2018-19 EPL Match Day Preview — Manchester City (9-2-0) vs. Manchester United (6-2-3)

For all of the terrific football Manchester City have produced on the pitch during their six-game winning streak they carry into the Etihad for Sunday’s 177th Manchester derby versus eternal rivals United, it has been the troublesome allegations off it that have dominated the headlines surrounding the reigning Premier League champions.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Manchester City (9-2-0) have looked imperious for most of the season, their lone loss a stunning 2-1 home defeat to Lyon to open Champions League group play. The Citizens, though, have one foot through the door in advancing to the knockout round after smashing six past Shakhtar Donetsk without reply Tuesday to put them top of Group E with two matches remaining.

While City were clearly the best team, there were some noses turned up regarding the source of their second goal – a penalty Gabriel Jesus converted after Raheem Sterling stubbed his toe into the turf while shooting and fell without any assistance from Shakhtar defender Mykola Matviyenko. Referee Viktor Kassai pointed to the spot without hesitation – even Guardiola turned to his bench in disbelief it was awarded – and after Jesus stroked his 12-yard effort home, the rout was on.

The Brasil international finished with three goals, converting a second and more deserving penalty late, while Sterling, David Silva and Riyad Mahrez supplied the other half of the haul.

But the dark clouds that had been forming since last week, created by the allegations published in the German magazine Der Spiegel that City regularly and repeatedly circumvented rules regarding Financial Fair Play and were cut a sweetheart deal by then-UEFA general secretary and current FIFA president Gianni Infantino to avoid a Champions League ban persisted.

“Well I think about that issue the club issued a statement last Friday about what happened, the stolen emails,” Guardiola said before Tuesday’s victory. “But about the business, about how they handle this kind of situation, I am completely out of that. I am part of the club, I am supporter of the club, and we want to do what we have to do in terms of the rules.

“I think that’s (the allegations) been said for the last decade, so the people is saying about the club for the last decade just win because we have money. That is always the issue here, because to pass to stay in one level and achieve another level you need a lot of time, and of course money. When you invest more, this gap, the time reduces. And that’s normal.”

The team itself has not offered a statement beyond what was offered last week, in which they labeled the allegations an “organized and clear” attempt to damage the club’s reputation while referring to the leaked emails as “out of context materials purportedly hacked or stolen from City Football Group and Manchester City personnel and associated people.”

On the pitch, though, everything has been rosy for City. They have piled up 23 goals while conceding just one during their winning streak, getting strikes from 11 different players. There has been no drop-off in form since Kevin De Bruyne was again lost to a knee injury in the Carabao Cup win over Fulham, and the club received more good news Friday when Sterling put pen to paper on a three-year extension to stay at City through 2023. The England international has 51 goals and 55 assists in all competitions since joining from Liverpool in 2015.

Silva, one of City’s longest-tenured players after arriving on the blue side of Manchester in 2010, feels the hold of power has moved across town during his time with the Citizens.

“United commanded a lot of respect when I arrived,” he told the club’s official website. “But I think it changed from when we won at Old Trafford 6-1 (in 2011) and the mentality changed a little bit that day. Now I think we are held in great esteem.

“You remember a bit about every derby you’ve played in,” Silva added, “but that one, the result, and the fact that it was at United, the respect that United commanded in that period in time, makes it one that will forever go down in history.”

Manchester United (6-2-3) avoided history of a horrid sort in its last trip seven kilometres to the east, recovering from a 2-0 halftime deficit to win 3-2 and delay the inevitable of City’s clinching of the Premier League title. In a season of fits and starts, it appears United finally have achieved a sense of consistency as they have won three on the trot.

Jose Mourinho’s side performed an impressive smash-and-grab raid at Juventus on Tuesday, scoring twice after the 85th minute to stun the Italian giants 2-1 for their biggest victory since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Juan Mata scored on a free kick on 86 minutes, and Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci bundled home a free kick by Ashley Young in a goal-mouth scrum three minutes later for an own goal as United greatly enhanced their chances of advancing from Group H of the Champions League.

“As soon as there was the free-kick in there, I had the confidence that I had to take it,” Mata told MUTV about his equaliser. “I told Ash: ‘Please let me take it, because I can go over the wall. So I tried to do what I do in training a lot of times, practicing, practicing. It was important to score to make it 1-1 and, after, it led us to the 1-2. I think because of the venue and the importance of the game, it’s one of the best (that I’ve scored).”

While derby week usually means Mourinho offers some sort of locker room material that can galvanise an opponent, “The Special One” demurred about both the FFP allegations swirling around City and about Guardiola’s side, knowing full well a defeat in this game would leave United 12 points adrift of their noisy neighbours and all but ending their chances of winning the league.

“If we draw (the difference) is nine (points),” he told The Times. “If we lose it is 12. We have to just think about the match, it is difficult enough as an isolated event … they are a very powerful team.

“If you want to speak about their football potential we can speak and about where football potential starts, and that starts with investment,” Mourinho added, himself no stranger to big-money football at his previous stops and with United. “After that of course there is a quality of the work, of the organisation. I think that is untouchable, but what’s behind it, I cannot say.”

Mourinho does have a late injury concern as midfielder Paul Pogba missed practice Friday after picking up a knock against Juventus. Romelu Lukaku is expected to be available after missing the last two matches with a hamstring injury, giving Mourinho the selection headache of which three will be up front among the Belgium international, Mata, Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial.

