Manchester United travel to Merseyside on Sunday to face an Everton side who haven’t suffered a defeat at Goodison Park so far this season; although they have only won one of their last eight games in the Premier League. The Toffees are strong at home and with their pressing style under Ronald Koeman, United will need a strong core to the team to come away with maximum points. This game could be won or lost in the centre of the park.
Ibrahimovic vs Williams
Ashley Williams has had a mixed start to his Everton career, struggling at times in a three at the back formation before seeming to begin to rediscover form as his side reverted to type with four at the back. Zlatan Ibrahimovic could also be said to have endured a mixed start to his Manchester United career, with some criticising his goal scoring. However, the big Swede comes into this game in good goalscoring form, with five in his last three games for all United. Although it is not necessarily Zlatan’s goalscoring prowess which will prove pivotal in this game. With Everton’s high press, United will likely look to bypass the midfield at times in the same way they did at Anfield, which is where Zlatan would prove pivotal. It will be crucial to United that Ibra wins his battles with Williams, enabling United’s pacey outlets to get into the game on the counter-attack. Williams has won a respectable enough 62% of aerial duels, however, with Zlatan wielding a five-inch height advantage over the Everton centre-half, it should be expected that he has the beating of his counterpart in this respect. Should United’s number nine assert himself on Williams, United will pose a threat to their hosts even when not necessarily on top of proceedings?
Pogba vs Gueye
The key battles would not be possible without Paul Pogba, the most expensive player in the world is simply United’s most gifted player and when he performs, United purr. Pogba’s dominance on games has largely gone under the radar, as people seem to relate effectiveness as screamers scored, given the Frenchman’s price tag. However, with 23 chances created in only 12 games, Pogba will most definitely be the subject of much of Everton’s team talk. Given that Gueye represents the more energetic figure in Everton’s midfield, it is likely that he will be the one tasked with containing the United number six. Should Gueye be able to put the shackles on Pogba, United may well struggle to dominate the game and also leave Zlatan Ibrahimovic isolated as United look to hit Everton on the break during their more dominant periods. However, if the former Juventus man can win this particular battle then don’t expect Everton to have too many of these dominant periods.
Rojo vs Lukaku
Marcus Rojo has impressed since switching back into his natural centre-half position, however, Sunday’s match up with Romelu Lukaku will prove his toughest challenge. Lukaku currently stands as the joint top goalscorer in the Premier League going into this weekend’s round of fixtures with seven goals in 12 games, meaning that Rojo finds himself tasked with containing the in-form striker in the division. Lukaku has only won 35% of aerial duels this season so will look to get in behind United’s back four, utilising his pace and power. Luckily for United, one area of Rojo’s game which few seem to be able to match is his ability to burst back and make a last-ditch challenge, Lukaku’s pace should not get the better of Rojo on Sunday. What the Argentine international will have to be wary of, however, is Lukaku running at him with his back to goal. The Belgium forward has had the better of his opponent in 65% of one on one situations this season, so will almost certainly look to challenge Rojo with this particular aspect of his game. United’s number five is exceptional running back towards goal, although he can be guilty of occasionally looking suspect with his back to De Gea’s goal; Rojo will need to ensure Sunday is not one of those occasions.
Should United’s spinal players get the better of these individual battles, there is little reason why Mourinho’s men can’t make the short trip back to Manchester on Sunday evening with three well-needed points in the bag.