Manchester United v Everton
Old Trafford, Saturday October 2nd, kick off 12:30pm

by John Spillane

Level on 13 points apiece (W4, D1, L1) fourth place United entertain Everton in fifth, with both teams knowing that a win would put them top of the table for at least a few hours.

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Following two successive 1-0 home defeats to Aston Villa and West Ham , in the Carabao Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo's 95th winner on Wednesday against Bayer Leverkusen eased some of the growing pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Having brought in Raphael Varane, Jaden Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo (five goals in five games) there is now even greater expectation on the side to make a realistic challenge for major honours. All it requires is to fit all the players into the right set up tactically but questions remain especially about the midfield set up. What is Paul Pogba's best position, and who gets to play the holding role between Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic, and how to make the most out of big money signing Sancho. Every setback shines the spotlight on the role of the inexperienced coaching staff.

Defensively David De Gea appears to have rediscovered his form and confidence, having spent much of last season as understudy to Dean Henderson, but Aaron Wan Bissaka's progress has stalled. With Victor Lindelof expected to step in for injured Harry Maguire there will be concerns, as whenever their captain was absent last season, they looked less than secure in defence.

With Rafael Benitez replacing Carlo Ancelotti in the Goodison hot seat to less than rapturous enthusiasm, it was important that they got off to a good start. Taking advantage of a favourable schedule they lie just one point off the top spot. And all this with their main strikers Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison not expected to return until after the international break. In contrast to recent seasons when significant changes were made to the squad, Benitez brought in Andros Townsend and Demari Gray and both have made a positive impact already. Their speed has introduced a new dynamism into the squad, allied to free signing from Crystal Palace from Abdoulaye Doucoure (four goals in eight games). Salomon Rondon is currently filling the central striker role, but is lacking fitness. However, his role in holding the ball up on Saturday will be vital if Everton are to get any foothold in the game. Club captain Seamus Coleman is missing but Ben Godfrey will continue to deputise.

They are scoring more and conceding less than a year ago, but the 3-0 loss at Aston Villa, along with the Carabao Cup defeat to QPR, was worrying but the 2-0 win at home to Norwich steadied the ship. A late equaliser from Calvert-Lewin last season saw them leave Old Trafford with a share of the points in a six-goal thriller, but United will be fired up, following recent home performances.

The early kick Saturday kick offs tend to be slow burners but, with Everton's forward problems, the home side should come away with a comfortable win and go to the top of the table.

Suggested bet : Handicap; Manchester United -1 (13/10 at bet365)

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