Of the group, Martial appears to be the safest on the left side, with Lingard getting a surprising start on the right as Mourinho chose Sanchez to play centre-forward for his industry. It would not be surprising to see Rashford restored to the right side, though Mourinho could opt for Sanchez and Mata to play with Martial if Lukaku is not fully ready to start.

One of Manchester’s own will serve as referee, with Anthony Taylor getting the call to oversee his first derby.

United lead the all-time series 73-51, and the teams have shared the points on 52 occasions. Guardiola has yet to beat United at the Etihad as Mourinho held City to a 0-0 draw in 2016-17 before last season’s defeat.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, oddsmakers do not seem all that sold on a Manchester United resurgence against the in-form style of City, who are 4/11 favourites to win this match. United are 15/2 longshots to return across town with a win for the second straight season and there are 4/1 odds on the sides splitting the points.

For the #Starman offers, the only one that looks remotely appealing and has a realistic chance of occurring is Aguero getting a goal and an assist at 9/2 when compared to what is being offered for Pogba.

City are 5/6 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored while they also have 17/5 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. There is a clear line of notice for a 0-0 or 1-1 finish at 6/1 odds, and for those who think lightning can strike twice, United offer a return of 11/1 with another victory over 2.5 goals as opposed to 18/1 for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline.

Aguero, unsurprisingly, leads the list of choices to score the match’s first goal at 14/5 odds, but Jesus’ hat trick against Shakhtar impressed enough to put him second at 16/5, ahead of Sterling (4/1). The next four choices also belong to the sky blue hue of Manchester as Mahrez (9/2), Leroy Sane (5/1), and the Silvas — David (8/1) then Bernardo (9/1) get billing ahead of Lukaku (10/1). Martial and Rashford are both 11/1 picks to make it 0-1, with Sanchez a step back at 12/1.

Aguero and Jesus are better than even money to score in this match, with the Argentine at 3/4 and his South American compatriot 5/6. Sterling narrowly missed out being included in this group at 5/4, closely followed by Mahrez (13/10) and Sane (6/4). Lukaku again leads the line for United, this time at 14/5, trailed by Rashford (3/1), Martial (16/5), and Sanchez (10/3).

PREDICTION

There has been one thing missing in the build-up to this match — enmity. One part is because the teams had mid-week Champions League obligations, which both handled deftly (and excitingly in the case of United). One could only imagine the Mourinho mood had he returned from Italy without a result in that contest, and the inquest that would have ensured. A second part is the oxygen being sucked out of the room by the explosive allegations in Der Speigel. This has the potential to hang over City throughout the season and only grow into a larger mushroom cloud the further they progress in Champions League should that happen. But that is for spring, for now, let us try to stay in the seven kilometres between the clubs.

“The Special One” still has many things to ponder across his midfield and attack. It seems all but certain Lukaku will return to lead the line, and Martial is in too good of form to be dropped, so that leaves Rashford, Sanchez, Mata, and Lingard for the right wing. Sanchez is clearly out of position there, so scratch the Chilean.

Lingard did not do anything to warrant a second consecutive start in his surprising mid-week appearance at Juventus, so now it is down to Rashford and Mata. The likely pick is Mata because Rashford has the ability to enter the match at either forward position off the bench, giving Mourinho some versatility.

The next area is midfield, where Pogba and Matic will start, but the choice is between Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini at the right slot. Herrera did enough versus Juve to warrant a second start, getting the first after his strong effort against Bournemouth, but Mourinho has always had a soft spot for Fellaini’s disruptive abilities. The hedge is still Herrera in this instance.

If there is a worry for Mourinho, it is at right back. Ashley Young has been credible of late, but there are few in the Premier League with the pace of Benjamin Mendy, and he will be eager to test Young at every opportunity. That is another reason Herrera is would get the call over Fellaini.

Guardiola does not have a selection headache on his hands for this contest. Aguero is going to lead the line, Sterling and Mahrez will flank him, and the Silvas will do likewise with Fernandinho. Sane will come off the bench, as will Ilkay Gundogan if needed. City’s form has been so rampant the past fortnight one almost has to wonder if any overconfidence has crept into the side.

Then again, all Guardiola has to do is show tape of that 15-minute stretch in the second half when Pogba grabbed the match by its throat and scored twice before City’s disastrous high line on Sanchez’s free kick gifted Smalling the go-ahead tally.

For all the talk of how Mourinho parks the bus on the road to get a result, he still has gotten them lately. United are 2-1-1 in their last four versus Big Six opponents outside Old Trafford and their 2-2 draw at Chelsea let them kick on to bigger and better things, home defeat to Juventus notwithstanding.

The only fear with United is they emptied the tank leaving it so late versus Juventus. The only problem with that is City’s attack promotes plenty of fear even at full strength.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 2, Manchester United 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 12 EPL PREVIEWS:

Leicester City (5-1-5) vs. Burnley (2-2-7)
Huddersfield Town (1-3-7) vs. West Ham United (3-2-6)
Liverpool (8-3-0) vs. Fulham (1-2-8)
Chelsea (8-3-0) vs. Everton (5-3-3)

Champions League Match Day 4 Preview — Juventus (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Manchester United (1-1-1, 4, +2)

Juventus can wrap up first place in Group H of the Champions League with two matches to spare if they can complete a home-and-home sweep of Manchester United on Wednesday in Italy.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Bianconeri have a 100 percent rate through the first three group matches and are five points clear of closest pursuers Manchester United (1-1-1), who are on four points and two ahead of Valencia for second.

