David Moyes returns to his former club for the first time. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson preview Sunday's final Premier League match...
"Everton suffered a midweek defeat, while United have had 11 days’ rest and lots of time to prepare tactically"
Everton v Manchester United
Live on Sky Sports 1
If David Moyes' reputation hadn't taken enough battering considering his woeful campaign with Manchester United, Everton's fine form under Roberto Martinez has increased the doubts about Moyes' managerial ability. Everton recorded a win at Old Trafford earlier in the campaign, something the Toffees never managed under Moyes - and a double over the reigning champions would be a further source of embarrassment for the United manager.
Luckily, Moyes can count upon United's away form, which is the best in the Premier League. They might prefer to play away from Old Trafford, where there's tremendous pressure upon the side, and tactically they're also better suited to playing more reactive football.
Everton must recover from their surprise setback in midweek, however. The 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace brought a sudden end to a run of seven straight victories, and Martinez will be particularly disappointed at how the side performed in a slightly different system. Martinez dropped James McCarthy, playing Gareth Barry as the lone deep midfielder with Ross Barkley alongside - but this made Everton much more open, and he'll return to his first-choice system for this game.
Steven Naismith might also get a recall, and therefore mean Everton revert to the system they used in the 3-0 victory over Arsenal. Moyes will be aware of the surprise shape Martinez used that day, with Naismith upfront as a false nine and Romelu Lukaku out on the right flank, and it's not unthinkable that Everton could play the same way again.
With Moyes' return sure to get the focus, this would be the first time in a decade at Manchester United where Wayne Rooney isn't the main story ahead of this fixture - but he might miss out through injury anyway. This shouldn't change Moyes' plans too much, as Danny Welbeck would spearhead the side, although the England striker continues to disappoint with his goalscoring return, the only problem in his otherwise impressive all-round game.
United have been extremely impressive on their travels recently, winning their last four away games 'to nil'. The balance in the attacking midfield zone seems perfect - Juan Mata plays in his favoured number 10 position, and has a great relationship with Shinji Kagawa who drifts inside from the left. Ashley Young seems revitalised in a right-wing role, where he stays near the touchline and provides width rather than coming inside - although Antonio Valencia could start in order contain Leighton Baines, but play roughly the same role as Young.
United could play primarily on the counter-attack here, particularly if Welbeck starts upfront and roams the channels tirelessly. The problem is that Everton actively guard against counter-attacks by keeping Barry and McCarthy in defensive-minded positions - the defeat to Palace effectively confirmed that duo's importance.
They give license to Everton's full-backs to push forward, and if Kagawa starts on the left, he'll be asked to do a solid defensive job on Seamus Coleman, who has registered six open play goals from right-back this season. Moyes knows all about the threat of Everton's full-backs, and nullifying those players will be one of his main tactics.
Coping with Everton's attacking players will be more difficult. Barkley will prove a handful for Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, while Lukaku's combination of power and pace might give Nemanja Vidic the toughest test of his final month as a Manchester United player.
Moyes will be concerned about his right-back zone too, where Rafael da Silva is out. Chris Smalling isn't comfortable against players who dribble at him directly, and in Kevin Mirallas' last six games he's registered two goals, four assists, and forced Mikel Arteta into an own goal too.
It's also worth considering both sides' preparations - Everton suffered a midweek defeat, while United have had 11 days' rest and lots of time to prepare tactically. This gives Moyes' side a big advantage, and therefore I think they've overpriced at [3.1].
Back Manchester United to Win @ [3.1]
The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson
After winning seven games in a row, Everton slipped up against Crystal Palace midweek and have handed the initiative back to the Gunners in the race for fourth place. United on the other hand have had a break, having not had a league game since their impressive 4-0 win at Newcastle.
United haven’t conceded a goal in their last five away games and now boast the best away record in the league, winning 10 times on the road from their 17 games. While unbeaten in their last five on the road, they are yet to win against a side higher than them in the league. They have actually only won one of their 11 fixtures home or away against the current top six.
Just the two “surprising” defeats at home(Palace and Sunderland) all season, but if Everton have any chance of finishing fourth then this is a must win game, they still have to face Man City at Goodison and travel to Southampton and Hull in their remaining fixtures. Everton’s last four home games have all produced Over 2.5 Goals and only one (Sunderland 0-1) of their last seven Premier League starts has produced a result Under 2.5 Goals.
There are injury doubts over Everton old boys Rooney and Fellaini, but regardless of United’s starting line up, I will be opposing them by laying Man Utd at 3.0 in the Match Odds market. I will also be placing a “keep” bet on Over 2.5 Goals to be matched in running at 2.3.