After a fairly promising, albeit unspectacular opening to the Premier League campaign, which had led to Louis van Gaal leading the club to the top flight’s summit for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game, United were sent crashing down to earth in their last outing.
The crushing defeat demolition suffered at the Emirates had little time to resonate with the players before once again whisked off to all corners for another drab, unwanted international break.
The result had been ultimately fairly surprising given United’s recent form against the Gunners and particularly after four successive victories in all competitions seemed to see the Reds gaining some real momentum.
United now sit third in the table, level with their most recent opposition – who hold a slight goal difference edge – while City’s term back below us in the Premier League standings was ultimately shortlived as the Blues top the table once more.
As things stand, it doesn’t get any easier for van Gaal’s men either, with a tricky trip to Goodison Park and the in-form Everton lies in wait. The Toffees’ current seventh place in the table perhaps doesn’t offer the whole story for Roberto Martinez’ men, who have lost only to Manchester City this season and can boast impressive victories over Southampton and Chelsea.
We look at five keys to a United victory at Goodison:
Beware of Barkley
Ross Barkley excelled for his country during the international break in keeping with his club form this campaign which has started to see him become the focal point for the Merseysiders, a role he always looked destined to fulfil.
There’s something particularly familiar about the 21-year-old’s style, with his steely determination coupled with his strong running and desire reminiscent of another former scouser, and Evertonian at that, now rallying the United troops.
While Barkley still has some left to be desired in terms of end product and decision making, he undoubtedly excites, and more importantly for his side, proves a constant thorn in the sides of opposition. Essentially, he’s almost everything Rooney used to be, without the same goalscoring instinct.
In the role Rooney now seems to occupy in Louis van Gaal’s system, the number 10 role which should allow for one of the side’s more creative outlets, it’s Barkley who would perfectly compliment the side. Offering energy and desire in the final, rather than the lifeless shadow in Red we’ve been forced to witness in recent months.
The youngster has the ability to cause endless problems for the Reds on Saturday, particularly if the manager is to repeat his high pressing antics of the Emirtes which saw United line-up without any bite in the form or Morgan Schneiderlin.
The Frenchman’s inclusion will be of paramount importance to the Reds who failed to break down the Arsenal attack, with their pressing allowing them to be penetrated and punished far too easily despite once again enjoying a dominance in possession.
Preventing Barkley from unlocking United defences and supplying the likes of Lukaku, Deulofeu & Naismith is a necessity for the Reds and the return of Schneiderlin in the defence anchor role would go a long way to achieving such.
Just as Barkley has stamped his authority on the Toffees this season, Romelu Lukaku is also enjoying life on Merseyside in his third full season with the club. The powerful Belgian already has seven goals to his name during the current campaign from 10 games, proving that even at the age of 22, is more than capable of leading a Premier League line.
Standing at 6”3, Lukaku is a powerhouse in a similar mould to former Chelsea teammate Didier Drogba, yet his blinding pace and intelligent movement make the Belgian a handful for opposition defences to deal with.
With United sure to shake things up at the back one again following their dissection at the hands of Arsenal, the manager may well be thinking of bringing Phil Jones back into the centre of defence alongside Chris Smalling in order to help adequately with the troublesome frontman.
For all his best efforts this season in an unfamiliar position, Blind’s main vices (strength and pace) have at times seen him exploited, with a striker in Lukaku’s mould a potential recipe for disaster. After fully recovering from injury, Phil Jones could be offered a huge opportunity to prove himself to the manager, who will still be fairly unconvinced by the man once dubbed the next Duncan Edwards.
Pressure on Rooney to perform
After seeing countless occasions on which Wayne Rooney has failed to deliver without consequence, it would be remiss to speak of or even contemplate the skipper being dropped for the trip to his former employers.
Which instead begs the question, what exactly will it take to get Rooney performing again? While not yet thirty, it appears increasingly as though England’s all-time record goalscorer is fading rapidly.
Is he a completely spent force? Or can the skipper begin to find some kind of form which would vindicate his manager’s incessant and perhaps unwarranted selection on a regular basis?
An agonising lack of first touch or any kind of cutting-edge or creativity of late suggest not as the vultures seem to circling over the weathered United skipper. Even the manager – who has described as Rooney as the best captain he has worked with, ahead of his European Cup winning skipper Danny Blind – must surely acknowledge this by now and with the likes of Ander Herrera and Juan Mata ready to occupy that role, the pressure is firmly on Rooney, not necessarily to score goals, but instead just to exert himself and leave a mark.
With a point to prove, there’s no better setting for him than where it all began.
Firstly, can I offer my sincerest apologies at the use of the disgusting phrase above, yet it’s notion will be of huge importance on Saturday afternoon. Defeat at the Emirates came as something of a surprise, particularly given the manner of defeat and how easy the Gunners were able to slice through the Reds and leave their mark.
The manager has challenged his squad to respond to that defeat in a positive fashion if they’re to harbour any title ambitions for the current campaign. The Reds have already one unexpected league defeat to Swansea this season, yet were able to reply with five successive domestic victories thereafter.
United will be forced to display their powers of recovery once again at Goodison, with the task all the more arduous after what seemed like a never-ending international break and a difficult away trip at what has become something of a bogey ground in recent years.
The Toffees have recorded 1-0, 2-0 and 3-0 in the last three successive years on home soil, while the Reds have taken a measly four points from their last possible on offer.
With the Manchester derby just a week away, domestic momentum going into that game is key for the Reds. Defeat at Goodison once again on Saturday could see a five-point gulf between United and City by the end of the weekend.
Point to prove for Memphis
After being hauled off at half-time at the Emirates, Memphis Depay might have been worried about the security of his starting role. You know there are concerns when the manager prefers Rooney in a wide role than you after all!
The Dutchman’s Old Trafford career perhaps hasn’t had the explosive start many had predicted or expected following his earth-shattering performances in the Eredivisie last season.
A repeat of a 28 goal return looks fairly inconceivable for Depay, and some weak performances of late have seen many calling for him to be left out of the side. Had Ashley Young been fit, that may well have been the case, but with Young set to miss out with injury, Depay deserves another chance to prove himself.
Although he may not have hit the ground running quite like Anthony Martial, the 21-year-old does possess supreme confidence in his abilities and his desire to succeed at United will undoubtedly see him prosper once he has found his feet in a much more testing league.
Depay may have encountered further frustration earlier this week as the Dutch failed to qualify for the forthcoming European Championships. The manager has said he will need to assess the state of mind of his fellow countrymen ahead of the trip to Goodison, but in the case of Depay, that could prove more help than hinderence.
Likened to Ronaldo not only for his talent, but attitude and determination, Memphis will return to the domestic stage more eager to succeed and make up for shortcomings this season for both club and country. Depay is now able to fully concentrate his efforts on United and ensuring he can prove to his manager and fans alike that he was worth every penny of the reported £31m spent on his signature.
With no Euros on offer, he can then look forward to (hopefully) a hard-earned summer off.
Prediction: Everton 2-2 United
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