Soccernet Preview: Everton v Man United
• 12.45 GMT (Live on ESPN 2, US only, 7.45 ET)
When these two sides met in November it was hardly a clash of the form teams. Everton found themselves languishing towards the wrong end of the Premier League table, while Manchester United had lost two of their previous three matches.
Circumstances have now changed as Goodison Park welcomes two teams who have rediscovered their touch. Sir Alex Ferguson's charges are top of the current form table with six wins from eight games and only United have picked up more points than Everton over that same period.
Both clubs go into the game after playing in Europe during the week, with United claiming their first ever victory in the San Siro by defeating Milan 3-2 in the Champions League. Everton also picked up a victory, though the late penalty they conceded in beating Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League could prove to be damaging. United are now just a point behind leaders Chelsea, while Everton's march up the table has seen them climb to ninth.
David Moyes has seldom had happy times against the Red Devils, winning just once in 15 league meetings and failing to muster a single goal in the last three games. The only victory came at Goodison Park at the end of the 2004-05 season, with Duncan Ferguson scoring the only goal of the match. Everton's overall Premier League record against United doesn't make any better reading, with just three wins from 35 games.
Everton player in focus: Landon Donovan: Former Manchester United striker Louis Saha may be grabbing the headlines in front of goal, especially after his two-goal salvo against Chelsea ten days ago, but in USA international Donovan, Everton have a player who has quickly settled into the English game. Though used to playing in a more advanced rule with LA Galaxy, Donovan has proved adaptable on the right of midfield and offers a different kind of threat from out wide.
Manchester United player in focus: Wayne Rooney: It would not be an Everton-Man United game without focusing on a player who was nurtured on Merseyside before leaving for Old Trafford in 2004. Moyes and Rooney had a spectacular falling out after the transfer, which only adds to the mix whenever the two sides meet. Rooney heads into the game in electric form, with the two goals he scored against Milan making it ten goals in his last eight appearances. That said, Rooney has only scored twice against his old side despite United's dominance, and the Toffees' faithful will hope to create a fiery atmosphere to remind him of where he came from.
Key battle: Sylvain Distin v Wayne Rooney: With Wayne Rooney in imperious form, Everton are going to have to find a way to stop him. Rooney's strength and desire saw him bully Milan defenders Thiago Silva and Alessandro Nesta into submission in the Giuseppe Meazza, while Distin was sent off for a professional foul against Sporting. Everton have four clean sheets in their last seven outings, and Distin will need to be on top form if Everton are to have any chance of extending that record. Distin built up a fine reputation at Manchester City, and will need to rediscover that form, rather than relive some of his shaky performances at Portsmouth, to stop the devastating Rooney.
Tactics: Wayne Rooney may play as the lone striker for United, with support coming from the midfield and out wide. With Nani suspended, it means Antonio Valencia is guaranteed to start on the right with Darren Fletcher likely to again play on the left. Ferguson will decide whether to restore Dimitar Berbatov to the starting line-up or allow Ji-Sung Park to continue as a support forward. Everton will continue with Louis Saha playing in front of but the loss of Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini leaves a huge gap. Leon Osman and Jack Rodwell are in contention to replace Cahill.
Quotes: Everton's Steven Pienaar on being linked with Bayern Munich: "I feel this is my home. The supporters have always been good to me and I always give 100%. I definitely aim to play here for a lot longer, why not? Talk of moving is only rumours and I am definitely enjoying my football here."
Wayne Rooney on his goalscoring form: "I've been working a lot on getting into the box a lot more, especially inside the six-yard box. That is helping me to score goals, which gives me more confidence.''
In the news: Everton boss David Moyes was one of the managers to speak out against the proposed Champions League play-off in the Premier League. "I am not sure if it is right that you work the whole season - finish seventh and that might get you in the Champions League," he said. Meanwhile, Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic has yet again come out to quash rumours that he could leave the club in the summer. "I repeat for the hundredth time: I have a contract with Manchester United until the summer of 2012 and I want to stay at Old Trafford until the last day," he told Vecernje Novosti.
Everton team news: Phil Jagielka remains a long-term casualty, but he is now joined on the sidelines by Marouane Fellaini who will miss the rest of the campaign with an ankle injury. Tim Cahill is out for three weeks after suffering a calf strain on Europa League duty. Sylvain Distin is available for domestic duty but Tony Hibbert will not make the United game. Philippe Senderos and Victor Anichebe are also doubtful.
Manchester United news: Sir Alex will continue to be without the suspended Nani and Rio Ferdinand at Goodison Park. Ryan Giggs is out for another three weeks with a broken arm while John O'Shea will be lucky to play again this season as he battles a thigh muscle strain. There is still no return date for Owen Hargreaves, while Vidic is likely to be fit.
Probable Everton line-up (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Donovan, Rodwell, Arteta, Pienaar, Osman; Saha.
Probable Manchester United line-up (4-5-1): Van der Sar; Neville, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Fletcher, Park; Rooney.
Soccernet prediction: Everton's hope of inflicting a first Premier League defeat on Manchester United in two months may rest on the fitness of Tim Cahill. With Marouane Fellaini already out, the Toffees are missing a crucial presence in their side. To lose the goalscoring Australian too would leave another sizeable hole. United are playing with supreme confidence right now, and few would back against Rooney performing the heroics again to down his former club.