The 6th place Toffees visited Old Trafford on Sunday for a match with the league leaders. Could United avenge it’s season-opening loss at Goodison Park?
Manchester United Starting XI:
Rafael – Vidic – Evans – Evra
Valencia – Cleverley – Jones – Giggs
Rooney – van Persie
Everton Starting XI:
Neville – Jagielka – Heitinga – Baines
Mirallas – Osman – Gibson – Pienaar
Since I am not privy to any inside information, I don’t know for a fact that the loss by Man City on Saturday had Sir Alex rethinking his starting lineups for today’s match, but it wouldn’t surprise me either. Even with the upcoming Champions League match with Real Madrid on Wednesday, SAF came out with a strong lineup knowing that United could push the Premier League lead to 12 points with another win at home. He did have some comments before the match that the EPL could do some of what the other leagues do and reschedule some matches for teams involved in upcoming Champion League fixtures, as do the French for example.
One thing is sure: from Everton’s opening kickoff until Mark Halsey’s final whistle, this was an extremely well played, intense match by both squads. United found its footing a bit earlier than the Toffees and put immediate pressure on the Everton goal. In fact, Howard had to come off his line and punch the ball away barely two minutes into the match. It looked as if the Devils were on their way in the 10th as Rafael and Rooney took advantage of a little Evertonian ball-watching. Rooney took a terrific pass from the Brazilian and then found van Persie breaking through the back four. RVP dragged past Howard but uncharacteristically put his shot off the near post. It was, however, a notice of things to come.
Three minutes later Giggs put in his first goal of the campaign keeping his streak intact. The Wiz has scored in each of the Premier League’s 21 seasons. Rafael played a long pass to Valencia, who found RVP at the right side of the area. He tapped it once with his left foot before finding Giggs unmarked in front of goal. Ryan calmly passed the ball off the inside of the right post – becoming the second-oldest player to score in the Premier League.
For the next 20 minutes or so, Everton brought the pressure. United’s defense seems to be rounding into form, however, as they played magnificently during this stretch. De Gea was often a bystander as Rafael, Vidic, and Evans in particular kept the ball out of his penalty area. That is not to say that we didn’t need De Gea back there. In the 29th minute, Osman fired from long range and De Gea got both hands on it pushing it wide and away from danger. This is the second consecutive match where David’s demeanor showed he was in charge of the box. After the debacle against Southampton, he has played with confidence like a true United #1.
Another change I noticed this match as opposed to the opening match that Everton won in August, was United’s attention to Maroune Fellaini. Fellaini was a marked man in every sense of the word and had Phil Jones in his pocket virtually everywhere he went on the pitch. Sir Alex rarely assigns a man-to-man defense for a single player as it usually opens up holes in the defense, but the tactic certainly paid dividends on Sunday. Fellaini, dominant in Everton’s 1-0 victory to start the season, was hardly a factor in the rematch. His frustration was obvious, and he picked up one of only two yellows issued for the match.
Another thing that struck me, especially after watching the West Ham – Aston Villa fixture just before this one, is how organized each of these teams were compared to the teams near the bottom of the table. Both Everton and United seemed to know where their teammates were and what they were trying to accomplish. Passing was crisp and had a purpose, and there was not a lot of kicking the ball just to be putting a foot to it. This match really was a joy to watch.
Just after the extra time started at the end of the first half, van Persie atoned for his early miss with his 19th league goal of the year. With Everton playing an extremely high line, Rafael slipped a pass past the defense through to a streaking van Persie. RVP ran at Howard, juked him just the same as he did earlier in the match, but this time sent the ball into the net with a desperate, sliding Heitinga.
United led 2-nil at the half.
The second half was as well played as the first with both teams creating chances and both teams’ defenses playing extremely well. Frankly, both teams showed the strain and frustration that this type of match can generate. Along with Fellaini’s yellow, Rooney had a couple of moments where he got his red faced scowl on and it looked as if he might revert to his old explosive self, and he did have some comments for the referee that almost got him in some trouble. It wasn’t long into the second half when I started wondering if the Devils were going to be able to finish out another clean sheet. They do seem to come in bunches for United, and sure enough the Devils earned another one as neither team found the score sheet after the break.
Final score: Manchester United 2, Everton 0.
United Scorecard (0 -10):
Robin van Persie, 8 – there were several in contention for Man of the Match, but RVP got the edge with a goal and an assist. As with virtually all of the Red Devils in this match, RVP worked as hard on defense as on offense. This might have been a 9 if Robin hadn’t managed to catch a whiff of the Chicharito offside plague – the Dutchman was flagged five times today.
Rooney, Giggs, 8 – it was great to see Giggs put one in the net today and keep the streak alive; Rooney played his usual dominant self at both ends of the pitch.
Jones, 8 – proved that as Fellaini goes, so goes the 2012/13 edition of Everton.
De Gea, 7 – was terrific in the net and again took charge of his box; seems he’s finally starting to realize it’s his box.
Rafael, Vidic, Evans, Evra, 7 – the defense really was something to see on Sunday. Rafael and Evra did a great job keeping the ball from entering the box on many occasions, and Vidic and Evans were steady in the middle.
Cleverley, Valencia, 7 – controlled the midfield and, as is the United way, helped out on the defensive end as well.
The Bottom Line:
When both teams play well and are (relatively) evenly matched, the result often comes down to individual brilliance. RVP played a terrific pass to set up Giggsy’s goal and then bested Howard with the same move he missed on early in the match. Defense wins championships, but you still have to have some finishers.