Manchester United’s hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s top four may rest on their meeting with Everton at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
The Red Devils have two games in hand on Liverpool, who are six points ahead of them after the Red Devils’ failure to beat West Brom at the weekend.
Everton, however, could overtake United by winning in Manchester and leave Jose Mourinho’s looking at victory in the Europa League as their best chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera return from suspension for United and are likely to go straight back into the starting lineup. Paul Pogba, meanwhile, is close to returning but this match may come too soon.
The news is not so positive for Juan Mata, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, who are all definitely out and may not play again this season. Luke Shaw is also unlikely to feature after Mourinho expressed concern over his commitment.
Potential starting XI: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Rojo, Young; Herrera, Carrick; Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Martial; Ibrahimovic.
Ronald Koeman’s options are limited due to numerous injuries, with Seamus Coleman, Ramiro Funes Mori, Morgan Schneiderlin and James McCarthy all out.
He is likely to continue to rely on youngsters such as Tom Davies, Mason Holgate and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, all of whom started the Merseyside derby, as a result. Koeman could return to a back four, with Gareth Barry coming into midfield, after the 3-1 defeat at Anfield.
Potential starting XI: Robles; Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Baines; Gueye, Barry, Davies; Barkley, Lukaku, Calvert-Lewin.
After Saturday’s 0-0 draw with West Brom, Jose Mourinho appeared to hint that Manchester United’s bid to finish in the top four of the Premier League may be fading.
“[After the games against Everton and Sunderland], it’s possible that you see me play in the Premier League with a team where I’m going to protect the players that I consider fundamental for the Europa League,” he said.
“But only – only – if the results in the next matches put us in a situation where, mathematically, it becomes almost impossible to [finish in the top four].”
Their worst-case scenario this week of a loss against Everton and wins for their rivals would leave the Red Devils nine points behind Liverpool with two games in hand and seven behind Manchester City having played one game fewer. With the busiest schedule of any team in England left to navigate, United’s prospects would be bleak.
The return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic after a three-match ban is timely, then, with Juan Mata’s injury and Wayne Rooney’s lack of goals leaving United short of experience up front. Mourinho has certainly tightened up the defence, at least, with the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea in October the last they conceded twice in a league game.
Though they have games in hand, United will be overtaken by Everton if they lose. The Toffees have been better at home than away but with Tom Davies emerging as one of the country’s brightest prospects and the likes of Ademola Lookman, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and, of course, Romelu Lukaku having their best years ahead of them, the future looks bright at Goodison Park.
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