Everton vs Man Utd: A landmark game for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side?

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has labelled his side’s visit to Everton this weekend as a “defining” fixture in the club’s bid to return to the Champions League.

United travel to Everton live on Super Sunday seeking to avenge the 4-0 defeat in the corresponding game last season.

Only five points separate United in fifth and 11th-placed Everton as the battle for the Europa League spots intensifies.

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“It’s a difficult game against Everton this weekend,” Solskjaer told Sky Sports. “It’s a landmark for us I think. It’s one of these defining games that will tell us how far we’ve come.

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“I’m 100 per cent sure we’re a better team, which is more equipped to handle adversity and dealing with different situations within games. I don’t want to speak too much about last year’s game as I can see a totally different squad now.

“Yes, it’s a reminder for us, and going to Goodison Park is always tough. You’ve got to earn the right to get anything from those games and Carlo has got his team playing really well.”

Have United removed the Japanese knotweed?

Speaking last April following the defeat, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville was very critical of the performance of his former team at Goodison.

“I’m furious,” he began. “The fact he’s had to go over and apologise for them.

“I’ve often said over the last few seasons if you’ve got weeds in the garden you’ve got to get rid of them but there’s some Japanese knotweed at that football club and it’s attacking the foundations of the house and needs dealing with properly.

? – "I'm furious, to be honest with you."@GNev2 says @ManUtd's performance today was "embarrassing" and compares the work-rate to that of @LFC and @ManCity.

Watch Super Sunday live on Sky Sports PL now: https://t.co/HENVUzvZOk pic.twitter.com/UFXUwduXvd

“Those players now, their heads are well and truly on the line. I watched Manchester City yesterday who United are trying to get to in terms of the top of the Premier League – Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva – far better players than are in that Manchester United dressing room who work twice as hard.

“Everton ran 4kms more in the first half. Everton. Then you watch this mob out here (Liverpool), they die for every single inch on the pitch. Manchester United players, honestly, it’s embarrassing just watching some of those out there today.”

Are United now on the right track?

Back in October, a 1-1 draw with Liverpool meant that United had recorded their worst start to a league campaign in 33 years.

But despite losing eight Premier League games, they now sit in fifth place with 11 games remaining – a position which could yet secure Champions League football next season, subject to Manchester City’s appeal against their two-year ban from European club competition.

United face Derby in the FA Cup fifth round next week, and having safely secured their passage into the last 16 of the Europa League, where they face Austrian league leaders LASK, United could still end the season with two pieces of silverware.

“We do have expectations, we do have a history and we do have a tradition of being up there,” Solskjaer added when reflecting on his side’s league position.

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“In the last five or six seasons, we haven’t been. That’s just a fact that we’ve got to improve.

“I feel it’s something we’ve started on, if we’re going to get back to that confidence and arrogance but we also need that humility. With Manchester United, we don’t have any divine right to work less hard compared to anyone else.

“That’s what we used to be like with Beckham, Scholesy and Giggsy. Every game we played was like it was our last game – and it has to be like that.

“We’re getting there with this squad. The foundations are getting laid, competition for places and the attitude in training, coaching has been fantastic, so I feel we’re on the right track.”

Bruno ignites United revival

Man Utd head to Merseyside this weekend on a seven-game unbeaten run which has coincided with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in a deal worth up to £68m.

There was plenty of excitement among supporters following the biggest transfer of the January window, but the Portugal international has lived up to his billing so far, scoring twice and proving two assists in his five games.

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Fernandes has also created seven chances and had eight shots from outside the box in his three Premier League outings, already making him a vital cog in United’s attacking armoury.

Solskjaer said: “He’s given us that little spark, coming in and helping the feeling around the place with the supporters. He risks passes, he plays forward passes and takes chances.

“He’ll lose the ball a couple of times, but he’s one of those players who looks good when he loses the ball. Normally it’s a good attempt to play the killer pass, and then he goes all out to win the ball back.

“So I’m delighted with him, to be fair.”

Ancelotti willing to bide his time with Gomes

Fernandes could well prove the missing piece of the puzzle for United during an inconsistent season, but this weekend’s opponents are also seeking the benefits of having their own Portuguese technician back at the heart of their midfield.

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Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti insists there is no pressure on Andre Gomes to produce instant performances with the Portugal international in line for his first start since an horrific ankle injury.

The 26-year-old’s comeback is particularly timely as Morgan Schneiderlin faces a lengthy spell out after undergoing surgery on torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee following injury at Arsenal last weekend.

Gomes came on as a substitute for the Frenchman in that game for his first appearance since a fracture dislocation of his right ankle on November 3.

Such has been the lack of creativity in midfield Gomes’ 31-minute cameo at the Emirates had fans raving about his return but Ancelotti does not want the midfielder to feel he has to deliver immediately.

“He is ready to start, he is closer to start compared to last week. He trained well, normally, and he can play. I have to talk to him before the game. He did really well. I was surprised by the fact that it seemed he was not out for three months because he played with confidence, without any fear.

“Also for him it was useful to play and he has shown more confidence this week compared to last week. There is no-one who puts pressure on him. The club absolutely not. Myself absolutely not.

“Everyone followed the instruction of the medical staff and he is ready to play and everyone has total confidence in him so there is no pressure.

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