Juventus took command of the group with a convincing 1-0 victory at Old Trafford a fortnight ago, riding a 17th-minute goal by Paulo Dybala as the Italian side controlled most of the match by subduing United’s offence and controlling possession for more than 60 percent of the match.

The victory started a current three-match win streak for Juve, who have yet to lose in 14 matches across all competitions (13-1-0) and are one of two unbeaten clubs left in the top five European leagues along with German side Borussia Dortmund. Technically, Chelsea have not lost a match but did begin their season with a loss to Manchester City in England’s traditional Community Shield opener.

Juventus remained six points clear of Inter Milan and Napoli in Serie A with a 3-1 victory over Cagliari on Saturday. Dybala opened the scoring just 43 seconds into the match, and after Juve allowed an equaliser, they were gifted an own goal by Cagliari midfielder Filip Bradaric in the 38th minute that restored their one-goal advantage.

Cristiano Ronaldo, who was honoured for scoring his 400th club goal in Europe before the match, set up Juan Cuadrado’s insurance marker on 87 minutes. While Ronaldo leads Juve in scoring with seven goals in all competitions — they have all come in Serie A matches — Dybala has done his damage in Champions League, where he has netted four of his six goals. Five of the Argentina’s last six shots that have been on target have ended in the back of the net.

“I’m happy we got all three points tonight and that’s all that matters,” Cuadrado told Juve’s official website. “We’re not setting any limits. We want to improve every with game. We know that’s what we have to do if we want to grow as a team.”

Juventus’ side Saturday looked fairly similar to the first XI who played at Old Trafford. There were three exceptions with left-side defenders Mehdi Benatia and Mattia De Sciglio starting in the place of Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro, while Douglas Costa started up front over Cuadrado, who entered Saturday’s match at halftime when Costa was sidelined with an adductor injury.

Another injury concern for Juve is midfielder Blaise Matuidi, who came off late over the weekend with a hip problem. Mario Mandzukic, who missed the match at Old Trafford with an ankle injury suffered right before the contest, is not likely to play, though he has been practicing.

Manchester United kicked off a hectic week heading into the international break by rallying for a 2-1 victory at Bournemouth to move into seventh place in the Premier League behind the Cherries on goal difference. Marcus Rashford was able to corral a cross from Paul Pogba just above the six-yard box and beat Asmir Begovic in the 92nd minute for the match-winner.

The victory, though hid a lot of blemishes for Jose Mourinho’s side, who were nearly run out of Dean Court in the first half-hour as Bournemouth set a torrid pace and took the lead inside the first quarter-hour. David De Gea, as he has done so many times already this season, kept the deficit manageable with some timely saves before Anthony Martial, continued his purple patch of scoring with an equaliser before the interval. It was his fourth goal in five matches across all competitions.

“It wasn’t just the start [that was bad], it was all of the first half. At half time, I thought I was the luckiest manager in the Premier League, to be at 1-1 in a half in which it should be 5-2 or 6-2 [to Bournemouth],” Mourinho said post-match. “We were really lucky because we were really poor. Defensively awful, absolutely awful, and when I say defensively, I don’t just look to my defenders but to the whole team as a team. We didn’t start pressing up, the work we did during the week. I felt like people watching this game don’t believe how hard we have worked this week, our pressure on this opponent in the first half was a disaster.

“Then, in the second half, it was exactly the opposite. We created a lot of chances, we pressed higher, with much more aggression, intensity and intention. We created lots of chances, we deserved to score before the 92nd minute. In the end, we got the goal which gave us the important points.”

Mourinho must choose among Martial, Rashford, Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata among his attacking front three since Romelu Lukaku is not likely to be available for this match. The Belgium international, who was dropped from the starting XI in United’s win over Everton and has gone nine matches without a goal, was a late scratch at Bournemouth due to a muscle strain suffered in training.

Sanchez made his first start since United’s scoreless draw against Valencia more than a month ago. Mourinho’s high-pressure week concludes Sunday with the Manchester derby at the Etihad against reigning champions City, who are 10 points clear of United through 11 league matches.

Captain Nemanja Matic caused a stir ahead of the match when he announced he would continue to not wear the poppy, which was worn by Premier League teams last weekend and throughout this week ahead of Remembrance Sunday, which also marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Matic, a native of Yugsolavia who did not wear the poppy in the victory at Bournemouth, said in a social media post the poppy “is only a reminder of an attack that I felt personally as a frightened 12-year- old boy living in Vrelo, as my country was devastated by the bombing of Serbia in 1999. I do not want to undermine the poppy as a symbol of pride or offend anyone; however, we are all a product of our own upbringing and this is a personal choice for the reasons outlined.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Juventus are decided favourites to retain their 100 percent record as they are installed as 4/7 favourites. Manchester United are 5/1 underdogs to win their second road match in group play. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 14/5, a result which would keep United on the inside track for second place in the group.

Juve have 8/5 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, but a 2-0 or 1-0 scoreline is not far off with 5/2 odds. A draw that finished with no goals or two has 18/5 odds, while a United victory on either side of the 2.5 threshold offers 10/1 odds.

