Friday, 24 April 2015

AT THE ENEMY'S ENEMY

In the week during which Manchester United marked 12 months since the sacking of David Moyes, it was defeat in Sunday's upcoming fixture last term that cut the string between the Real Soceidad manager and Manchester United.
Word is that the display in Greece at Olympiakos was the final straw for the bosses up top but defeat on Merseyside against his former club mathematically ruled out United's chances of making the Champions League and activated one of the clauses of Moyes' six year contract to his detriment.


As it is, it will be a different Manchester United that walks onto Goodison Park on Sunday lunchtime with the Red Devils having secured one foot in the Champions League next season. Defeat at Chelsea last week has quietly drawn United back into a mini rat race with Manchester City for the last automatic qualifying place to the elite competition. Indeed City play on the Saturday and so there is every chance that come kickoff on Sunday, United will be the ones occupying 4th place on the log.
That in itself should be incentive enough ahead of the game.

The 6 game winning streak is gone and with it the tough run of consecutive fixtures against the top sides in the league (bar Aston Villa). It's fair to say that in the big games, United have established themselves as 'the current team'. As Chelsea strode to third place in the league last year, it went slightly unnoticed that they had come out on top in the mini-league of the country's top 5 teams with 16 points out of 18. United are currently joint top of that league with Chelsea and hence have put themselves in position to launch an assault on the title next season without fear.

However, as the last two campaigns show, topping that mini-league is not the prerequisite for being the Champions. The consistency of doing it against the alsorans of the league is the jackpot. Last season, Chelsea were ultimately hurt by the points they dropped to sides they should be beating. Dropped points at places like Crystal Palace or at home to Sunderland ultimately cost them the big prize. It's hard to think of United's season today differently. Don't get beaten home and away by Swansea and imagine where United would be on the log. Add to that the priceless points dropped at Leicester, Burnley, Sunderland, et al and United would be at least level if not ahead of Chelsea in the log ahead of this weekend's fixture.

Therein that lament lies the context of the game on Sunday. Everton are not having the best of seasons but it United have found it difficult to travel and breakdown teams that sit back with two banks of four. United have been allowed to retain possession of the ball in harmless areas. The crux on Sunday will lie in playing in and around the penalty box of Everton to sustain pressure on them. In all likelihood United will yet again come out on top in the possession and passing stats but lessons from last week should be taken on board on how to score through a congested penalty box. The shooting from range has to be better, the balls into the box must improve while the speed at which United break must better the resolve of the opposition to get as many bodies behind the ball as possible.

We should have Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind available to ease the need to have Wayne Rooney play in the middle. Despite the captain's poor return of goals on Mersyeside, he remains the best bet for one if up top. If Michael Carrick is available, the team pretty much picks itself bar any new injuries.
Goodison is an old fashioned tight pitch that will make it easier for the home team to get bodies up and down the pitch. The speed and precision of our play will therefore play a huge part in the result.

We are still very much involved in yet another mini-battle with Arsenal for second place. With the Gunners coming to Old Trafford on the penultimate weekend of the league season, the build up to however finishes second starts this weekend, especially considering that they host Chelsea after our game.

Last week was a 'free one'. The pressure was never really on United to get a result at Stamford Bridge. This weekend, is back to the expectation business.

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