Everton v Manchester United: Phil Neville believes Everton are beginning to crack under Champions League pressure

The defeat to Crystal Palace handed Arsenal the initiative in the race for fourth and Neville, a former Toffees captain, feels that their lack of experience of competing at the top could cost them

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The Independent Football

Manchester United coach Phil Neville feels Everton are starting to crack under the pressure of being in the hunt for Champions League qualification.

Neville will return to Goodison Park on Sunday for the first time since he left Everton to join the Manchester United backroom staff under David Moyes.

After coming through the youth ranks as part of the famed 'Class of '92', Neville went on to enjoy 10 successful years on the United playing staff before he joined Everton in 2005.

Neville became captain and a favourite with fans of the Merseyside club, but there is no doubt where his true loyalties lie.

The former England left-back is United through and through, so he will not shed any tears if the Red Devils triumph on Sunday and inflict what he believes could be a fatal blow to the Toffees' Champions League dreams.


Neville believes Everton's 3-2 defeat against Crystal Palace on Wednesday shows that they are struggling to cope with the demands of being touted as a serious top-four contender.

"Everton were the team that were in control of their own destiny but it's a different kind of pressure when you have to go out there and win games so Everton are under that pressure now," Neville told Football Focus.

"You saw it with the result against Crystal Palace.

"Can they handle the pressure when it's on them and they have to win games?

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"We know we have got to win but the pressure is on Everton to beat us. We can go there and enjoy the occasion.

"And at this stage of the season if you slip up once it's very difficult to recover from that and we hope that is the case with Everton."

Neville was clearly in no mood to pull any punches as he conducted interviews ahead of Sunday afternoon's clash on Merseyside.

The former full-back wore one of the most glum expressions as he trudged out of the dressing rooms in Athens two months ago after a 2-0 defeat to Olympiacos and heavy defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City have only worsened the pain he has gone through this season.

Neville won the Premier League six times in his decade at United and he was also part of the team that lifted the Champions League on that most dramatic of nights in Barcelona.

So victories against Aston Villa and Newcastle, and a plucky defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, have done little to lift Neville's spirits.

"When you get to this stage of the season, it's been quite foreign for this group and this football club, to be out of all the competitions and not challenging for a trophy. There is a really empty feeling and there is an empty feeling in my belly," he told MUTV.

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"When I joined I thought we'd be challenging for trophies. This group of players is used to winning trophies and medals and parading around the pitch after the last game of the season with the championship, European Cup or FA Cup.

"That is where the emptiness comes from and it will stay with us until we win the Premier League back again or the FA Cup or the Capital One Cup or the European Cup.

"That's what this club is all about - winning trophies. It's not about finishing second, third or fourth and qualifying for the Champions League. We have to win leagues and have to win trophies. The boss knows that and that is what he wants to do himself."

While Moyes has struggled in his first season at United, 35 miles along the M62, his successor has enjoyed a memorable maiden campaign.

Talk of this being a transition year for Everton quickly disappeared once it became clear that the club and Martinez fitted together like hand in glove.

Everton have played some of the best football in the league under the Spaniard this year and despite the Palace defeat, they are still just one point behind fourth place Arsenal, who face Hull on Sunday at 2:05pm.

United, who have former Everton striker Wayne Rooney available, will not struggle for motivation even though some believe their season is over, according to Neville.

"We want to win all our remaining matches," said Neville, who played 386 times for United.

"That's the challenge we have set the players."