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Manchester United and Everton braced for bitter northwest battle

Manchester United and Everton fans would probably like to think they have nothing in common, but the northwest competitors clearly both have backline issues heading into this tantalising clash.

Neutrals will be hoping the two sides’ porous defences will result in an exciting encounter littered with goals, but the Premier League top four hopefuls are available at 11/4 with Coral to cautiously cancel each other out.

Louis van Gaal’s side have conceded four times in their last two games and, despite a 4-0 thumping of Premier League punching bag QPR, have yet to truly impress this season.

However, the Dutch coach believes his side’s frailties cannot be pinned solely on his inexperienced rearguard. Speaking ahead of the clash, he stated: “I want my defensive organisation to be better but the defence begins in the striker’s position. It’s teamwork, so when we concede a goal it’s not only because of an individual error from the defence.”

The Red Devils’ recent record against the Toffees indicates a tricky test awaits, with United claiming just four wins from their last 10 meetings. However, fans will look to the fact that three of those victories happened on home turf.

Van Gaal has lost just one match at Old Trafford this term and, with United odds-on at 4/6 to triumph, will be hoping the Stretford End faithful can inspire his team once more.

Injury has ravaged the Red Devils’ campaign this season, and the Manchester giants are still without seven potential first-team players, including suspended skipper Wayne Rooney, who will miss the chance to duel with his boyhood club.

This could be a blessing in disguise for United, as the superstar striker often succumbs to pressure against his former team. This will also be a chance for Van Gaal to field a more balanced starting XI, with Spanish playmaker Juan Mata and exciting talent Adnan Januzaj waiting in the wings for a spot.

With injured midfield maestro Ander Herrera also sitting on the sidelines, there will be two places up for grabs. However, United have come undone against Everton’s counter-attacking prowess in recent times, meaning Van Gaal may opt for a more robust option such as Antonio Valencia.

The Red Devils coach has already stated that academy product Patrick McNair, who impressed in his debut against West Ham United last time out, will keep his place in the heart of defence alongside Marcos Rojo, despite the availability of Tyler Blackett.

Everton, meanwhile, rested several players in their midweek Europa League encounter, and are 9/2 to be revitalised and take all three points at Old Trafford. The Toffees are expected to welcome back flying full back Seamus Coleman and midfielder James McCarthy, which should provide more stability and guile.

Roberto Martinez’s men have also struggled to find the right balance between defence and attack this season, leaking 14 goals in just six Premier League outings.

The Toffees can take inspiration from last term, when they did a memorable double over the Red Devils, and former boss David Moyes. The Merseysiders outplayed the home team on their last visit to Old Trafford and are 20/1 to snatch another 1-0 victory, despite the absence of Kevin Mirallas.

Club record signing Romelu Lukaku has yet to hit the heights of last term, and has only netted twice this season. With Samuel Eto’o playing the goal hero last time out, Lukaku is 9/4 to use the pressure to push on and score anytime against United.

With the Red Devils raft of attacking options, including a rejuvenated Robin van Persie (4/1 to bag a brace or better) and a hungry Radamel Falcao (4/1 to fire home first and break his duck), Everton will need leading man Lukaku to step up.