Everton vs. Manchester United: 6 Bold Predictions for the Toffees' Opening Game

Matt CheethamCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2012

Everton vs. Manchester United: 6 Bold Predictions for the Toffees' Opening Game

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    After derailing Manchester United's title pursuit with such an unlikely comeback back last April, Everton will be facing a side intent on revenge in seven days' time.

    That 4-4 draw was one of the results of the season for David Moyes' side and illustrates just how much confidence Steven Pienaar's artistry and Nikica Jelavic's potency installed in his squad after arriving in January.

    Both sides, and their respective sets of supporters, will be desperate to start the season on the front foot at Goodison Park—something not always synonymous with the Toffees under David Moyes.

    Here is a look at the final tie of next weekend's opening round of Premier League fixtures, as the countdown to the new season continues.

Predicted XI

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    (4-2-3-1) Howard—Hibbert, Heitinga, Distin, Baines—Neville (c), Osman—Naismith, Fellaini, Pienaar—Jelavic.

    The bigger calls in this selection involve central defence, Phil Neville, Steven Naismith and Marouane Fellaini.

    At the back, Phil Jagielka has missed a few preseason games with a slight injury. Johnny Heitinga and Sylvain Distin were very much in possession at the end of last season, hence pairing these two together makes the most sense.

    Slightly further forward, Darron Gibson would start in midfield, if fit. However, he has just withdrawn from the Irish squad and it seems as though Phil Neville will play against his old club.

    David Moyes has urged fans to be patient with Steven Naismith, indicating he will need time to adjust to his new surroundings, but managers often try and reduce the pressure on new signings with similar comments.

    Considering the impact he has made in the past few friendlies—including a 45-minute hat trick against AEK Athens—it would be a major surprise if he didn't play on Monday.

    Finally, it is likely Marouane Fellaini will start playing off Nikica Jelavic. Despite his influence arguably being greater the deeper he plays, the destruction he caused United in April, playing in tandem with Jelavic, suggests this is where he will feature.

    He too has withdrawn from international duty, but Moyes will do all he can to patch up his key man.

    Judging from recent friendly action, Fellaini's position may well become situational for the Toffees this season, and may even differ during a game. It will certainly be used when Everton need to play a more direct brand of football.

    With the personnel in this midfield, there is enough flexibility to reform the shape in several different ways. Fellaini can suddenly drop deeper and partner Neville, while Naismith, Pienaar and Osman are all versatile enough to be able to interchange in any of the advanced midfield roles.

Less Boos for Rooney

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    After his badge-kissing, bad-mouthing exploits during his primitive years away from Everton, it seems Wayne Rooney has been on a mission to soothe over his relationship with the club. 

    As well as off the field, where he openly supports the Toffees, clothes his son in Everton attire and now even attends the odd match, on the field he has become slightly more tactful, and at times even discreet.

    Few fans will ever forget his acrimonious departure, or some of his subsequent actions, but a growing portion are beginning to forgive his teenage choices.

    With this in mind, there will still be loud jeers when his name is announced and some derisory comments sent his way, but overall, his reception may not be quite as hostile as it's been in recent years.

United Struggle to Stop Leighton Baines

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    Last season, this fixture brought about some intriguing tactical battles. With Wayne Rooney deployed in midfield, United won 1-0 and Everton failed to mount any serious attacks of note.

    A large reason for the Toffees' impotency was due to the struggles of Leighton Baines.

    So relied on for his consistent delivery, Sir Alex Ferguson deployed the industrious Park Ji-Sung to shackle the left-back in a move that saw one of Everton's main threats frustrated and largely subdued.

    Of course, United have now offloaded their South Korean midfielder and Baines' productivity will be hugely aided by the presence of Steven Pienaar back in front of him on the left. 

    Add to the mix the fact he has been courted by United for the duration of the summer, and it would seem a big performance could well be in the script for Baines next week.

    It will be interesting to see how Sir Alex Ferguson, a man who clearly admires the England international, attempts to stifle his game. A scheme will undoubtedly be implemented, but given the circumstances, Baines should cause United's right-hand side far more trouble this time around.

The Goals Flow

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    In keeping with last season's generally high-scoring Monday night football, and indeed considering the last time these sides faced each other, this contest seems destined to be high-scoring. 

    Both sides excelled defensively in the league last year, yet their last clash finished 4-4, with the two defences looking extremely suspect.

    The fragility on display during that game will give both sides confidence to press forward and ask questions in the final third.

    Roared on by a rampant Goodison Park, Everton may well take the game to United, making it an attack-minded, open contest and the perfect advert for the return of the Premier League.

Man of the Match: Fellaini

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    As mentioned, Manchester United failed to contain Everton's Belgian import the last time these two met.

    Better suppressing his impact this time around will be a central theme in Sir Alex Feguson's tactical thinking, but it won't be an easy task.

    Fellaini scored, laid off an assist, created five chances and was a constant nuisance for the duration of that game, as United struggled to get anyone near him.

    How well he is marshalled will have a direct bearing on how Manchester United fare next week. His aerial ability will allow Everton the ball in several advanced positions, and any extra attention he gets means the likes of Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar will receive a fraction more room to work in.

Final Score: High-Scoring Draw

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    With two attractive styles of football on display, a wounded Manchester United and an Everton side that finished last season so well, this game should be riveting viewing.

    With Shinji Kagawa and Steven Naismith adding to the quality Wayne Rooney and Nikica Jelavic will receive, there should be plenty of goalmouth action and each side will back themselves to win.

    A repeat of the 4-4 scoreline would be remarkable and extremely unlikely, but don't be surprised if the game ends with a 2-2 or even 3-3 final score, perhaps after a dramatic late equaliser.

    Before kickoff, Everton would be the happier side at taking a point, but this scenario would not be a disaster for Manchester United.

    Given how their main title rivals, Manchester City, have lost on their last three visits to Goodison Park, taking a point here could prove very useful come the end of the season.


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