Sixth-placed Manchester United will take on 12th placed Everton at Old Trafford on Sunday in a game that could tell a lot about the Red Devils’ credentials for a spot in the Premier League top four come the season’s end.
The Red Devils have accumulated 50 points from their 30 league games so far and are just one point shy of cross-town rivals Manchester City, who will take on Bournemouth on Saturday at the Dean Court.
This has been a remarkable season in the Premier League. Last season’s relegation strugglers Leicester City are sitting top of the table with seven games to go and hot on their heels are Tottenham Hotspur, five points behind the table toppers. It increasingly looks like the English champions will be one of these two sides.
In a season when most of the bigwigs have struggled to stamp their authority on the league, Arsenal looked primed for the title charge but they look increasingly out of the loop as they sit 11 points behind Leicester City, albeit with a game in hand.
However, this uncertainty has also spiced up the race for a top four finish and Manchester City, West Ham United, Southampton and even Liverpool would be fancying their chances to get themselves a spot in the Champions League next season.
In the current context, the game at Old Trafford holds a lot of significance for the Red Devils. Manager Louis van Gaal has been widely criticised for his tactics that have yielded boring football – of the teams in the top half of the Premier League table only Stoke City have scored fewer goals than Manchester United.
However, if Van Gaal can be credited for one thing, it is the defensive solidity he has instilled in his charges. The Red Devils have conceded the fewest goals than any other team, barring Tottenham Hotspur.
And by the looks of it, the battle will be between Everton’s attack and Manchester United’s defence. The Toffees are blessed with an array of attacking options that include Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu, all three of whom have thoroughly impressed with their performances this term.
An Achilles heel for Manchester United has been their inability to find the back of the net. With the emergence of Marcus Rashford, who scored a brace each in his Europa League and Premier League debuts against Midtjylland and Arsenal, respectively, the Red Devils seem to have found some bite up front and his partnership with Anthony Martial could be crucial on Sunday.
If attack is a strong point for the Toffees then defence is their problem area, having conceded 41 goals from their 29 games thus far. The prevalent thinking is that with the talented squad at his disposal Roberto Martinez’s should be battling for a top four spot and not for a place in the Europa League.
But their inability to keep things tight at the back has cost Everton dearly. It will be interesting to see if Manchester United takes advantage of it.
Manchester United took the game 1 – 0 beating Everton.