Ronaldo leads the way for first-goal options at 3/1, narrowly ahead of reverse fixture scorer Dybala (4/1) and Mandzukic (4/1). All told, eight Juve players are listed before scanning down the toteboard to find Lukaku as the top United option at 9/1, but even he is below the “no goal-scorer” choice at 8/1.

Ronaldo is an almost even-money pick to bag a goal over the course of 90 minutes at 11/10, with Dybala (7/5) narrowly edging out Mandzukic (6/4) for second. Federico Bernardschi and Douglas Costa are 2/1 and 23/10, respectively, with Lukaku again United’s top option at 3/1. Rashford and Martial lag just behind the Belgian at 10/3 and 7/2, respectively.

PREDICTION

After the 1-0 loss at Old Trafford, Mourinho pretty much conceded the group to Juventus, and as The Times reported, said “we knew when the draw was made that we’d be fighting Valencia for second place in the group.”

So even though United played one of their more impressive 45 minutes of the season at Bournemouth to overturn a deficit — though it came after a half-hour of insipid play — everyone knows what’s coming to Turin.

The bus. And not just any bus. It’s going to be one of those big, shiny double-deckers that England made famous as United look to strangle this match for a point before deciding if they have enough to try a smash-and-grab raid in the final quarter-hour if things go according to plan. In theory, this is not an unwise maneuver since Mourinho has seen his side play a full 90-minute match so few times this term.

Add in a lead striker in Lukaku who is both injured and currently ineffective, and you have the makings of a 4-3-3 that could very well morph into a 4-1-4-1 set-up in which Matic shields the back four and Sanchez will be left to his industry up front to try and find a moment of magic. It also means Juan Mata likely retains his spot on the right wing and Rashford comes off the bench, though Ander Herrera could be a lively insertion into the midfield with Pogba after a solid effort off the bench versus Bournemouth.

The biggest problem with this is Juventus have pace to burn on the flanks, whether it be right back Joao Cancelo bombing forward or Ronaldo using his still staggering straight-line speed to give defenders nightmares and twist Ashley Young into a pretzel. He and Dybala have a very underrated comprehension of playing off each other and are not locked into fix areas of space in the final third. That is how Dybala got his goal at Old Trafford, and without De Gea’s quality, there would have been more.

United are still a mess at times in front of De Gea, evidenced by the first half against Bournemouth. But this is also the type of match that makes Mourinho, well, Mourinho. There is a reason United have conceded just four times in their last 10 European away matches. And given they go right from one high-powered club in Juve to another in their eternal rivals City this weekend, the whiteboard and drilling for these two contests probably started at least a month ago.

Juve are likely going to have more than the 60 percent possession they enjoyed at Old Trafford, the issue is where United cede it to them. Lindelof and Smalling must be massive for this defence-first strategy to work, and too many times it has failed to deliver. The resiliency United have shown after getting punched in the mouth has been impressive, but one wonders if they have taken too many shots in recent weeks to recover from a haymaker from a quality foe.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Juventus 2, Manchester United 0.

Tottenham Hotspur (0-1-2, 1, -3) vs. PSV Eindhoven (0-1-2, 1, -5)
Red Star Belgrade (0-1-2, 1, -9) vs. Liverpool (2-0-1, 6, +4)
Manchester City (2-0-1, 6, +4) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-1, 2, -3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 10 Preview — Manchester United (4-2-3) vs. Everton (4-3-2)

Manchester United are clearly a wounded side, yet no one truly knows if they are still a dangerous team.

Coming off a disappointing midweek Champions League defeat, United attempt to shake off their malaise Sunday at Old Trafford against a rejuvenated Everton side who appear to have finally found their stride.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jose Mourinho’s team were languid in the opening 45 minutes for a third successive match, but unlike their thrilling escape acts that resulted in a victory over Newcastle United and a draw at Chelsea around the international break, storied Italian side Juventus would show little mercy as they comprehensively outplayed Manchester United in a 1-0 victory Tuesday night that gave the Old Lady a vise-like grip on first in the group.

While all the attention was drawn around Cristiano Ronaldo in just his second match at Old Trafford since leaving for Real Madrid in 2008, Paulo Dybala plunged the dagger into United in the 17th minute, knocking Ronaldo’s cross into the net after being left unmarked first by Nemanja Matic during his run and then by Victor Lindelof in the penalty area.

United goalkeeper David De Gea then made a string of quality saves throughout the rest of the first half simply to keep his side from being run off their own pitch. United (4-2-3) again raised their play in the second half, but aside from a shot by Paul Pogba that thumped the left post and then Juve keeper Wojceich Szczesny’s head before skipping away from danger, the hosts offered little and the bench offered nothing as Mourinho did not make a substitution.

That was partly due to a spate of injuries that left Marouane Fellaini, Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard all unavailable. The only true attacking option at Mourinho’s disposal was 18-year-old Tahith Chong, who was on the senior squad for the first time in any competition, and “The Special One” thought the better of bringing the starlet on in such a pressure-cooked situation.

“Given the dynamic of the game, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to bring him on,” Mourinho explained to United’s official website. “You can’t expect a kid making his debut in a game like this to give you something like scoring a goal. So that’s why I didn’t make any changes on the pitch.

“I really missed Fellaini because when we are dominant, we are playing in the opponents’ half and the opponent closes the way they did, and they brought (Andrea) Barzagli as a third centre-back, Fellaini is a player that gives us different things. We missed him, but the boys gave everything and when the boys give everything and go until the last second I am always happy with them.”

