Preview: Everton vs. Manchester United

Merseyside meets Manchester on Saturday lunchtime as Everton welcome Manchester United to Goodison Park with both sides seeking a return to winning ways after back-to-back defeats.

The Toffees have seen their bright start to the campaign tail off in recent weeks, while Man United are languishing in 15th place following their joint-worst start to a campaign since 1986-87.

There were two elements of Manchester United's 2020-21 season so far which offered hope to counteract the gloomy reality of their league position and form at Old Trafford - their Champions League results and their remarkable record on the road.

However, both of those were shattered on Wednesday night as they found themselves on the wrong end of Istanbul Basaksehir's first ever Champions League win.

Indeed, the Turkish outfit's first ever Champions League goal served as an example of one of the big question marks hanging over United at the moment, as former Chelsea striker Demba Ba was unfathomably left with a whole half to himself to break the deadlock after only 13 minutes.

The defensive disorganisation which led to the type of goal which would infuriate even a Sunday league manager did nothing to quieten the increasing criticism of a supposed lack of leadership at Old Trafford - criticism which grew in volume following last weekend's meek 1-0 defeat to Arsenal.

That result not only left Man United with only one point from a possible 12 at home this term, it also left them with only seven points overall - their joint-lowest tally after six games of a Premier League season, level with David Moyes's solitary campaign at the helm.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's position has inevitably come under scrutiny as a result, and the onus is undoubtedly on the manager to get to the bottom of how Man United can look so impressive in wins over Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, but then so poor in defeats to the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Istanbul Basaksehir.

If the Red Devils' away form dries up then it may only be a matter of time before Solskjaer is sent packing; the midweek defeat ended the longest away winning run in their history - 10 matches - and was their first defeat on the road in 19 games stretching all the way back to January.

The disparity between home and away form is one of the curious inconsistencies which continues to frustrate Man United fans - they have the worst defensive record at home this season and only Burnley have picked up fewer points on their own turf, yet away from home they have won two from two this term and six in a row stretching back to 2019-20.

Indeed, another victory at Goodison would equal the club record of seven successive Premier League away wins, set in 1992-93, yet even that may not paper over the cracks following the back-to-back defeats.

United have failed to even score in their last two top-flight outings, and with a defensive record which is also among the worst in the division that is a recipe for more defeats in the weeks to come.

Everton will certainly present stiff opposition, although the Toffees are in danger of seeing their fine early-season work come undone unless they return to winning ways soon.

After beginning the campaign with eight successive wins across all competitions, Everton are now winless in their last three, taking a controversial point from the Merseyside derby against Liverpool before back-to-back defeats away to Southampton and Newcastle United respectively.

Another loss this weekend would see them beaten three times on the bounce in the Premier League for the first time this calendar year, and it is not a fate which has befallen manager Carlo Ancelotti since November 2006.

Everton's defensive record will also be a growing concern after eight games without a clean sheet, and at Goodison Park in the league alone they have not kept the opposition at bay since their goalless draw with Liverpool in June - one of only two home league clean sheets in 2020.

Not since November 2015 have Everton gone eight home league games without keeping a clean sheet, but they have already conceded twice apiece to West Bromwich Albion, Brighton & Hove Albion and Liverpool at Goodison this season so even a misfiring Man United attack will fancy their chances.

There is still plenty of cause for optimism amongst Everton fans, though, and despite that home defensive record, they are one of only two teams - alongside local rivals Liverpool - yet to be beaten on their own patch this term.

Everton have also sat no higher than their current position of fourth at this stage of a season since 2004-05 - when they went on to finish in the top four - so hopes will still be high of pushing for European qualification again this time around.

Indeed, Everton's hopes may be regarded as more realistic than those of Manchester United right now as the Toffees look to build a nine-point lead over Saturday's visitors.

That said, historically Manchester United could hardly wish for a better fixture to get them back to winning ways having beaten Everton 36 times in the Premier League before - more victories than any club has enjoyed against another in the competition's history.

Sixteen of those wins have come at Goodison Park - another Premier League record, albeit shared - although Everton have avoided defeat in their last three meetings and could extend that run to four for the first time since March 1990.

Everton Premier League form: WWWDLL
Everton form (all competitions): WWWDLL

Manchester United Premier League form: LWLWDL
Manchester United form (all competitions): WWDWLL

Everton are hoping to have James Rodriguez back available after he missed the defeat at Newcastle with a slight injury.

Lucas Digne is also available once again after his three-match ban was reduced to one, but Richarlison is still suspended following his red card in the Merseyside derby last month.

Jordan Pickford was notably dropped to the bench last time out, although Ancelotti was quick to confirm after the match that he would return in place of Robin Olsen for this game.

Andre Gomes limped off on the hour mark against Newcastle and will be assessed ahead of this match, while Seamus Coleman and his replacement at right-back Ben Godfrey are both doubts too.

Mason Holgate and Jean-Philippe Gbamin both remain sidelined, although they could be back available to Ancelotti before the end of the month.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin will lead the line once again as he looks to add to his tally of eight goals in seven Premier League games so far this term.

Manchester United have midweek goalscorer Anthony Martial back available after a three-game domestic ban, and he could start again ahead of Edinson Cavani up front.

Mason Greenwood is expected to return to a front four which was otherwise at full strength in Istanbul, but Paul Pogba may have to settle for a place on the bench again, where he could be joined by Donny van de Beek.

Victor Lindelof was left among the subs on Wednesday night due to a slight back problem, but he is expected to be fit for this match, while David de Gea should return in goal.

Alex Telles will need to return a negative coronavirus test before he is allowed to come back into the fray, while Eric Bailly remains sidelined and Jesse Lingard is a doubt after narrowly missing out in midweek.

Marcus Rashford has been directly involved in six goals in his last four Premier League away games, scoring three and assisting three, but even he has to play second fiddle to Bruno Fernandes.

The Portuguese playmaker has been involved in 12 goals in his nine Premier League away games so far, only failing to register a goal involvement in one of those matches. Even if he fails to get a goal or assist in this game, it will be the highest number of goal involvements in a player's first 10 Premier League away games in the competition's history.

Everton possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Coleman, Mina, Keane, Digne; Doucoure, Allan, Sigurdsson; Rodriguez, Calvert-Lewin, Iwobi

Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial

Source: Sports Mole

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