I don’t know about anyone else but the outcome of Manchester United‘s latest game always has a significant impact on my mood and general outlook on life in the days to follow.
This week, thankfully, after that brilliant result against Villarreal in the Champions League, the sun seemed to shine a little brighter, the breeze felt cooler and the birds seemed to sing sweeter.
However, we must acknowledge that while the result was a positive one, the performance was anything but. Once again, Manchester United looked completely devoid of ideas against a team that was more than content to sit back and counter rapidly. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Villarreal could have gone into half time a couple of goals to the good.
The trend of consecutive poor performances is something that Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his coaching staff must arrest immediately, and what better opportunity to do so than against The Toffees, headed by ex-Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez?
This match-up will take place on Saturday afternoon at 12:30 BST. The encounter will be shown live on BT Sport 1 and BT Sport Ultimate in the UK. Click here to sign up to NordVPN, where you can stream matches safely and securely, and you can also get a three months for free!
Form Guide and Squad availability
United did make a positive step the last time they graced the football pitch, with their triumph (and sweet revenge) over Unai Emery‘s Villarreal. However, prior to that, Solskjær’s men had 3 defeats in 4 games as their recent record.
Despite this, Manchester United sit 4th in the Premier League and should they secure the 3 points against Everton with other results around the UK being favourable, can go into the international break atop the Premier League table (Liverpool and Manchester City holding each other to a draw, Hasenhuttl‘s Southampton preventing Tuchel‘s Chelsea from taking all 3 points and Graham Potter‘s Brighton not improving their goal difference by 5, to be specific).
Cristiano Ronaldo‘s winner against Villarreal, in “Fergie Time” no less, is a real opportunity to build on the positives once again and get the 21/22 season firmly back on track and go into the international break with good vibes emanating from the red half of Manchester.Embed from Getty Images
Solskjær declared in his pre-match press conference that the squad had not suffered any further injury drawbacks from the Villarreal game and as such, below is my predicted XI for Sunday morning’s kick off.
- David de Gea stays in goal after he continued his impressive start to the season with his stellar performance against Villarreal
- Alex Telles plays his first Premier League game this season, with Luke Shaw seemingly having recovered from his illness but still dealing with a knock picked up against Aston Villa
- Victor Lindelof partners Raphael Varane with Harry Maguire still unavailable since going off injured against Villa
- Aaron Wan-Bissaka returns to the XI after missing the Champions League game through suspension
- Solskjær’s preferred midfield pivot “McFred” return after Fred started on the bench against Villarreal
- Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood (Happy Birthday!) support Cristiano Ronaldo who leads the attack (although I think there’s a chance that Edinson Cavani starts this game instead with Cristiano being on the bench)
Despite notching a victory against Daniel Farke‘s Norwich recently, Rafa Benitez’s men are also coming out of a bad patch of form, with 2 defeats in their last 4 games.
Benitez and his players will surely see this game as an opportunity to re-infuse some confidence by taking the scalp of Manchester United. Unfortunately, however, Everton are said to be missing several key players for the fixture.
- Jordan Pickford
- Fabian Delph
- Seamus Coleman
- Dominic Calvert-Lewin
That’s a serious injury problem for Benitez to ponder over, especially with the loss of arguably his biggest offensive weapons in Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.Embed from Getty Images
This will definitely impact the approach that Everton take, with them potentially setting up to defend deep and hit Manchester United on the counter, an approach that has born fruit for many a team this season. Solskjær and his coaching staff must have a robust plan to pull apart Everton’s compact defence while keeping the team protected against counter attacking threats.
The overarching challenge
Manchester United have not had the picture perfect start to their season – not in the Premier League, not in domestic competition, and not in the Champions League.
The transfer window piled pressure on the manager and his coaching staff. After all, a side that finished 2nd in the Premier League was adding to it: Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane, Cristiano Ronaldo, and last but definitely not least, Tom Heaton.
I think there’s a decent chance if you flip to “firepower” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Sancho, Varane and Cristiano, all beaming back at you. Yet, Manchester United lost to West Ham to exit the Carabao Cup, lost to Young Boys and scraped a win against Villarreal in the Champions League, and lost at Old Trafford to Aston Villa sans Jack Grealish. But yet, there is still hope and there is still expectation.
The Premier League is far from decided, the Champions League group still offers the opportunity to top the group and the FA Cup is yet to come. Solskjær has shown an uncanny knack of achieving results when all the odds are stacked against him, and he must conjure up whichever powers he does in order to bring United’s season back on track.Embed from Getty Images
Not just from a results perspective, but especially from a performance perspective. Solskjaer and his coaching staff must determine a sustainable way of breaking a low block defence and creating quality chances for their forwards.
How do they plan to do this? I haven’t the faintest clue. Will they manage to accomplish this? No idea whatsoever.
However, for the sake of Manchester United, and all the good work that has been done off the pitch and behind the scenes by Solskjaer, I certainly hope so for I know one simple, universal, truth, for Manchester United supporters:
No bird’s song will sound sweeter than the news that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a Manchester United man through and through, has at long last brought the most prestigious of silverware back to Old Trafford. Bring on Everton.