While Mourinho has yet to say whether any of the injured trio will be available for this contest to support Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, the lack of form from centre-forward Romelu Lukaku is concerning.

The Belgium international has gone eight matches without a goal in all competitions since netting against Watford, and it appears the cumulative fatigue of reaching the World Cup semifinals plus joining United without a rest – Lukaku has appeared in every match, including their Carabao Cup defeat on penalties – is taking its toll on the 25-year-old as United enter this match in 10th place and nine points adrift of eternal rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.

The criticism of Lukaku’s barren spell has become intense enough that Mourinho defended his striker in the post-match news conference, saying, “The player is a fantastic professional that wants to give everything, but I have to agree his moment is not sweet.”

Lukaku, who played at Everton from 2013-14 to 2016-17 before joining Manchester United last season, scored 87 goals in 166 matches across all competitions for the Toffees.

Everton (4-3-2) may have only just recently figured out how to replace Lukaku, with Marco Silva drafting Richarlison to lead the line after starting the season with the Brasil international on the left wing. The tweak in his 4-2-3-1 set-up has allowed Silva to field his four best attacking players in Bernard, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Theo Walcott behind Richarlison, while Andre Gomes has been slotted into a holding midfielder’s role.

Sigurdsson has been the biggest beneficiary with three goals in his last three games, while each of the four most forward players has scored at least once in that span.

That formation has helped Everton win their last two games, and they have won three on the trot overall in league play. Silva’s personnel management proved vital in last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace as substitutes Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun scored in the 87th and 89th minutes, respectively.

“It is getting better now, it was difficult to get in goalscoring positions in the first few games and I was the guy who made more assists for the players, left and right,” Tosun told evertontv after scoring for the second time in three games.

“But in the past few games I had a lot of shots and got in a lot of scoring positions and those things made me happy.

Everton, though, would not have been in a position to win had keeper Jordan Pickford not stopped Luka Milivojevic’s penalty on the hour after Seamus Coleman brought down Wilfried Zaha. The England No. 1 got his trailing leg to deflect Milivojevic’s effort down the middle to preserve the scoreless deadlock.

“Jordan’s quality and profile are solid, he could keep calm in that moment (the penalty) to make the right decision and it was an important moment in the match,” Silva said.

While Colombia international Yerry Mina made the 18-man roster for the first time this season after being slowed by a foot injury following the World Cup, it appears unlikely he will feature in this match given the solid partnership in central defence between ex-United player Micheal Keane and Kurt Zouma.

United did the double against Everton last term, smashing six by Pickford without reply. Lukaku had a goal and an assist in a 4-0 romp against his former team at Old Trafford, and United are unbeaten in their last seven (5-2-0) in all competitions versus the Toffees.

The Merseysiders’ lone win in their last 26 visits (1-6-19) to the “Theatre of Dreams” was a 1-0 victory in 2013 on an 86th-minute goal by Bryan Oviedo, and they have been outscored 53-16 in those matches.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, United are still prohibitive favourites despite winning one match in their last seven at 8/11 odds, while Everton are 15/4 underdogs to claim just their third at Old Trafford in the Premier League era. The odds of the teams sharing the points are 27/10.

United are an 8/5 pick to win this match with more than 2.5 goals scored while the odds of them holding down the Toffees for a 2-0 or 1-0 win are longer at 13/4. Everton have 13/2 odds to win this match with a total over 2.5 goals, with a 9/1 return on a 0-2 or 0-1 scoreline. The odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw check in at 19/5, while a 2-2 draw or higher has an 11/1 return.

Despite his dry spell, oddsmakers still like Lukaku to score the first goal of the match against his former team enough to have him lead the way with 4/1 odds. His wingers Martial and Rashford are joint-second at 11/2, while Sanchez lurks at 6/1. Pogba is at 7/1 and always worth holding in the back of your mind as United’s designated penalty taker, especially since Everton conceded one last weekend. Tosun, Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison are all 17/2 to give the Toffees a 0-1 lead.

Lukaku again leads the way for any-time goal-scorers at 11/8, ahead of Rashford (15/8) and Martial (19/10). Sanchez (2/1) and Pogba (23/10) round out the top five, while Tosun again leads Everton’s options, this time offering a return on 11/4 odds. Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin are listed at 14/5, with Sigurdsson lurking behind the pair at 10/3.

PREDICTION

If form were the prevailing guide, it would be very difficult to pick against Everton. If it were history, then United would undoubtedly be the choice. Where, then, is the balance between the two for this match? That is the question to be answered Sunday at Old Trafford.

If United were playing a lesser opponent and Mourinho had more attacking bodies available, this would have been an opportunity to hold Lukaku out of the starting XI, let him catch his breath mentally, and then be used if the match situation warranted. But with Sanchez still sidelined, and Lingard likely not ready to play a full 90 minutes, the Belgium international must lead the line once more and maybe find the break he so desperately needs to get back on track.

Lukaku, though, is one symptom of an overall bigger problem. For much of this season, United’s attack has the look of Mourinho putting square pegs into round holes. Veteran leadership of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia aside, right back has been a black hole.

Mourinho’s stubbornness to make Pogba play the spot he thrived in with France — in a deeper midfield position — may also be holding this offence back. But it also may be out of necessity since Matic endured a torrid time versus Juventus and may lack the pace where teaming him with Juan Mata as holding midfielders and pushing Pogba into the No. 10 role could spark the offense.

