Manchester United welcome Frank Lampard’s Everton to the Theatre of Dreams on Friday evening in the third round of the Emirates FA Cup this season. United have done well recently, winning all four matches played since the FIFA World Cup concluded – winning six matches in a row since the defeat to Aston Villa in the Premier League prior to the World Cup. Erik ten Hag will be pleased to have seen how well his team has done since then.
Everton have not been in good form this season and in the Premier League, sit in 18th place with 15 points after playing 18 matches this season and are one of the likely candidates for relegation this season – but there are eight candidates at this time which will change in the next few months. Lampard could be on a knife edge at this stage of the season with nothing looking set to improve. Everton has been terrible of late and that looks to continue.
United took charge of their top four hopes on New Year’s Eve with a 1-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, which was strengthened by Tottenham Hotspur’s defeat to Aston Villa on New Year’s Day. Liverpool then fell to a 3-1 defeat to Brentford on Monday with United beating Bournemouth 3-0 on Tuesday which has seen them put some air between them and Liverpool. Spurs have a challenge ahead of them to break back into the top four.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Shaw;
Rashford, Fernandes, Garnacho;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea has made 510 appearances for United and now sits in the top ten for appearances made and has 177 clean sheets, which is just three behind the number of clean sheets Peter Schmeichel kept for the club. Granted, success had now been there for De Gea but United have been in a transition period for almost a decade and only now does it look like something it happening at the Old Trafford club. Get rid of the Glazers and things will improve more.
De Gea has shown in his last two matches that he still has what it takes to lead United into the big matches. His future is seemingly up in the air with his contract ending in the summer, although a one-year option was written into that contact although his weekly wage is considered high for a goalkeeper and will need to be looked at. Perhaps De Gea could remain at the club post-2023 in a number one capacity which might buy United time in replacing him.
With Martin Dubravka’s recall back to Newcastle United, Tom Heaton will be De Gea’s rival at the club with Nathan Bishop also vying for a chance. However, I would imagine that it will be De Gea playing the majority of matches unless something happens this month with regards to another goalkeeper. Jack Butland has been linked to United but there are hundreds of names linked to United during every transfer window so it means nothing yet.
Defenders: Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Shaw
United have kept four clean sheets in their last four matches, only conceding three goals in their last six matches. It is clear to see that the defence at the club is working well and the first-choice pairing has not been playing in the majority of those matches. I would expect to see Diogo Dalot return at right-back after Aaron Wan-Bissaka played a big part in the matches post-World Cup and put in a good number of performances looking like he had a future at the club.
Raphael Varane was rested for the victory over Bournemouth on Tuesday evening, which keeps him fresh for the visit of Everton on Friday. This should put United in good stead to win the match as Varane knows what he is doing defensively. Lisandro Martinez finally made his return against Bournemouth, coming off the bench late in the match. He should start against Everton, partnering Varane so United can get back to their best and achieve something this season.
Luke Shaw returned to his favoured left-back role against Bournemouth on Tuesday after playing as a left-sided centre-back in the previous two matches. This was perhaps to get him ready for the Barcelona match (at least the first leg with Martinez suspended). Shaw did well in that position and because of that could be an option in the first leg against Barcelona. For now though, he will be playing as a left-back, his favoured role, which brings the best out of him.
Midfield: Casemiro, Eriksen
Casemiro and Christian Eriksen are best two midfielders at United at this moment in time and providing both of them are fit and ready to play – they should be doing just that. Eriksen got a bit of a rest against Bournemouth which will keep him in favour to start alongside Casemiro on Friday evening against Everton. Both midfielders combined for the first goal against Bournemouth with Casemiro scoring it and Eriksen providing the assist.
United have so many better chances with this midfield duo than they have had in the not too distant past. Paul Pogba could only dream of being as good as this duo. Compared to what he gave United, these two provide so much more and there is no drama from either of them. In fact, since Pogba and Crtistiano Ronaldo left the club, there does not seem to be any drama at all. That is a good thing for United and long may it continue.
United have many options other than Casemiro and Eriksen but Donny van de Beek will not be one of them for the foreseeable future following his injury from the Bournemouth match. Obviously, it is still being assessed but it looks certain that he will be out for more than a few matches. He’s probably an option for a more advanced position rather than in the midfield two. But United still have Fred, Scott McTominay, Zidane Iqbal and Kobbie Mainoo.
Attacking Midfield: Rashford, Fernandes, Garnacho
Marcus Rashford scored his 12 goal of the season against Bournemouth and he has four assists to go with those. He could feature on the right-wing against Everton if Antony is not fit enough to start having missed the Bournemouth match. He did train on Wednesday but that does not mean that he will start. Rashford is a class act at the moment and seems to be in the right kind of form to prevail at United. He is crucial to United winning matches.
Bruno Fernandes has raised his form since the departure of Ronaldo prior to the World Cup. He can now try and find the form that he was in when he came to United three years ago this month. Fernandes has three goals and four assists so far this season, which is low compared to what he can achieve at the club but by the end of the season, United will be fulling invested in Ten Hag’s methods and it will be so much better for each player at the club.
Alejandro Garnacho has not played many matches this season but in terms of offering something, for his age, he has done so well. He has two goals and three assists so far this season and for me should be give the opportunity to play on the left-wing against Everton. He could even get minutes against Charlton Athletic in the Carabao Cup next week, which would be good for him too. United have a talented teenager in Garnacho and he needs to be nurtured.
Anthony Martial is starting to show the signs that he’s not got the mind to be the striker for United. He has become lazy again and just does not seem to be at the front getting and creating the chances for United to prevail. It could well be a lack of form but we have all been in this position before. United have no other experienced striker to test other than Martial and unless something happens in the transfer window, United will continue with him this season.
I would like this to be a blip for the Frenchman but the fact that this keeps happening does suggest that the player has reached his ceiling and cannot punch through it. He has been prolific in the past but the writing is on the wall and it seems he’s not got the capacity to be that predator like striker for United. This season he does have five goals and two assists with around 600 minutes played this season because of the injuries he suffered.
United could play Rashford as the number nine, but he is not really suited to the position and if better coming off the flank with the left side more beneficial for him although he has been prevalent on the right. Charlie McNeill could be given a chance and even Alejandro Garnacho could be tested, but the former is inexperienced with the latter more of a winger than a striker although he does have an eye for a goal. Ten Hag will solve the problem though.
Substitutes: Heaton; Lindelof, Maguire, Malacia, Wan-Bissaka; Fred, McTominay; Antony, Elanga
United cane name nine substitutes on the bench in the FA Cup, using five of them during the course of the match on three occasions, plus the half time break. United have a number of options with many of them being defensive at this time because of other factors. I would expect to see Tom Heaton on the bench in regards to the goalkeeper with De Gea in great form at this time. United will obviously be seeking another goalkeeper at some stage.
In defence, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Tyrell Malacia and Aaron Wan-Bissaka could all be available for this match. This will give United some defensive stability this season with all defenders doing well at different times and the rotation available will keep all players fresh for the remainder of the season. Ten Hag will get the benefit of that this season especially with the two extra matches to be played against Barcelona in the UEFA Europa League.
In the midfield, Fred and Scott McTominay could be available for United with few options in these areas at this time. The attack could see just Antony and Anthony Elanga on the bench with United light on attacking players at this time. As soon as Jadon Sancho is back for the club, United will have more options. United should be pouncing on a forward this month if they have the option to do so, if not, promoting from within will have to do.
Written by John Walker