Pitchside

Moyes must avoid Everton humiliation and keep run going

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While it's unlikely that David Moyes would begrudge his old side any success the reality is that Everton's slip up in their pursuit of Champions League football in midweek has given the United boss a feint chance of restoring a little faith in his own ability, not just that of his team.

United have the chance to move to within six points of the Toffees with a win this weekend, with a game in hand over Roberto Martinez's side, who still have to face Manchester City.

If you had said that United would be scrapping to finish above Everton at the start of the season there may have been some disbelief from Red Devils' fans but United's demise and Everton's rise has coincided - with Moyes somewhat unfortunately the literal link between the two.

Despite their lowly standing United, surprisingly, boast the best away record in the entire Premier League (33 points), with four back-to-back victories on the road culminating in an impressive demolition job of struggling Newcastle last time out. The visitors on Sunday should be the fresher of the two sides due to Everton's midweek exertions and looked in impressive form against the Magpies, with Juan Mata having come to life in recent weeks.

Not only have Moyes' side began to click at the business end but their defensive record on the road has been superb of late. They last conceded over five games ago away from home (488 minutes of action without conceding), when a Charlie Adam strike saw United fall to yet another embarrassing defeat.

The United backline will do well to keep out an Everton side that have averaged two goals per game at home this season, with the Toffees having significantly more to play for than their visitors. Nevertheless, only one of the last six league games between the sides has seen both register on the scoresheet.

While Moyes' defence have been questioned at times this season, with the likes of Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra all seemingly nearing the end of their United careers, their record at the back is not dissimilar to that of last season. The runaway champions under Ferguson conceded 43 goals, with just 38 conceded in the current campaign.

It's in attack where they have fallen way short of their competitors at the league's summit under the new regime and it's the side's ineffectiveness in the final third that has most often been pinned on Moyes' at times one-dimensional approach. It's perhaps also telling that with four games to spare Everton have netted as many goals this season (55) as they did last time around.

While it will be of little significance to the Manchester United faithful, the possibility of finishing above Everton could yet be an incentive for Moyes from a personal perspective. With so much changing in the space of a game week recently it's unlikely, but not out of the question.

The issue for Moyes and United would be that a strong end to the season would see them secure a Europa League berth. It's been suggested that it would be better for the club, and particularly one of United's stature, not to be playing in Europe's second-tier competition. The fans will certainly look to Liverpool's success in the league as an unlikely model to follow.

In a short term though, for Moyes at least, he'll be desperate not to suffer the humiliation of a duo of defeats against the club that he left in order to further his career.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

Martin Laurence

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