As Sir Alex Ferguson was sitting alongside our marquee signing Robin Van Persie last week, he made it no secret of his delight to sign the Dutchman, stating that he was happy not to play against him again, having caused untold havoc in previous Arsenal vs United fixtures. Could we do worse than say the same for Everton’s afroman?
Marouane Fellaini was simply outstanding and close to unplayable last night. The fear before last night’s match was he would bully our defenders as in the 4-4 disaster last season. A similar display from the Belgian was bound to cause our makeshift defence have an uncomfortable night, as expected Fellaini made us look like a soft touch.
The game surrounded around one man, Fellaini is a midfielder we conspicuously are bereft of. He has a presence which is devoid in our midfield, someone to target, someone to rough up the opposition and win the physical midfield battles that often decide a match. Fellaini amassed several bookings in his first Premier League season, showing he has never shirked from the dirtier side of the beautiful game.
Despite Ferguson’s far-fetched, rather bitter claim that Everton ‘just lumped it up to Fellaini’, Fellaini provides a different option, a target to go from back to front. Everton’s defenders and ex-reds Neville and Gibson found him almost every time but not in the manner Ferguson suggested. He was picked out with very precise and measured balls forward, making him a tour de force when it was around his chest and head.
As for Fellaini’s goal, Fellaini bullied Michael Carrick with his upper body strength, Carrick stumbled and Fellaini powered over him, an almost impossible force when in that situation. What amazed me was the fact Carrick was picking up the towering Belgian. His central-defence partner Nemanja Vidic, playing his first competitive match since hi horrendous injury in Basel, was marking the dangerous but not as dangerous Phil Jagielka. Jagielka is 6 foot, Fellaini is 6’4″. So would you not expect our most dominating defender in the air to mark their most dangerous asset from set pieces? Sometimes it is the smallest things like this that can decide the outcome of a match. If we were to be hyper-critical, Danny Welbeck maybe should have got back to the line to clear the header, but as Gary Neville said in his analysis last night, United’s policy has always been to shield the back post, not the near where Fellaini’s header ended up.
It is easy to be reactive in one’s criticism, and the common thread from last night was United’s dearth of physicality in the midfield. Maybe this is an area Ferguson needs to address, but it’s not every day that Ferguson will come up against an aerial powerhouse, with more emphasis in the Premier League of speed and technicality. The only potential exceptions to this lack of physicality come in the shape of Peter Crouch and Fellaini.
Ferguson could do a lot worse than leave a blank cheque on Bill Kenwright’s desk and ask him to name his price. After last night’s stellar display, Everton could arguably double what they paid Standard Liege for the Belgian. Fellaini is only 24 years old, what will he be like in his prime? The longer Everton manage to retain his services, obviously the better for them. Off the top of my head, Fellaini is the only candidate who could rival Yaya Toure in terms of devastation and physicality. He is more than just a target, his touch was almost immaculate, he can play in a number of positions- striker, in the hole, shielding the defence. Maybe Ferguson should have told his players to do what he was doubtless doing at full-time- pulling hair out, more precisely Fellaini’s hair.
United player ratings:
David De Gea- Had to be called into action several times all game, made some fantastic saves to keep it goalless at half-time, looked very assured from set-pieces. 8
Antonio Valencia- Not a stranger to playing right-back, but pressed into service there due to injuries to Jones and Smalling. Shackelled Steven Pienaar quite well, was quite wasteful with crosses, didn’t get forward as often as we’d have liked, especially when chasing the game. 6
Michael Carrick- Calm and assured in possession as always, outmuscled by Fellaini for the only goal, good application against difficult opponent. Sight of him in defence is not as rare as it should be. 6
Nemanja Vidic- First competitive 90 minutes since the dreadful injury, will obviously take time to readjust to the pace of the league, looked rusty, emphasised by the yellow card picked up for tugging Coleman who beat him for pace. Vidic will be a work in progress in next few weeks. 6
Patrice Evra- Not one of his better nights, unproductive going forward and liable in defence, not the force he once was. Ferguson’s signing of Buttner looks sensible, Evra will have better days this season. 5
Tom Cleverley- Looked his busy self and has benefited from playing a summer of Olympics and full pre-season. Tidy in possession but didn’t stamp his authority on the game. Had shot cleared off the line, which really should’ve been the equaliser. 6
Paul Scholes- Booked for a typical Scholes tackle on ex-red Darron Gibson, despite completing 96% of his passes like Cleverley his impact was restricted. 6
Nani- Downhill for the 2nd minute by wrongly appealing for a corner and showing dissent, booked for a wild lunge on Baines, majorly wasteful and cut an unhappy figure, replaced by Young. 4
Shinji Kagawa- United fans will be excited by his debut outing in the Premier League. Played some lovely, sharp passes, combined beautifully with Wayne Rooney at times, set up Cleverley who wasted our best chance. Didn’t give him the ball enough when calmness and creativity was needed. Kagawa is going to be a massive hit this season. 7
Danny Welbeck- Deployed on the left-flank to get the most out of the Rooney/Kagawa partnership and was largely ineffective. Missed a glorious chance in the first-half amidst claims he was fouled, his finishing needs to be worked on, could’ve been better positioned to stop Fellaini’s header. Replaced by Van Persie. 5
Wayne Rooney- Given a surprisingly mild reception in comparison to previous years, maybe he didn’t thrive because of the lack of verbal projectile? Not his usual self, some decent interplay with Kagawa, only effort was a going wide free-kick that Howard easily saved. Jagielka and Distin were immense against him, will look to hit the ground running at home to Fulham on Saturday. 5
Anderson- Came on with his name printed ‘ANDESRON’, the new slimmer Anderson did not have time to make an impact, had one effort which was comfortably wide, make or break for him this season. 5
Ashley Young- Sent on with hopes to perform better than Nani had, came close to Nani’s level, his crosses were either short or overhit, gave away possession, not a good start. 4
Robin Van Persie- Much hype surrounded his arrival, with United chasing the game the ball was not fed into him enough to make him a threat, set-piece delivery was dangerous, cannot be judged after 20 minutes, expected to start at home to Fulham on Saturday. 6
As far as starts go, we arguably couldn’t have asked for a tougher start. We need to get back to winning ways on Saturday and make Old Trafford a fortress once again.