Or it could be something as simple as swapping spots for Rashford and Lukaku, and letting the youngster lead the line. The individual quality of United’s players is not lacking, it is whether Mourinho has the willingness to experiment on the fly. His side have this match and a tricky tie at Bournemouth before the Manchester derby at the Etihad on Nov. 12, and United are already in danger of having too much ground to make up to potentially be in a title race.

This match at this moment, however, is a good referendum for Everton. They have looked the part of a European-quality team the last two matches since Silva’s personnel swaps, but there is still a gulf in quality for the Toffees to cross in beating the likes of Leicester City and Crystal Palace, and beating Manchester United.

It’s not that Everton were ill-prepared in their first match against a “Big Six” club last month — the 2-0 scoreline at Arsenal was a combination of Petr Cech stonewalling the Toffees and a three-minute lapse defensively in which the Toffees switched off — but given United’s form with one win in their last seven matches, this has to be a match where Silva’s men have to stare down history and believe they can indeed get not only a result at Old Trafford, but the rare victory that could ignite a charge to the top six while kicking United down a peg or two.

Everton’s wingers — Bernardo and Theo Walcott — could be the swing votes in this match, and if Sigurdsson is given space with the ball, he has too much quality to not find creases in United’s back four. Manchester United need to come out swinging in this match, and they may need the ghosts of Old Trafford a little bit as well.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester United 1, Everton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 10 PREVIEWS:

Brighton and Hove Albion (3-2-4) vs. Wolverhampton (4-3-2)
Southampton (1-3-5) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-7)
Burnley (2-2-5) vs. Chelsea (6-3-0)
Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) vs. Manchester City (7-2-0)

Champions League Match Day 3 Preview — Manchester United (1-1-0, 4, +3) vs. Juventus (2-0-0, 6, +5)

It has been nearly five years since the last time Cristiano Ronaldo faced his former team, eliminating Manchester United in the round of 16 in the Champions League with a goal at Old Trafford for Real Madrid.

Though the only thing at stake in Tuesday’s Group H clash in England is first place, interests of the football world and emotions for a newly minted Juventus version of Ronaldo are running high ahead of just his second contest at Old Trafford since leaving for the Bernabeu nearly a decade ago.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Ronaldo contributed to United’s prestige in his six seasons with Manchester United, winning three Premier League titles and the 2008 Champions League trophy while rising to superstardom. But at Real Madrid, that superstardom became all-encompassing and omnipresent as he helped Los Blancos to two La Liga titles and four Champions League titles — including the last three.

His first season with Juventus has gotten off to a fairly strong start, though this will be just his second Champions League contest with the Bianconeri. Ronaldo was given a red card in Juve’s opening victory for apparently pulling the hair of Valencia defender Jeison Murillo last month and missed their 3-0 victory over Young Boys earlier this month. It was the first Champions League red card in 154 matches for Ronaldo, who has the all-time scoring mark in Europe’s top club competition with 120 goals.

“It is special for me to return to Manchester,” Ronaldo said at Monday’s news conference. “Here I have many memories of victories and affection, and in particular with Sir Alex Ferguson, to whom I send a big hug. He is a person who helped me so much.”

While some of the talk has been about Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford, much of the news conference was dominated by an allegation of rape in the summer of 2009 while in the United States. The story came back into the spotlight a month ago following an investigative article by the German newspaper Der Spiegel, and while Ronaldo did not directly address the allegations, he also struck a tone of defiance that implies he has been able to compartmentalize what takes place on the pitch and off it.

“We did the statement two weeks ago, if I’m not wrong,” Ronaldo said when pressed about the issue. “I am glad [about how it progresses]. Of course, I’m not going to lie in this situation, I’m very happy. My lawyers, they are confident and of course I am, too. The most important is I enjoy the football, I enjoy my life. The rest, I have people who take care of my life. Of course, the truth is always coming in the first position [eventually]. So, I’m good.”

It is hard to argue with him based on his recent performances for Juventus. The Portugal international has five goals and three assists in his last six Serie A matches and scored in Juve’s 1-1 tie versus Genoa on Saturday that marked the first time in nine matches they dropped points (8-1-0). The Bianconeri are the only unbeaten team in Serie A and are four points clear of Napoli through nine matches as they seek an eighth consecutive scudetto.

While Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic have taken care of the offence by scoring 13 of Juve’s 24 goals, Juve will be without centre-forward Mandzukic, who sprained his ankle in training and did not make the trip. Douglas Costa appears to be the most likely candidate to lead the line, though the Brasil international’s last Champions League goal came with Manchester United in the 2016-17 season.

Juve’s defence, meanwhile, have been their usual stingy selves, conceding just six goals in 11 matches across all competitions. That is even with the changing of the guard between the sticks from warhorse Gianluigi Buffon to Wojceich Szczesny, who has five clean sheets.

The Poland international has plenty of experience facing Manchester United from his days as the No. 1 with Arsenal, but he has not experienced too much success. Szczesny is 2-2-5 with two shutouts against United, but it also should be noted that eight of the 15 goals he has conceded in those matches came in an 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford in 2011.

Dybala was held out of the starting XI versus Genoa to nurse a knee injury, making a 20-minute cameo late, but had a hat trick in Juve’s win over Young Boys. The only other player in Juve’s regular rotation to not make the trip was midfielder Emre Can, who has been recovering from a thyroid problem.

