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Everton-Manchester United Preview
Manchester United are clearly a wounded side, yet no one truly knows if they are still a dangerous team.
Coming off a disappointing midweek Champions League defeat, United attempt to shake off their malaise at Old Trafford on Sunday against a rejuvenated Everton side who appear to have finally found their stride.
Jose Mourinho's team were languid in the opening 45 minutes for a third successive match, but unlike their thrilling escape acts that resulted in a victory over Newcastle United and a draw at Chelsea around the international break, storied Italian side Juventus would show little mercy as they comprehensively outplayed Manchester United in a 1-0 victory Tuesday night that gave the Old Lady a vise-like grip on first in the group.
While all the attention was drawn around Cristiano Ronaldo in just his second match at Old Trafford since leaving for Real Madrid in 2008, Paulo Dybala plunged the dagger into United in the 17th minute, knocking Ronaldo's cross into the net after being left unmarked first by Nemanja Matic during his run and then by Victor Lindelof in the penalty area.
United goalkeeper David De Gea then made a string of quality saves throughout the rest of the first half simply to keep his side from being run off their own pitch. United (4-2-3) again raised their play in the second half, but aside from a shot by Paul Pogba that thumped the left post and then Juve keeper Wojceich Szczesny's head before skipping away from danger, the hosts offered little and the bench offered nothing as Mourinho did not make a substitution.
That was partly due to a spate of injuries that left Marouane Fellaini, Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard all unavailable. The only true attacking option at Mourinho's disposal was 18-year-old Tahith Chong, who was on the senior squad for the first time in any competition, and "The Special One" thought the better of bringing the starlet on in such a pressure-cooked situation.
"Given the dynamic of the game, I didn't feel it was appropriate to bring him on," Mourinho explained to United's official website. "You can't expect a kid making his debut in a game like this to give you something like scoring a goal. So that's why I didn't make any changes on the pitch.
"I really missed Fellaini because when we are dominant, we are playing in the opponents' half and the opponent closes the way they did, and they brought (Andrea) Barzagli as a third centre-back, Fellaini is a player that gives us different things. We missed him, but the boys gave everything and when the boys give everything and go until the last second I am always happy with them."
While Mourinho has yet to say whether any of the injured trio will be available for this contest to support Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, the lack of form from centre-forward Romelu Lukaku is concerning. The Belgium international has gone eight matches without a goal in all competitions since netting against Watford, and it appears the cumulative fatigue of reaching the World Cup semifinals plus joining United without a rest - Lukaku has appeared in every match, including their Carabao Cup defeat on penalties - is taking its toll on the 25-year-old as United enter this match in 10th place and nine points adrift of eternal rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.
The criticism of Lukaku's barren spell has become intense enough that Mourinho defended his striker in the post-match news conference, saying, "The player is a fantastic professional that wants to give everything, but I have to agree his moment is not sweet."
Lukaku, who played at Everton from 2013-14 to 2016-17 before joining Manchester United last season, scored 87 goals in 166 matches across all competitions for the Toffees.
Everton (4-3-2) may have only just recently figured out how to replace Lukaku, with Marco Silva drafting Richarlison to lead the line after starting the season with the Brasil international on the left wing. The tweak in his 4-2-3-1 set-up has allowed Silva to field his four best attacking players in Bernard, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Theo Walcott behind Richarlison, while Andre Gomes has been slotted into a holding midfielder's role.
Sigurdsson has been the biggest beneficiary with three goals in his last three games, while each of the four most forward players has scored at least once in that span.
That formation has helped Everton win their last two games, and they have won three on the trot overall in league play. Silva's personnel management proved vital in last weekend's 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace as substitutes Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun scored in the 87th and 89th minutes, respectively.
"It is getting better now, it was difficult to get in goalscoring positions in the first few games and I was the guy who made more assists for the players, left and right," Tosun told evertontv after scoring for the second time in three games.
"But in the past few games I had a lot of shots and got in a lot of scoring positions and those things made me happy.
Everton, though, would not have been in a position to win had keeper Jordan Pickford not stopped Luka Milivojevic's penalty on the hour after Seamus Coleman brought down Wilfried Zaha. The England No. 1 got his trailing leg to deflect Milivojevic's effort down the middle to preserve the scoreless deadlock.
"Jordan's quality and profile are solid, he could keep calm in that moment (the penalty) to make the right decision and it was an important moment in the match," Silva said.
While Colombia international Yerry Mina made the 18-man roster for the first time this season after being slowed by a foot injury following the World Cup, it appears unlikely he will feature in this match given the solid partnership in central defence between Micheal Keane and Kurt Zouma.
United did the double against Everton last term, smashing six by Pickford without reply. Lukaku had a goal and an assist in a 4-0 romp against his former team at Old Trafford, and United are unbeaten in their last seven (5-2-0) in all competitions versus the Toffees.
The Merseysiders' lone win in their last 26 visits (1-6-19) to the "Theatre of Dreams" was a 1-0 victory in 2013 on an 86th-minute goal by Bryan Oviedo, and they have been outscored 53-16 in those matches.
Updated October 26, 2018