Everton-Manchester United Preview
A top-three finish is in sight for Manchester United.
Louis van Gaal's United (14-8-8) have provided more of the ridiculous than the sublime in a campaign that has failed to fully take spark, but such is the inconsistency of the teams around them that United find themselves just one point outside of the Champions League places with eight games remaining.
United won 1-0 at Manchester City prior to the international break to close the gap on their fourth-placed neighbours, but Van Gaal is setting his sights on going one better and catching Arsenal in third.
"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. "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."
Everton (9-11-9) are next up at Old Trafford for United on Sunday, and home turf has been good to Van Gaal's side of late. Three points against the Toffees would give United their first four-match win streak of the season at Old Trafford, and defence has been the cornerstone of that success - they have conceded just seven goals in their last 14 home league games.
United will face Everton without Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has been ruled out with a knee ligament injury, while Ander Herrera, Will Keane, Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Ashley Young and Luke Shaw remain unavailable.
Visitors Everton have a talented squad - evidenced by earning a spot in the FA Cup semifinals - but have failed to impress for much of the season, heading into Sunday's game in the bottom half of the table.
Romelu Lukaku has stood out as a star player in the underperforming Everton side and unsurprisingly has begun to make noises about looking for a move to a Champions League club in the summer transfer window.
However, manager Roberto Martinez is not overly concerned and believes that the speculation surrounding Lukaku is inevitable when a player is performing at such a high level.
"Rom is having a really good season - he needs to make it an outstanding one in the last two months left," Martinez said. That is the only talk that I am looking at - the talking he does on the pitch and the contribution that he makes.
"Whatever the speculation, it comes from him performing well on the pitch. The aspiration of everyone should be becoming as good as you can and aspiring to be in the best competitions that you can. At Everton we have got that aspiration."
The Belgium international has scored six goals in his last seven appearances in all competitions. He is one of only four players to have scored a hat-trick against United in the Premier League era, and it is expected that he will lead the line again Sunday.
The Everton attack has not been the issue for Martinez this season; rather it has been their porous defence that has caused many of the problems - injury concerns over John Stones and Bryan Oviedo won't please the Toffees boss as he prepares for the trip to Old Trafford, and Stones had a middling performance for England during the international break.
Fellow defenders Tony Hibbert and Tyias Browning remain out with long-term knee injuries.
Everton have lost just one of their last 14 Premier League matches away from home.
Manchester United's next goal will be their 1,000th at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, with this being their 457th home game. The team will also unveil the new Sir Bobby Charlton Stand before the contest.