Manchester United 1.33, the draw 5.00, Everton 10.00
Following defeat to Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend, David Moyes faces a tough task in lifting his players for the remaining five games of the season. The incentive to finish above Liverpool still remains however, and so long as it does the Toffees will continue to be a dangerous proposition for any opponent. Including Manchester United this weekend.
We know that Everton are a side capable of matching any team in the division on their day. We’ve seen them do so many times before. But their record against United, particularly at Old Trafford, is dire. Not since 1992 have they won at the Theatre of Dreams; a run that includes 15 defeats and just three draws over a period of 19 years. Despite Everton’s potential to cause an upset it’s difficult to oppose Sir Alex Ferguson’s men at odds of 1.33.
Ferguson and his United players will be fully aware of the importance of going into next week’s Manchester derby with their five-point buffer intact. Even a draw this Sunday – which could see the gap cut to three points – would hand City a huge lifeline. So it is all hands to the pump for United.
Despite United’s dominance in meetings at Old Trafford they’ve only won one of the last four by a margin bigger than one goal. The visitors can be backed at 1.76 with a two-goal head start in the handicap market.
United’s only fresh injury concern coming into this game is the fitness of Ashley Young who picked up a knock in the win against Villa. And, regardless of his current condition, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ferguson take the winger out of the firing line and use the injury as an excuse to do so. Nani would be the obvious replacement.
In the opposite dugout Moyes is without the services of Leighton Baines who is suffering with a hamstring injury. Steven Pienaar will, however, be available having been ineligible to play in the semi-final last weekend.
Wayne Rooney’s recent record at Old Trafford is nothing short of sensational. The England forward has scored seven goals in his side’s last five home matches, scoring the first goal of the game in each of those fixtures. He doesn’t, however, have a great record in matches against his former club, scoring just twice in 11 appearances against Everton. It is 1.6 that he scores this weekend and 2.3 that he doesn’t.
The main reason for Everton’s poor record at Old Trafford is their lack of goals. They’ve scored just twice in their last seven league visits and haven’t breached the United defence on any of the last three occasions.
The league leaders have struggled to break down organised and resolute opposition over the past couple of months; only scoring more than two goals in a game against Aston Villa and Wolves in their last nine fixtures. Everton certainly fall into the category of ‘organised and resolute’ and so I expect that this game will be another that is decided by the odd goal; odds of 2.1 on it finishing with fewer than 2.5 goals looks to be the standout bet of the game.
Roberto Mancini and Manchester City would have had this one marked down as a possible banana skin for their title rivals, and it may yet turn out to be just that. But an inspection of past statistics coupled with the possibility that The Toffees could be a little subdued, means that I cannot see anything other than a home win.
Prediction: Manchester United to win 1-0
Best Bet: Under 2.5 goals at 2.1