So poor is Wayne Rooney in matches against former club Everton that is tempting to suggest Manchester United is effectively rendered one man short. The Scouser has scored just four times in 18 games against the Toffees and not at Goodison Park since 2007. Indeed, Rooney has suffered plenty of indignity at his former ground, once being substituted by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2008 for fear of an imminent red card, and left out of the matchday squad altogether on another occasion.
Yet Rooney’s form is also in such poor form this season that some fans have come to view the striker’s demotion to the bench as necessary, if not yet inevitable given the captain’s special privileges under manager Louis van Gaal. Rooney has scored five times since August, although three came against Belgian side Club Brugge and another versus Ipswich Town in the Capital One Cup. Just once has Rooney found the net in the Premier League this season. There have been far more inept displays from the striker, including a fortnight ago at Arsenal.
Rooney missed two England games during the international break, and the player’s lack of “match rhythm” met yet give Van Gaal cause to drop his captain with a political safety net in place. Not that the Dutchman appears to hold any less faith in the 29-year-old despite a series of woeful performances this season. Indeed, Van Gaal gave short shrift to media questions about Rooney’s form during his regular Friday press conference.
“His average is not so good [against Everton] so it’s getting time that he changed that pattern. I’m a manager who analyses opponents and gives him advice as to how we can disorganise Everton’s defence and then maybe he can score,” said Van Gaal on Friday.
“For me it is not so important who is scoring. We have scored a lot of goals. In the beginning your criticism was we don’t score goals but now we’ve scored a lot of goals and you’re picking up an individual player and I don’t like that. He’s our captain so that’s very important because his influence is bigger than every other player in our group.”
United began the season struggling to create and convert chances, although Anthony Martial’s introduction has proven to be a catalyst for more effective attacking performances in recent weeks. The youngster has scored four in seven games for his new club, although his performances have merited greater praise still. United scored twice against Wolfsburg in the Champions League, three at home to Sunderland, another three against Ipswich, three at Southampton and three at home to Liverpool. All since Martial joined in early September.
“Have we created enough chances?” Van Gaal asked. “Yes, I think so. I think we have chances to score in every game. Also against Arsenal, after the first 20 minutes we have created a lot of chances. It’s not a given in every team that you can create a lot of chances at 3-0 down and we did it, so that’s the positive thing. But of course it’s very important that out of your chances you score and against Arsenal we didn’t.”
That defeat at Arsenal has prompted something of an internal debate at the club, with United starting the game slowly and – despite the manager’s claim – rarely threatening to get back into the match, albeit the Reds put in a more positive performance in the second period. United’s midfield axis of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick struggled at the Emirates – though much was down to Van Gaal’s odd tactical demands. The German was pushed high up the pitch, too often leaving Carrick to contend with three mobile Arsenal midfielders.
United suffered a similarly cataclysmic defeat at Everton last April, with Rooney particularly ineffective – an seemingly uninterested – as United slipped to a 3-0 defeat on Merseyside. It is a result Van Gaal will want to avenge, especially in light of United’s performance in North London a fortnight ago.
“We are always evaluating ourselves and we cannot accept that,” van Gaal told reporters of United’s performance at Arsenal. “You have to behave like a champion. You have to improve yourself so that in the future you can be the champion. You have to improve every time, which is what I am saying. I have analysed over the two weeks and that is awful when you have such a result. We have spoken about this and that it can’t happen again. ”
Meanwhile, Everton manager Roberto Martinez described last season’s result at Goodison as “comfortable in everything we wanted to do.” It is a damning assessment of United’s ineptitude that day.
Everton’s results are on the up after a difficult start to the campaign, with the Spaniard’s team now unbeaten in seven games – a sequence that includes victory over Chelsea at Goodison and a draw in the Merseyside derby last time out.
Martinez’ side was probably unfortunate not to secure victory in Brendan Rodgers’ last game as Liverpool manager. Still, the Spaniard is counting on a raucous Goodison crowd to earn the home side victory on Saturday. Recent history is with the Toffees – Everton has beaten United on the last three occasions at Goodison. A fourth is unthinkable for Van Gaal and his captain.
“Goodison probably gets at its very best [against United], and when Goodison pushes you with that energy and that voice, as a player you feel the difference, and as a team you feel you can cope with anything that you get in front of you.”
Team news and line-ups
Van Gaal is likely to select Rooney at number 10, with the striker recovered from a minor injury that kept him out of two international games in the past week. Carrick and Schweinsteiger are also fit, as is Phil Jones, who played for England in midweek. The Dutchman could pair Jones with Chris Smalling in central defence, with Daley Blind moving to left-back and Matteo Darmian starting on the right. Although the combination of that quartet could also see three players start outside their normal roles. Stand-in full-back Ashley Young is unfit with a thigh problem and Marcos Rojo not yet fully fit.
“Wayne Rooney, I think he can play and Michael Carrick can play as well,” said van Gaal. “I was very pleased with Jones. He has played for me two times for 15 or 20 minutes. Then he plays for the England team. When I want to select him I can select him for the line-up.”
Meanwhile, Paddy McNair suffered a ruptured kidney as Northern Ireland qualified for Euro 2016 and will miss United’s trip to Everton. Rojo and Ander Herrera trained in Manchester during the international break and should be part of the match-day squad, although neither is likely to start.
“They were injured and they have a rehabilitation period behind their back and everything went well,” Van aal told MUTV. “They are also fit to play – maybe not 90 minutes but you never know.”
John Stones and Seamus Coleman should return for the home side, while former Red Tom Cleverley is also fit. Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas are available after suspension.
Everton subs from: Joel, Browning, Funes Mori, Holgate, Oviedo, Gibson, Lennon, McGeady, Mirallas, Osman, Kone
United subs from: Romero, Rojo, Pereira, Fellaini, Schweinsteiger, Herrera, Lingard, Valencia, Wilson
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistants: A Halliday, D Cann
Fourth Official: R Madley
Everton 1-1 United
£1 bet club
Wayne Rooney to be sent off at 25/1
Match graphic by @cole007