Storyline aside, Moyes and United need victory

Posted by Musa Okwonga

There's never an easy time to play a Premier League game against Everton. This match, David Moyes' first to face his former club since his summer departure for Manchester United, is a fixture that he may not have been looking forward to. By this stage of the season, 13 games in, he may not have expected to be two points behind his old club, who stand in fifth place. Though his team are now proving encouragingly difficult to beat -- they have now gone 12 straight games unbeaten -- they mostly lack the extra impetus to dismiss teams in the tightest of contests.

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Moyes, in his defence, can put forward the spectacular Champions League annihilation of Bayer Leverkusen, claiming a 5-0 victory on the same soil where the hosts had held Bayern Munich to a draw only a few weeks previously. To achieve that victory, however, they relied greatly on the industry of Phil Jones in midfield, which allowed Ryan Giggs to make frequent and effective raids of the final third. Jones will be suspended for the game against Everton, leaving Giggs -- who may have been slated to play after being rested against Tottenham Hotspur -- accompanied in midfield by Marouane Fellaini, another Everton old boy. In Jones's absence, the energetic pressing of Tom Cleverley will be a more pragmatic option than Giggs.

Fellaini's form since his arrival at Old Trafford has been underwhelming, due primarily to his lack of mobility and conservative passing. The inquisition of his play is particularly pressing, given Manchester United's recent failure to protect or increase one-goal leads against Cardiff and Southampton. In both matches, they were unable to control the tempo of passing in central midfield, or to impose themselves physically. They have been unable to do the latter for several years now, a continual source of bemusement, if not anguish, among the club's supporters, as Fellaini's arrival was supposed to resolve this issue. So far, despite the deployment of almost 30 million pounds, he has been unable to do so. Perhaps tomorrow night will serve as a spur to help him emerge from this torpor.

Elsewhere, Nani will wish to banish the memory of a recent, abject performance against Everton, a 1-0 defeat in the opening day of the previous season. His omission at Spurs possibly represented excessive caution from Moyes, in that Danny Welbeck's relative lack of attacking threat allowed Spurs to press his team back on its heels. For that reason, and for his good form in recent games, Nani should be a good shout to start tomorrow.

Chris Smalling is Moyes's favoured selection at right-back, but given the lack of dynamism in midfield, Rafael should return soon. If he does not do so, the home side may anticipate a game spent pegged back on its flanks, unless Antonio Valencia provides an exceptional effort.

Another key question is whether Robin van Persie will play. The Dutchman may make an appearance, and if so, he will make up in firepower what his team lack in fluidity. Everton, meanwhile, are playing a cohesive football that may cause Moyes to cast a briefly envious glance. Their casual dispatch of Stoke, by four goals to nil, stands in harsh contrast to the difficulty that Manchester United had in dispatching the Potters at home.

With all these factors considered, it is difficult to see the home side prevailing by more than a single goal, which in the circumstances would be a fine result. It is vital for the team's maintenance of its championship hopes that they not fall too much further behind the leaders by the turn of the year.

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