newcastle won 2-1 to extend Everton’s losing streak to two.

(9) Carlo Ancelotti flipped through his rolodex for some big-name additions this summer, targeting players who he knows and trusts from personal experience. First up was Allan from Napoli, signed for £22 million to provide a little steel to Everton’s lightweight midfield. Ancelotti also brought in Abdoulaye Doucoure from relegated Watford to continue his midfield revamp. But the biggest move was the jaw-dropping signing of James Rodriguez. The Colombian thrived under Ancelotti in his first season at Real Madrid with 13 goals and 13 assists and now brings that explosive attacking talent to Goodison Park. More than anything, he injects a little star power into a club so accustomed to life in Liverpool’s shadow.

(10) Match of the Day 2’s Peter Crouch on Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s struggles without Richarlison and James Rodriguez in the Newcastle loss:

I’ve played that lone striker role myself and I think you need pace and runners around you, but I don’t think he really got that. He missed Richarlison and James Rodriguez.

Calvert-Lewin held it up very well and he played well, but I didn’t feel like he had enough support. Most of the afternoon he was fighting a lost cause. [Andre] Gomes and [Gylfi] Sigurdsson are good players, but they like to play behind you whilst Richarlison likes to stretch and get in behind. Later on in the game, they managed to flood a few players forward and that’s when they got players into the box and Calvert-Lewin got his goal.

(11) Jordan Pickford’s inconsistency in goal has been an Everton talking point for weeks. After a long string of gaffes in goal — and that horror tackle on Virgil van Dijk — Ancelotti took his goalkeeper out of the firing line with a “rest” against Newcastle. The Everton boss insists that Pickford will be back between the sticks for Manchester United’s visit this weekend, but Robin Olsen deputized well in his absence. Maybe this will be just the wakeup call needed to get Pickford’s career back on track.