When Manchester United travel to Goodison Park to face Everton in the final match of the Premier League’s opening weekend, the ghost of last year’s title collapse will be staring them right in the face.
For it was the 4-4 draw with the Toffees at Old Trafford in April that was the match that truly let Manchester City back into the title race and by the time Roberto Mancini’s men had beaten United a week later, the Red Devils had blown an eight-point lead and were trailing on goal difference with just two games left.
We all know what happened next and Sergio Aguero’s historic strike has haunted all connected with the red half of Manchester ever since, especially Sir Alex Ferguson, whose nose went 50 shades of purple when he heard of the Argentine’s last-minute winner and the Scot has admitted that the episode has dominated his thoughts all summer.
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The Blues have lost just one of their last four at home to United, and finished last season in incredible form at Goodison, winning seven of eight, keeping six clean sheets while beating Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea among others.
But Ferguson being Ferguson, he has come out fighting and was in typically bullish mood as he unveiled Robin van Persie this week, claiming to have a strikeforce as good as the famous quartet that he boasted during the 1998/99 season.
He may be right, but his current midfield bears no relation whatsoever to that vintage and despite Van Persie’s obvious brilliance, you would have thought the Scot might have been more keen to address the central midfield area that has been relatively weak for some time.
But with Ferguson clearly up for the challenge once more – how long his players will suffer a post-Aguero hangover is another matter – the title race between the two Manchester clubs is sure to be another evenly contested one.
Only goal difference separated the teams last season and Ferguson will know the importance of a good start but Monday’s trip to Everton is a tough opener for United, especially given Everton’s unusually serene pre-season.
The Red Devils are 4/5 favourites to get their title bid off to the perfect start, while Everton are 17/5 with the draw at 5/2, and I have a feeling that the Toffees could break their recent bad habits and get off to a good start for once.
David Moyes has seen his side lose the opening match of the season for the last four years as Everton have often limped along until the New Year before putting together a brilliant run in the last third of the season. There are usually reasons for this as injuries, a lack of investment and the sale of key players have disrupted Moyes’ plans, but this year there have been no such worries.
Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell have moved on but neither are going to be missed this year given Cahill is past his best and Rodwell has not yet reached his, and with a fairly clear treatment room Everton look ready to go.
Transfer activity hasn’t been plentiful – when is it ever at Goodison? – but tying up a permanent deal for Steven Pienaar and snatching Steven Naismith from Rangers is good business and we should remember that Everton start the season with something they have seldom had under Moyes: a clinical goalscorer in the form of Nikica Jelavic.
So Everton look in reasonable shape and I think they can get a result on Monday evening under the lights at Goodison. The Blues have lost just one of their last four at home to United and finished last season in incredible form on their own patch, winning seven of eight, keeping six clean sheets and beating Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea, among others.
I know Everton’s form at the end of one season has rarely carried on into the next, but I think this year can buck the trend and at evens to avoid defeat, Everton look the bet.
Recommended bet: Everton to avoid defeat @ evens
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