Much of the tripe written about Leighton Baines and his ‘move’ to Manchester United has cited as his motivation a desire to play in the Champions League. Well, after this result, with United now cut adrift from the top four, it would seem his best chance of playing in Europe would be to stay put. Or, the teenage scribblers, who pen the reams of transfer twaddle which clogs up the internet and is used to pad-out the sports pages, might like to turn their attention to Bryan Oviedo. The scorer of two good goals in two games – one right, one left-footed – and with an assist against Stoke. He is after all six years younger than Baines and clearly a player many had underestimated. His energetic, confident play has been a revelation and he clearly has an eye for goal too.
Of course every aspect of the transfer market is potty; the size of the fees, the agents payments and the rumour merry go-round are hardly based on sane logic. Nor are the prices paid. On the basis of what we saw at Old Trafford last night the £13m Everton spent to secure the services of James McCarthy appears bargain-basement when compared to the £27.5m United shelled out for Fellaini; a midfielder who cannot defend, or rather has no interest in defending. The big Belgian spent his evening trotting ineffectively around the middle of the park and was culpabable in the build up to Everton’s goal.
Roberto Martinez, as expected, brought back Ross Barkley in place of Leon Osman and selected Kevin Mirallas ahead of Gerard Deulofeu. The Spanish youngster held back for use as an ‘impact’ substitute. For United, despite hints that he might play, Robin van Persie was absent and Danny Welbeck started. In midfield Marouane Fellaini partnered Ryan Giggs, who was starting his first match as a 40-something.
A key confrontation was always going to be between Nemanja Vidic, the battle-hardened, bemedalled veteran of many campaigns and twenty year old Romelu Lukaku, who though young is by no means naive and is built like a heavyweight boxer. And so it proved. The striker worked the Serb hard over the ninety minutes. Early on he had Vidic retreating and twisting in front of him on the edge of the area, before unleashing a fierce left-foot shot which De Gea did well to parry. It was noticeable that in the second half, as the older man tired, Lukaku was able to work himself an extra second or two here, and a yard or two there, hardly discernable, but enough, so that when on 70 minutes he received the ball on the half-way line he had the space to angle a delightful reverse ball which sent Deulofeu with a clear run on goal. And it was Lukaku as provider again on 85 minutes when he beat a feeble Fellaini challenge on the edge of the area and got away the scuffed shot-cum-cross which found its way to Oviedo who finished calmly at the far post.
Rooney and Welbeck hit the woodwork as did Kevin Mirallas and Tim Howard produced some wonderful saves, most notably a point blank stop from an Evra header. United were never comfortable or in control with Everton retaining possession well and, crucially, always looking dangerous on the break. It’s an old cliché but this was a team performance; Gareth Barry was quietly effective, filling the holes and knitting play together; James McCarthy pressed, covered and prompted; Jagielka was faultless at the back; Howard was outstanding. Only Steven Pienaar had a relatively quiet night.
On Sunday comes a far more troublesome test. United are no Arsenal. Moyes is no Wenger. The game at the Emirates will be the toughest challenge Everton have faced this season. That said Roberto Martinez and his men can face it with confidence high and with a deep and diverse squad of players all pushing for selection.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael (Nani 58), Vidic©, Smalling, Evra; Fellaini, Giggs; Valencia, Kagawa (Januzaj 58), Welbeck (Hernandez 81); Rooney
Unused subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Cleverley, Young.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Distin, Jagielka©, Oviedo; McCarthy, Barry; Pienaar (Osman 80), Barkley (Deulofeu 69), Mirallas (Naismith 90); Lukaku
Unused subs: Robles, Heitinga, Jelavic, Stones
Ref: Martin Atkinson