3 October 2014 18:26
Manchester United face arguably their toughest opposition of the season so far when they welcome Everton to Old Trafford on Sunday.
Although Louis van Gaal’s side have made a disappointing start to the 2014-15 Premier League, winning just two of their opening six fixtures, United are yet to face a side who finished in the top half last term.
In addition, United will be playing host to an Everton side who were among seven teams to get the better of the 20-time English champions in their own back yard during the 2013-14 league campaign.
Bryan Oviedo scored four minutes from time to hand Everton a 1-0 victory in December, when United were managed by former Goodison Park boss David Moyes.
United then fell to a 2-0 defeat on Merseyside in the reverse fixture and will be eager to halt their rotten run against Everton and build on last weekend’s 2-1 win over West Ham.
And Van Gaal is under no illusion as to the quality of opposition this weekend.
“I have to say that I like Everton because they want to play football like I want to play football,” he said. “It shall be a very interesting game.
“I know we lost to them twice last season, so it will be difficult.
“I hope we can dominate the game but they will want to do that too. They are more likely to play on the counter than us. That’s also the difficulty.”
Despite United’s poor start, Everton boss Roberto Martinez has backed them to bounce back and knows his side will need to be careful on Sunday.
“Louis van Gaal has been a really successful manager abroad and without doubt he will bring success to the Premier League,” he said.
“In that respect it’s a matter of time before they’ll challenge for everything.
“We know we’re going to be facing that challenge with a difficult air about it.”
United captain Wayne Rooney is suspended following his red card in the victory over West Ham, with Van Gaal suggesting that Juan Mata could come into the starting XI in his place.
Former Everton man Marouane Fellaini (ankle) returned to training this week, but is not ready to play a full 90 minutes. Ander Herrera (rib), Chris Smalling (thigh), James Wilson (knock), Jesse Lingard (knee), Phil Jones (hamstring), Jonny Evans (ankle), Ashley Young (groin) and Sam Johnstone (elbow) fill a somewhat crowded treatment room at United.
Paddy McNair will continue in defence after making his first-team debut at Old Trafford last weekend.
Steven Pienaar (quad) could return for Everton, but James McCarthy (quad) and Seamus Coleman (soft tissue) face late fitness tests. Ross Barkley (knee) and Kevin Mirallas (hamstring) are both out.