Everton lost valuable ground in the race for a Champions League spot in midweek, as Crystal Palace recorded a shock 3-2 win over the Toffees at Goodison Park.
Roberto Martinez’s side were two points behind fourth-place Arsenal with a game in hand heading into the match, but couldn’t find a way past the Eagles.
Martinez replaced David Moyes as manager of Everton as the start of the season, and his predecessor will be returning to Goodison for the first time as Manchester United boss on Sunday.
Venue: Goodison Park
Date: Sunday, April 20
Time: 4:10 p.m. BST/11:10 a.m. ET
TV Info: Sky Sports 1/beIN Sports 9
The Return of Moyes
The Manchester United manager spent 11 fruitful years as Everton boss after his appointment in March 2002, orchestrating five top-six finishes during that time.
Such has been the success of Martinez in the Everton hot seat, though, that Moyes’ exploits seem to have all but been forgotten by the Goodison faithful.
A banner does the rounds at the ground saying, “The School of Science re-opened 6th June 2013,” which includes a photo of Martinez.
Photo of a banner someone is taking tomorrow. "The School of Science re-opened 6th June 2013" pic.twitter.com/7puFSikZki— Kings of Goodison (@KingsofGoodison) December 3, 2013
While the banner heaps praise on the club’s new Spanish manager, it’s also a clear dig at Moyes, who has started to get Manchester United playing the kind of football that their fans are accustomed to in recent weeks.
United have won three of their last four Premier League matches, and ran European Champions Bayern Munich close in the quarter-finals of the Champions League earlier this month.
The Scotsman will look to keep up his side’s good recent record against the club where he made his managerial name, with a mixed reception expected.
However, Martinez thinks that Moyes will be met with nothing but respect from the Everton fans, as BBC Sport revealed:
We are a club full of integrity and style, we are a proper football club, so we will show the respect to David Moyes and what he's done at our football club. We all know he's the Manchester United manager now and I'm sure that reception will be very much different, but every Evertonian has got great memories of the job that he did.
However, Everton’s current points haul of 66 is higher than any points total achieved by Moyes during his time in Merseyside, as Sky Sports Football revealed:
Moyes’ highest points tally with Everton was 65, a total that his United side currently sit eight points behind heading into Week 34.
I knew these six months were going to be difficult. Even before I came, things were difficult here, so I knew I wasn’t coming to a side that was going to win, win and win. But I knew as well that this club was going to come back and that the future was going to be bright.
Victory over Everton will undoubtedly brighten up the future of Manchester United, who sit three points adrift of Tottenham Hotspur in seventh place in the table.
With generous fixtures in Manchester United’s run-in, you’d back the Red Devils to have a late surge in their disappointing campaign, but with Everton vying for that all-important fourth spot, they’ll have a real task on their hands to start a strong run at Goodison Park.
Key Stats and Prediction (statistics via WhoScored.com)
In their last five matches away from Old Trafford, Manchester United haven’t conceded a single goal; this includes trips to both Arsenal and Newcastle United.
Of those five matches, United chalked up four victories, with the clash at the Emirates the sole 0-0 draw of the run.
However, Everton could spoil that streak of solid defensive displays, as the Toffees have scored at least two goals in seven of their last eight home Premier League matches.
Everton have lost just one of their last six matches at home to Manchester United in all competitions, during the period when Moyes was in charge of the club.
The atmosphere at Goodison Park will once again be rocking for the visit of the champions, and a tight affair is expected.
United have the class in their ranks to trouble any side, but the Toffees’ playing style means that it’ll be no easy feat to cause Martinez’s in-form side problems.
Prediction: Everton 2-2 Manchester United