Match Preview – Manchester United (H)
Leg Stamps, seventh place woes, and the red half of Manchester
A 2-0 capitulation at Newcastle, followed up by 3 incredible wins and clean sheets, then followed up by the worse performance of the season in a 2-0 loss to relegated Fulham, and it’s fair to say Marco Silva’s boys have been searching for that little thing called consistency all season long. Glimpses of absolutely dazzling play, striking pressing, and domination through the midfield has been overshadowed by poor finishing in the final third, boneheaded mistakes and at times mind-boggling decisions from the players. Step on down Andre Gomes, who has been served a 3 match ban for a frustratingly bone-headed stamp on Mitrovic just ahead of the final whistle. While of course we all like to say, “Everton that. the big 6 misses those bans all season long,” you simply cannot put yourself in the position to receive a 3 match ban in the most crucial stretch of the season. However, Everton march forward, and will look towards a trio of Tom Davies, James Mccarthy, and Morgan Schniederlin to help ease the blood loss of perhaps the best player in the squad. Whoever is inserted into the lineup will have to seize the opportunity, and make the case towards play next season, with the Blues certainly looking to strengthen depth in the midfield over the summer. Manchester United will come in with a chip on their shoulder as well, fighting for a spot in the top four, and fresh off of being absolutely wiped off the field by Messi and Barcelona, the Red Devils will absolutely come into Goodison looking for 3 points.
Both teams come into Sunday’s match with significant question marks, both in their search of goals and in a search to prevent them as well. Manchester United have come off a run of form that has seen 0 goals in open play from 2 legs against Barcelona, and a win against West Ham where 2 of Paul Pogba’s incredibly slow penalty kicks were needed to take 3 points. Lukaku has blown hot and cold especially, and is more than likely gone once Summer rolls around. Meanwhile, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford’s recent contributions haven’t done a whole lot to quell the anxieties for United in front of goal. For Everton, a similar lack of a consistent goal-scoring threat has been problematic in keeping the back line out of spells of constant pressure. DCL’s work rate has been tremendous but has not translated into goals, and Bernard and Richarlison’s poor form in front of goal has led to more question marks than answers. Gylfi has done well in the midfield along with Andre Gomes in creating some movement towards goal, but with Andre’s quick transformation into Hulk Hogan, there will again be a huge hole to fill for the Blues. United’s midfield of Pogba and Fred has at times been less than dazzling, as Pogba has one foot out the door and the 50 million pound Brazilian has been nothing short of underwhelming. Pogba’s sheer class alone has been enough to see United through at times, but just like Everton, the summer will likely be a time where Ole and the board look to add more quality and depth in the middle as a run for top four falls increasingly flat. At the back, for both sides, similar shortcomings have been the story for large parts of the season. Michael Keane and Kurt Zouma have been mostly class at the back, but have had weaknesses exposed at times especially against physical frontmen such as Mitrovic and, unsurprisingly, Lukaku. Yerry Mina’s absence has hurt Everton, because although he at times has looked poor, the depth he adds to the side is much needed with Mason Holgate spending time out on loan at West Bromwich and Phil Jagielka growing increasingly slower with every passing minute. Manchester United’s Phil Jones and Ashley Young have been inconsistent at best, showing signs of good play, but often not being good enough to deal with the best sides, and it is likely one or both might be on the chopping block come summer. Both sides, should and will be shopping for improvements in defense, but likely all over the pitch. However, this is still a Man United side that on its best day can compete with any top side in Europe, and a win for Marco Silva here, especially without Andre Gomes, would go a long way in the continuing growing confidence of the board in his managerial skill and in their willingness to back him come the summer.
Sunday’s match seems like one where the first goal or defensive mistake will go a long way in picking a winner. Everton’s head-scratching inconsistency has been frustrating at best, and damning in its worst. Manchester United’s lack of identity and goal scoring, with huge names halfway out the door and a failing race for the top four, leave them with it all to do in these last 4 games and in the summer. For Everton to win this game, the front 3 will have to be on form, and Richarlison and Bernard will need to expose a leaky United back four, meaning this could be the opportune time for DCL to strike. The first goal will tell the story in this one, and I have a feeling Richarlison just might find his form.
Prediction: Everton 2-1 Man United