EVERTON 1 (Fellaini 57) – MANCHESTER UNITED 0
They came, Sky Sports and the scores of reporters who packed the cramped press box at Goodison, to acclaim Robin van Persie as the man who would rejuvenate Manchester United, they left having to adjust their sights to an altogether higher reality. That truth is that in the towering Marouane Fellaini Everton possess one of the most potent forward players in the Premier League and that in this patchwork assemblage of loyal one-club-players, lower league recruits made good, cut price and free-transfers who didn’t make the cut at ‘bigger’ clubs with a dash of big money buys, David Moyes has fashioned a fine footballing unit. The statistics may show that United had an overwhelming 69% of possession but be under no illusion, it was only the slim figure of keeper David de Gea who prevented United from suffering a heavy defeat. Leon Osman, Pienaar twice, Fellaini and Jelavic were all denied by excellent saves while Osman and Fellaini hit the woodwork.
Moyes started with the same six midfield and attacking players who shocked United at Old Trafford last April with Fellaini again pushed forward into the hole, while Sir Alex Ferguson brought Carrick in to partner Vidic in central defence after losing Ferdinand, Evans, Smalling and Jones to injury. New signing Shinji Kagawa made his Premier League debut playing just off lone striker Wayne Rooney while van Persie, presumably short of match practise after spending the summer engineering his exit from Arsenal, was left on the bench.
Intricate, quick and penetrative are not always adjectives one would naturally use to describe Everton’s play however under the lights last night the Blues stood toe to toe with Manchester United and gave as good, if not better, than they got. Never allowing their opponents to settle, attack was countered by attack and solid defensive play right across the back four were the rocks upon which Rooney, Welbeck, Nani, Evra and the excellent Kagawa again and again foundered. Despite completing 692 passes to Everton’s 308 the visitors just could not penetrate this defensive curtain. Crucially where it really counts the statistics tell a very different story; Everton had 42 touches in the opposition penalty area compared to United’s 27 – penetration versus impotent possession.
Tony Hibbert was a lion, his tackling, inside the box, one on one, where the risk is greatest, was magnificent; Nani, Evra and Anderson were all dispossessed by fine, perfectly timed sliding tackles as United poured forward in the last 25 minutes in search of an equalizer. Jagielka and Distin were quick and decisive in the tackle, while Leighton Baines ran his flank with clinical efficiency, like a dapper sergeant major dashing back and forth dousing fires. He linked well with Steven Pienaar – uniquely making his third debut for Everton – and they made the left wing a virtual no-go area for United.
A svelte Darron Gibson, who looks to have shed half a stone, was calm under pressure and passed the ball well, he was disciplined, reliable and energetic alongside an assured Phil Neville; their contribution was significant, shielding the back four and pressing when the opposition had the ball. Gibson had a couple of long range shots which went well wide; he needs to believe in himself, beneath his almost self-deprecating play hides a solid operator, who we suspect will grow this season into a powerful midfield force.
The goal came from a set-piece and was simplicity itself. Gibson hit a flat, driven corner, which Fellaini, marked by Carrick rather than Vidic, headed cleanly and down to de Gea’s left. Now comes the difficult bit; expectations have been raised. Everton have shown that they can beat the elite now they must maintain the momentum, starting at Villa Park on Saturday. Oh and keeping hold of Fellaini would be good too.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Gibson, Neville ©; Osman (Coleman 80), Fellaini (Heitinga 90), Pienaar; Jelavic (Naismith 89)
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Valencia, Vidic ©, Carrick, Evra; Scholes, Cleverley (Anderson 85); Nani (Young 78), Kagawa, Welbeck (Van Persie 68); Rooney
Booked: Nani, Scholes
Referee: Andre Marriner Assistants: S Ledger, M McDonough