Sunday sees David Moyes return to Goodison Park for the first time since leaving Everton to become Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor at Manchester United last summer.
Somewhat embarrassingly for the Scot, Moyes arrives at his old stomping ground with United nine points behind his old club in the table, as Everton chase a place in the top four and the Champions League, with United close to mid-table mediocrity.
But what would have happened if Moyes had never made the move? Unibet’s Mark Jones takes a look:
It’s April 2014, and one of the most thrilling Premier League title races there’s ever been is set for a dramatic conclusion.
Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United are neck-and-neck with local rivals Manchester City at the top of the table, with the public feud between Mourinho and his fellow former Real Madrid boss Manuel Pellegrini only adding to the heated nature of combat in Manchester, whilst boring the rest of us to tears.
Mourinho’s tactic of fielding seven recognised defenders in the biggest game of the season so far, the Manchester derby at Old Trafford at the end of March, had resulted in United earning the goalless draw that their manager had planned for, with the attacking talents of Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley occasionally threatening City on the break in a match which otherwise took place entirely on the edge of the United box.
The Portuguese manager’s act of running onto the Old Trafford pitch to celebrate with David De Gea after the goalkeeper’s 27th clean sheet of the season attracted criticism, but Sir Alex Ferguson reiterated to the press that his decision to appoint the former Chelsea boss as his successor was the right one, with the proof provided by looking at the league table and not looking at the football United play. “Dear God, don’t look at the football,” said Ferguson.
Mourinho’s men are also widely expected to uninspiringly beat Atletico Madrid and reach the Champions League final, following a run in the competition which has been helped by the displays of Rooney, his heir apparent Barkley and the summer signing Nemanja Matic, who has proved a revelation in midfield.
After City dropped points at Champions League-chasing Liverpool and at home to struggling Sunderland in the past week, Mourinho will be hoping to celebrate the in-form Nemanja Vidic’s new contract with a 1-0 win at David Moyes’ seventh-placed Everton side, who have been boosted by the return from injury of Victor Anichebe and the re-signing of Tim Cahill from the New York Red Bulls.
Everton had hoped to get close to the Champions League places, but a series of dropped points away from home has meant that Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are now vying for the remaining two spots, with Tottenham having notably improved since replacing Andre Villas-Boas with Wigan manager Roberto Martinez in December, but a little too far back in sixth.
Liverpool, whose doomed title challenge was damaged by the second of two 1-0 defeats to Mourinho’s United in March and the goalless Merseyside derby draw at Anfield in late January – when Moyes sat 11 men behind the ball and Steven Gerrard was sent off – are ‘daring to dream’ of finishing in third place, a fantastic achievement given that they started the season targeting fourth.
Interim Chelsea manager Gianfranco Zola is only in his second week in the job as the Blues’ third boss of the season, with Roman Abramovich still paying off Jurgen Klopp as part of the settlement following his sacking in February, and then the Russian falling out with initial interim manager Louis van Gaal after the club’s Champions League exit to Bayern Munich.
Zola, who was turned to after Rafael Benitez, Roberto Di Matteo, Guus Hiddink, Villas-Boas, Brendan Rodgers, Marcel Desailly, Ed de Goey and Tim Lovejoy had turned down the job, has spoken of his hope that he can lead the club into the top four this season and then earn a permanent contract. Stung by the Klopp payments, Abramovich has reportedly drawn up a six-month deal.
Arsenal are having exactly the same season they always have, and look set to take advantage of the uncertainty at Chelsea and secure fourth place on the final day of the season.
They were helped by their recent victory at Moyes’s Everton, who were too timid to make the most of a promising start in the Goodison Park meeting earlier this month and ultimately lost 3-0.
Moyes had spoken of his hope that Everton will ‘try to make things difficult’ for United on Sunday, but concedes that Mourinho’s men are favourites for the clash, which will see Barkley make his first return to Goodison Park and take on former teammate Marouane Fellaini in midfield, where Johnny Heitinga could be deployed alongside Lee Cattermole for the hosts.
United will be desperate for a win to go three points clear of City ahead of the latter’s meeting with West Bromwich Albion on Monday night, when on-loan Baggies forward Romelu Lukaku will look to take Steve Clarke’s men to within a point of Everton if the Blues lose to United, which Moyes has indicated that they probably will do.
Back in the real world, check out all our odds for Roberto Martinez’s Everton versus David Moyes’ Manchester United right here!