Manchester United are still trying to find themselves, but some of the fight that has been lacking from the England powerhouse was on display in a 2-2 draw versus Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Always a charged atmosphere when manager Jose Mourinho returns to his former stomping grounds where he won three Premier League titles, United nearly escaped London with three points before a goal at the death by Ross Barkley relegated them to splitting them.

Anthony Martial accounted for both goals with a second-half brace, but it was the forward play of United in the second half that generated optimism for this contest. In some ways, it was similar to their 3-2 win over Newcastle United prior to the international break in which they overcame a two-goal deficit in the final 20 minutes, but that fight needs to be present for all 90 minutes as opposed to just fits and spurts.

“I think the first half we just started slow,” United striker Romelu Lukaku said at Monday’s news conference. “No initiative on the ball and no movement. But then in the second half we did everything we said we wanted to do in the first half. We do it always in the second half and that’s why we come back to get great results. But now the key is to start games how we start them in the second half, and maintain it as much as we can.”

United’s win over Newcastle is their only one over the last six matches in all competitions (1-4-1), but they have more clean sheets in Champions League play (2) than domestically (1). Mourinho has injury concerns as wingers Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard have been ruled out of this match along with midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Scott McTominay.

The lack of bodies forced Mourinho to use a 4-2-3-1 formation against Chelsea, something that could be replicated in this match with Juan Mata as the more forward playmaker and Pogba as a holding one alongside Nemanja Matic.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Juventus are 29/20 favourites to leave Old Trafford with all three points and a stranglehold on the group. United are 2/1 underdogs to claim a victory and the group lead ahead of the return engagement in Turin, and the odds of the teams splitting the points and leaving Juve ahead on goal difference halfway through group play are 21/10.

Despite Juve being listed as favourites, the match result with the lowest odds is a low-scoring draw at 11/4. A Juventus win over 2.5 goals has 10/3 odds, while one under 2.5 goals is 19/5. Manchester United posting a win with more than 2.5 goals checks in at 19/4, while a low-scoring victory for the hosts is slightly longer at 9/2.

Ronaldo is the oddsmakers’ favourite to score the first goal of the match in his return to Old Trafford at 4/1, followed by Dybala (5/1). Lukaku rounds out the top three while serving as United’s top option (11/2), with Marcus Rashford and Fernando Bernardeschi completing the top five at 13/2. Despite his brace at Chelsea, Martial has substantially long odds to make it 1-0 for the hosts at 8/1, which is behind the game ending without a goal-scorer (7/1) and teammate Alexis Sanchez and Juve’s Douglas Costa (15/2).

Ronaldo and Dybala also lead the line to score at any point in the match at 6/4 and 19/10 odds, respectively, while Lukaku is a 2/1 pick to run counter to his flat-track bully reputation and score for United. Rashford is a 5/2 choice to score while both Martial and Sanchez have 14/5 odds. On Juve’s side, Costa weighs in at 11/4, slightly behind Bernardeschi at 12/5.

PREDICTION

Based on United’s last two results and how they got there, the question of whether they can put together a complete 90 minutes remains the biggest issue facing them. If they play with the verve and nous of the second half they played against Chelsea, this could be a rollicking affair versus Ronaldo and Juventus. With the likelihood of Antonio Valencia at right back, though, there is a bit of a nod to defence with the realisation it will be a group effort to contain Ronaldo on the left.

It remains to be seen just how much of an impact Mandzukic’s absence makes considering he is second on Juve with three assists. The Croatia international is the grit between the smooth operators Ronaldo and Dybala, though the latter may not be 100 percent for this match. That means most of the playmaking duties will fall to midfielder Miralem Pjanic, who is plenty capable of the role considering he has two assists in Champions League play and four overall.

While Martial is in excellent form for United, Lukaku could very well be the difference between zero points and any for Mourinho’s side. The Belgium international has not scored in his last seven matches for the club and all four of his markers have come in league play. He will be going up against the well-seasoned tandem of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in central defence for Juve, which means it could be a long, frustrating night for Lukaku.

in the end, though, it always comes down to Ronaldo. United have no real good options at right back between Valencia and Ashley Young when it comes to containing Ronaldo’s pace, which means Matic and Chris Smalling must be cognizant of where the superstar is at all times, especially when he makes his darting runs into space since his straight-line speed must be respected.

If second-half United decide to play from the opening whistle, they should emerge with no worse than a draw. But expecting that to happen is pure speculation, and Juventus right now appear to be in too good a form to be slowed down at the moment.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester United 0, Juventus 2.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS:

Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-0) vs. Manchester City (1-0-1)
PSV Eindhoven (0-0-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (0-0-2)
Liverpool (1-0-1) vs. Red Star Belgrade (0-1-1)

Champions League Match Day 2 Preview — Manchester United (1-0-0, +3, 3-0) vs. Valencia (0-0-1, -2, 0-2)

The sideshow rages on at Old Trafford, where Manchester United will try to put aside all the distractions created by Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba and create some separation in Group H of the Champions League on Tuesday when they host Valencia.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Any thought that Manchester United had moved on from their early season swoon promptly gave way to a fresh new inquest following a disastrous week in which they were bounced from the Carabao Cup on penalties by Derby County, coached by Frank Lampard, his one-time midfielder at Chelsea, and then were listless in a 3-1 defeat at West Ham United over the weekend.

