Today we could go 12 points clear at the top of the table with twelve games left to play but we’d be foolish to think it’s going to be simple. Everton beat us at Goodison Park on the opening day of the season and we were poor. Wayne Rooney chugged about the pitch for 90 minutes but looked overweight and unfit. The only highlight was getting our first glimpse of Robin van Persie, but it was a depressing day for us.
If we go back a few months to the time before we played Everton, we’ll remember that horrendous 4-4, the game that cost us the title. We went 3-1 up, then 4-2 up, but couldn’t see the game out. It’s agonising to think about, so let’s hope we can have happier memories from today’s game against them.
What could make the task more difficult than it is already is the possibility of resting players ahead of our trip to the Bernabeu this week. Ferguson has said in his programme notes that there aren’t any players who he doesn’t trust, implying we could see plenty of changes. The manager has a difficult decision to make today though. Does he go for the jugular, play a strong side today, give us the best possible chance of going 12 points clear, whilst risking injuries to key players for the Real Madrid game? Or does he rest players today, give Everton a better chance of taking points off us, with the security of keeping our best players injury free and fresh for our Champions League game? It’s a tough one.
A couple of years ago I remember walking up to Old Trafford and hearing the team news ahead of an FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal, who weren’t anywhere near as bad as they are these days. For one thing, they had a brilliant Dutch striker up front for them. Van der Sar, Evra, Brown, Smalling, Vidic, Fabio, Rafael, O’Shea, Gibson, Rooney and Hernandez made the starting XI. Top goalie, seven defenders, one midfielder that would soon be sold on, and top strikers. Bizarre. Of course, we went on to win 2-0, and it was one of those days where you have to roll your eyes at the manager’s ability to pick a team.
However, I felt the same way when hearing the line-up for Blackburn last season, with Rafael and Park starting in midfield, and we lost 3-2 that day. Sometimes Ferguson gets away with a barmy team selection, some days he doesn’t. If today is another one of those days, I hope to God it’s more like Arsenal in the Cup than it is Blackburn of last season.
I imagine the manager will find a happy medium, with enough of our first choice players in the team to get us a result, but without damaging our chances midweek. Of course we want the win, but if we’re not playing at full strength, taking a point to go ten points clear would be decent enough. We really should take advantage of City’s awful performance and result against Southampton yesterday though, and picking up all three points would really be kicking them when they’re down.
You’d like to think that Rooney, Carrick, Vidic, Evra and De Gea are all certainties. It wouldn’t be too surprising, much to the groans you’d hear if this is the team that is announced, if Giggs started on the left and Scholes started alongside Carrick in the middle. Ashley Young needs a game, so does Jonny Evans, so if we get a team that resembles something like that, we shouldn’t complain. Whoever goes up front with Rooney will be good enough and we could see Smalling or Jones slot it at right back, with Rafael protected for Real Madrid.
Rooney hasn’t had many good games against his former club, with the away fixture this season a new low for him, so hopefully now that he’s in the midst of great scoring form (11 goals in 11 games for club and country), he will put in a good shift today.
We have scraped through several games this season and if we are to beat Everton today, you wouldn’t be surprised if it was a scrappy and tight affair. We’ve got a near perfect record at home though, winning all of them except that 3-2 defeat against Spurs, so you’d fancy us to have enough to get the result we want today.
Come on United!