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Moyes’ past could haunt United

everton2013Never has a Manchester United vs Everton match carried the significance it will have on Wednesday night – the 1985 and 1995 FA Cup finals being notable exceptions – as David Moyes goes into his first meeting against his former club with United unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions, but nine points adrift of league leaders Arsenal.

It’s only just over six months ago that Moyes left Everton after a decade at Goodison Park to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, with Roberto Martinez picking up Moyes’ baton on Merseyside, as both clubs began a new chapter in their history.

However, while the former Wigan manager has got his Everton career off to a flier and his team arrive at Old Trafford on the back of a 4-0 thumping of Stoke, which pushed the Toffees on the verge of a Champions League spot, consecutive draws against Cardiff and Spurs have seen United drop to eight on the table, two points behind the Toffees.

In recent seasons, United have struggled against Everton, with their midfield coming unstuck against the physical challenge posed by Marouane Fellaini who, ironically, since joining United has displayed none of the characteristics that had made him such a formidable opponent in his Everton days.

The Belgian could be involved against his former club given that Phil Jones is suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season on Sunday, while it’d be interesting to see whether Tom Cleverley will retain his spot in the starting XI after yet another insipid performance or whether Ryan Giggs will be given the nod in midfield.

After arriving on Merseyside, Martinez has quickly developed Everton into a side that places bigger emphasis on passing the ball around than they did under Moyes, as Gareth Barry, Ross Barkley and Steven Pienaar have formed a solid unit in midfield, creating chances and protecting the back four admirably – Everton have allowed fewer shots on target against them away from home than any other team in the top flight this season.

However, for all their midfield improvements, Everton’s biggest threat is to be found up-front where Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas have been in inspired form this season. The Chelsea loanee – one of the only players to ever score a Premier League hat-trick against Manchester United – is likely to provide a tough test for the United back four, where Jonny Evans is expected to retain his starting spot alongside either Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand.

United, however, will go into tonight’s clash buoyed by their recent unbeaten run and by the possible return of Robin Van Persie, who has been described as a possible inclusion by David Moyes yesterday. The Dutchman has scored six times in 10 league starts against Everton, while the Toffees are United favourite target in the Premier League, as the Reds have scored 84 times against them, more than any team against any single opponent in Premier League history.

The visitors have lost 16 and drawn four of their last 20 visits at Old Trafford but if David Moyes wants to keep that record going and inflict misery on his former club, United must improve on the showings at Cardiff and Spurs and be bolder going forward and more solid defensively.

Anything less than three points and any hopes of retaining the title will be all but gone.