Manchester United will be looking to keep their Champions League hopes alive when they welcome Everton to Old Trafford on Sunday in the late kick-off.
Louis van Gaal’s side boosted their chances of finishing in the top four after beating neighbours Manchester City 1-0 in the last round of Premier League fixtures before the international break.
The victory, courtesy of Marcus Rashford’s 16th-minute goal at the Etihad Stadium, put some gloss on a disappointing month for the Red Devils as they halted a four-match winless run in all competitions that saw them eliminated from the Europa League by fierce rivals Liverpool.
United enter this weekend’s clash just one point adrift of fourth-placed City in sixth, although that gap could extend to four if Manuel Pellegrini’s men win at Bournemouth on Saturday.
“Still we are capable of being in the top three in the league at this moment and we believe in that, the players believe in that,” Van Gaal said in his pre-match press conference.
“We can also win the FA Cup, so we have a lot to fight for. I hope that we show it already in the first match because that is the most important match as you have to continue what you have done against City.”
Commenting on their upcoming opponents, the Dutchman added: “Everton have a good away record, better than their home record – it is very strange.
“When you also see the history of the last matches against them – not my history, but other recent games – it is not so good. Everton are, as an opponent, very difficult for Manchester United, but I hope my record shall continue.”
The hosts will be without Bastian Schweinsteiger after the midfielder injured his knee during training with Germany ahead of their friendly with England last week.
It is feared Schweinsteiger will not return to action before the end of the campaign, although Wayne Rooney could soon make his comeback from a knee problem he sustained in the 2-1 reverse at Sunderland on February 13.
Ander Herrera is set to miss a third game in succession with a groin concern.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 1, 2016
Speaking on MUTV, Van Gaal said: “Schweinsteiger was injured already before the matches. I think on the second day of training. That’s a big blow for us and also for the national team. You can never say anything about that [missing the rest of the season] because he’s started his rehabilitation. You have to wait and see.
“Wayne is doing great. He has more or less the same injury as Basti [Schweinsteiger] has now. He’s doing great. Today he has trained on a lower level with a little bit of skill training, so with the ball. It’s going very good with him.”
The Toffees make the short journey down the M62 just three points shy of the top 10 in 12th position, although they do have a game in hand on the two teams directly above them in the standings.
Roberto Martinez will be seeking a response from his charges in the league following back-to-back defeats against West Ham (3-2) and Arsenal (2-0) prior to the two-week hiatus, although they did manage to book a place in the FA Cup semi-finals after beating Chelsea 2-0 last month.
Should the Merseyside outfit manage to avoid defeat at Old Trafford they will set a new club record of nine consecutive games without being beaten in the top flight.
Martinez told evertontv: “We want to react from our performance against Arsenal. It is as simple as wanting to get back to our best level. It is a game in which we want to test ourselves.
“Our away record has been very strong this season and we want to get back to feeling good about ourselves and that will allow the result to come.
“We want to start the game well, adapt to what is needed at Old Trafford and get rid of the feeling that we had against Arsenal and perform well in this game straightaway.”
The visitors are boosted by the return of three players. Kevin Mirallas is available after serving his suspension, John Stones has recovered from the knock he picked up in England’s 2-1 loss to the Netherlands on Tuesday, while Bryan Oviedo is back from a chest infection, which saw him miss the last two encounters. However, Gareth Barry remains on the sidelines as he serves the final installment of a two-match ban.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference on Friday, Martinez said: “John had just a little knock and is recovering very well from that. He had a good enough introduction with the group yesterday (Thursday), so I don’t expect any problems.
“Bryan Oviedo has come back and has been training for a good period so I would consider him fully fit to get back into the squad.
“Kevin Mirallas has finished his suspension, so we’ve recovered these two bodies from the last game. Everyone else is fully fit and has come back from international duty in good condition.”
Anthony Martial and Rashford will be the ones to watch for United as the attacking duo have plenty of pace and skill to unlock the Toffees’ defence.
Martial has seven league goals to his name this season, although he hasn’t found the back of the net since scoring against the Black Cats. The Frenchman did, however, net in successive games against West Ham in the FA Cup and Liverpool in the Europa League.
Rashford, meanwhile, has really seized the chance provided by Rooney’s injury, with the 18-year-old striker scoring back-to-back braces on debut in the Europa League and Premier League.
The teenager has started the last eight games for the Red Devils and his winner at City halted a run of five games without a goal.
The dangerman for Everton is undoubtedly Romelu Lukaku, who is third in the Premier League scoring charts with 18 goals, three shy of Harry Kane in pole position.
Lukaku is in a rich vein of form in front of goal, having scored six times in his last seven games for his club, while the Belgium international was also on target for his country against Portugal in midweek.
United beat the Toffees 3-0 in the reverse fixture back in October, with Rooney on target against his former employers, along with Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera.
However, their head-to-head record in recent seasons is pretty even, with three wins each for the Red Devils and Everton, the last draw between the two teams a 4-4 thriller on 22 April 2012.