Substance: Tricky Everton offer a solid test to a Fergie resurgence

Phil Neville: Everton's captain and an important influence in the dressing room if not so much on the pitch these days

Everton and Manchester United have enjoyed a fairly amicable, working relationship in recent years. Be it the cordial concurrence of the two team’s popular and long-serving Glaswegian managers, their recent trades in key player personnel and even their respective old boy figureheads in Phil Neville and Wayne Rooney, there exists a common ground between the two clubs beyond their mutual antipathy to the red faction of Liverpool. 

For all the back page hyperbole and column inch rancor, last weekend’s ‘demolition derby’ was but one game, and should be contextualised as such within the 38 matches of a Premiership campaign. Whilst that most recent, and raw, of battles may have been lost, it will only truly have been at great cost if United stumble and fail to regroup and respond. After all, one defeat to the lottery louts does not a season break.

There is a sense that such a punishing result had been foreshadowed by a carelessness that had begun to creep into United’s back-line. Alongside conceding the most shots any team in the league, their ‘suicidal attacking’ as Sir Alex put it, offered Norwich unlikely in-roads on their visit to Old Trafford and served up a plethora of chances for a surprisingly toothless Chelsea.

United fans may be fearful of tilting in these next batch of games in a similar manner to how their team blindly flooded forward following Fletcher’s goal in the derby, but now is not the time for their team or its players to regress within themselves. Cautious conservatism can quickly breed self-doubt and a cowering fragility to a squad’s morale. Sir Alex will instead have his team refocussed on becoming masters of their own destiny once more.

Berbatov showed his class in the week against Aldershot. Could he be lining up to start against Everton?

After the cruising victory against Aldershot in the week, Everton now stand as the next obstacle on the road to recovery. David Moyes and his team have been unlucky and in the league and the cup so far this season, but they’ve long been frustratingly slow starters capable of lifting themselves for big occasions. Today’s match is not only a chance for United to heal week old wounds but an opportunity for Everton to ignite their own campaign at home against the reigning champs. Considering that they haven’t won here in four years, United’s expedition to Goodison Park should provide a solid test for the potential resurgences of either side.

Everton are a team peppered with real quality in places. With Cahill, Baines and Coleman they have players who can deliver the set-piece sucker-punches to paper over issues in their side’s striking department, whilst the likes of Jagielka and Fellani, as highly capable containers and destroyers, bring craft and fight to the guts of the team. The absence of Real Madrid loanee Roysten Drenthe through suspension will be felt by the Toffees with the Dutchman beginning to find his feet in the English game. He has the potential to be a real match-winner for Everton this season.

United will be able to enjoy a return to Premier League action of Tom Cleverley whilst Hernandez or Berbatov may be handed a start to reinvigorate the attack. Rooney needs games to rediscover his early season form, and his undying determination to fight on last weekend when other heads had dropped is a sure-fire indicator that his appetite to work for the team and his own sharpness has not be compromised.

Jonny Evans is quickly becoming something of a pariah, but he has all the attributes to become a defensive stalwart for the reds.

The more intriguing questions linger over which central defensive pairing will be deployed and whether we’ll see the likes of Ravel Morrison given a spot on the bench. Rio, Vidic and Evans have all suffered on the pitch in recent weeks in terms of suspensions and form but Fergie must begin to find a consistant formula for his defenders soon to augment the excellent start De Gea has made in the United goal. His early promise is even more impressive considering the erratic selections frequently thrown out in-front of him. Now is the time to build upon the Spaniard’s burgeoning confidence and stability by settling down on a preferred back two.

It may still be too soon for Ravel and co to begin to feature on the United bench, especially considering the strength in depth enjoyed at the club at present, but youth will undoubtably influence today’s proceedings. Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley are rumoured to be two lingering targets on the recruitment radar at Old Trafford, and as two of David Moyes’ midfield gems, United fans will looking over the Toffees’ starting line-up for reasons other than weighing up the opposition.

Red fans should perhaps instead take note of the Blues’ young Greek striking option Apostolos Vellios, who was something of a super-sub against Chelsea scoring within his first eight seconds on the pitch.

Vellios could be a late-game thorn in the side for De Gea and his defence.

There is something about Everton that creates sympathy for the neutral and non-rival alike, especially for a United fan. It could be those parallels listed above, or their laudable youth system and desire for well-rounded footballers. There will be no compassionate leave of competition later today however, with both clubs looking for a win, but it should be a friendly contest with a pulsating display to match.

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