Mourinho’s relationship at Pogba reached a nadir early last week when he stripped the World Cup winning midfielder of the vice captaincy in front of his teammates at training before the loss to Derby, and things were not helped when Pogba was lifted in the 70th minute of the loss to West Ham.

However, Mourinho then sucked whatever oxygen was left in the room Monday with a fresh round of criticisms of his team, saying “I see upset people, I see people that don’t look like they lost a game. I see different actions but what you see is not really inside.”

It still remains to be seen if Mourinho has truly lost either the plot or the dressing room in what is rapidly becoming yet another third-year death spiral for “The Special One.” The bigger issue for United is if the latter is the case, the only person who can conceivably come in and salvage this team this season is Zinedine Zidane, who has been breathlessly rumoured to be the next in line should Mourinho’s act run its course this term.

Things were not helped earlier Tuesday when reports emerged Mourinho has also fallen out with Alexis Sanchez, who has scored just three goals in 21 matches across all competitions since his January arrival from Arsenal.

The Chilean international has just one assist in five league matches and was held out of United’s 3-0 win over Young Boys in United’s Champions League opener a fortnight ago. He was an unused substitute in the loss to Derby and not among the 18 at West Ham United.

While Sanchez is expendable to a degree because Anthony Martial can be plugged in on the left wing in United’s 4-3-3 formation, Pogba continues to be a must-play despite the issues between him and Mourinho.

Yet the good news for United — at the moment — is that there appears to be a clear line of demarcation in Group H between the haves and the have-nots as Mourinho’s team are still expected to progress along with Juventus. That puts the pressure on Valencia to somehow get a result from Old Trafford after Els Taronges opened their Champions League adventure with a 2-0 defeat to the Italian side.

Yet the Spanish side enter this contest with some momentum after finally posting their first victory in La Liga last weekend, a 1-0 triumph at Real Soceidad on Saturday. Kevin Gameiro accounted for the lone goal, continuing the offensive struggles of a team that has recorded draws in five of their seven league matches while scoring just five goals.

“We’re here with hope, because of the surroundings, the competition and the opponent. We go out to win every game, even if we know how difficult it will be to win here,” Rodrigo said at Monday’s news conference. “We competed well against Juventus, but didn’t manage to get over the line. Even so, we’ve come here to win, and we’ll be trying to go out feeling as good as possible and to grow as a team.”

It is possible some of the offensive struggles of late were due to Marcelinho serving a two-match ban after being sent off in their scoreless draw at Villarreal, but the team has been held off the scoresheet in four of their eight matches. Els Taronges have scored three of their five goals on the road, but they also have not scored in 378 minutes of Champions League play dating to their last appearance in 2015 when Gent’s Stefan Mitrovic scored an own goal that made the difference in Valencia’s 2-1 victory.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, United are still overwhelming favourites despite all the drama surrounding them, entering the match with 7/10 odds to take the full three points. The odds of the team splitting the points are 27/10, while Valencia are 4/1 longshots to pull off a shock scoreline and add some chaos to Group H.

Even with Valencia’s struggles, oddsmakers are counting on United to deliver some goals as a home win with more than 2.5 goals leads the options at 17/10 odds. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory follows with 3/1 odds, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw checks in at 18/5. For those who fancy the Spanish side emerging victorious, it is a 7/1 return on over 2.5 goals and 9/1 for under the mark.

Lukaku unsurprisingly leads the line for first goal-scorers at 3/1 odds, well clear of his wings Martial and Marcus Rashford, who are both 11/2 to make it 1-0 for United. Despite the reported fallout, Sanchez has 6/1 odds, and Pogba is always a viable selection as the penalty taker and gets 7/1 odds for the first marker. On Valencia’s side, Rodrigo Moreno leads the way at 15/2, followed by Gameiro and Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi — both of whom are 8/1.

Lukaku is almost even money to find the back of the net at some point during the match with 21/20 odds, with Rashford (15/8) edging out Martial (2/1) for second. Sanchez is a surprising 2/1 while Pogba lurks close behind him at 23/10 and Juan Mata has 5/2 odds. For Els Taronges, Moreno (13/5) edges out Gameiro and Batshuayi (11/4) for the top option.

PREDICTION

Manchester United need to make the pressure go away, and the only way that happens — for the time being at least — is with a victory in this game. A third successive loss on the bounce to teams all of lesser quality when compared to what Mourinho has regardless of his criticisms may be too much water for the ship to take on.

The Red Devils looked listless at West Ham, and perhaps more ominously, it looked like Mourinho was outcoached by counterpart Manuel Pellegrini as United lacked answers after falling behind. This match should be different because Valencia have lacked any and all offence for much of the young season — they have not scored more than two goals in any match.

Yet Rodrigo and Batshuayi could provide problems for a back four that still appear fragile at times, especially with the central partnership of Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling. While it would no be surprising to see Fellaini as the shield in front of them, this may be a case where Matic may be the better call to be that holding midfielder while Pogba and Fred push forward.

For all the doom and gloom around United, they are not a bad side. There is quality throughout the pitch, and that doesn’t even factor in keeper David De Gea, arguably the best shot-stopper in the Premier League and perhaps Europe. It is a matter of everyone singing from the same hymn sheet, and that can only start with a victory — one United will likely graft to here.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER UNITED 1, Valencia 0.