Manchester United started their Premier League campaign with a disappointing loss away at Everton last night. A 57th minute Marouane Fellaini goal was enough for the hosts to run out deserved winners.
Unsurprisingly, the match started at a good pace and was extremely open. However, with United missing Rio Ferdinand, Johnny Evans, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Rafael da Silva from their back four Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia deputised at centre back and right back respectively, and with that in mind Everton soon made their intentions to exploit this weakness clear. Look to the big man up front.
Fellaini proved to be the thorn in United’s side all evening, as he was their target man. His physical presence was not only a handful for Carrick at the back, but for a midfield who are not renowned for their ball winning abilities. This is not a slight at the central midfield, which consisted of Tom Cleverley, Paul Scholes and Shinji Kagawa, but further evidence of the effect our defensive injuries have had. Almost certainly Everton would not have proved to be quite such a threat with Carrick sitting in the middle of the pitch. United’s Midfield fight is never helped when, along with Nani, Paul Scholes is booked within a few minutes of kick off.
With Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney completing United’s outfield line up it was as surprising as it was disappointing that they offered little in the way of goal threat all night. The formation though had Welbeck and Nani coming in from the wide areas which meant United were very narrow. Everton, disiplined and working hard to press United, meant that the narrow shape that United played proved to be impossible to break down.
This is not to say that United didn’t have chances. It was Kagawa who looked most likely to unlock the tight Everton defence. He showed some excellent touches and intelligent passing, none more so then when he slipped in Wayne Rooney and, a few minutes after, Welbeck. Unfortunately the chances were not taken by the strikers. Welbeck however did have Everton hearts in mouths when he latched on to the Kagawa ball. He looked to have been fouled in the box as he dragged his shot wide. However, replays show that the referee had just about made the right decision to play on.
Everton’s stubborn defence gave away nothing but scraps for United to feed on, and at the other end David De Gea was keeping United in the game. Not just struggling to keep a grip on the physical Fellaini, United also found it tough coping with Everton’s movement and found themselves facing their own goal on a number of occasions. Some last ditch blocks saved United’s blushes but it was De Gea who performed heroics. First tipping over from a Steven Pienaar header and then superb reactions denied Leon Osman before being at full stretch to prevent a Leighton baines freekick finding the top corner.
United almost found themselves going into the break with the lead after Kagawa once again found Rooney. Unfortunately Rooney couldn’t get enough on to it and Welbeck couldn’t get to the loose ball. However, it looked to give United a spark at the start of the second half. The Reds looked brighter in the early stages of the half and again it was Kagawa pulling the strings. Distan and Jagielka though were at their best to deny Rooney and Welbeck getting shots off.
Even though United started the second half reasonably well, it was Everton who almost took the lead a few minutes in. Fellaini, winning yet another header, found Osman who crashed his shot against the bar. Just a few minutes later Fellaini dealt the killer blow when he rose above Carrick at a corner to head home. Fellaini is a strong, powerful attacker who can mix it with the best centre backs in the world, so the question remains why it was Carrick’s job to mark him rather than Vidic?
Vidic was a delight to see again at the heart of United’s defence. Having been out for 9 months and only having a couple of games in preseason you could be forgiven for being a little worried if this game had come a little too soon. Naturally, however, he looked more than capable of picking up where he left off. Of course towards the end of the game he looked a little tired but that will come on with games. Though with Evra still looking slow to track back the sooner the better.
Once Everton had scored they started to camp on the edge of their own box. Remaining disciplined in their shape and their willingness to close United down, not even the introduction of Robin Van Persie could lift United to the next level.
Van Persie and Kagawa looked to have an imediate understanding which was excellent to see. This understanding almost got United level when Van Persie’s pass found Kagawa’s run to the near post. Tim Howard was quick to close down and prevent a goal for United’s Japanese play maker.
Kagawa was certainly the most influential player for United on the night. However, he can’t be expected to perform miracles. Rooney wasn’t sharp at all and Nani was woeful. Scholes was finding it hard to impose himself because of Everton’s pressing and the fact he was carrying that early yellow card around with him.
Cleverley, on a positive, was very tidy. Held possession well for United and was happy to try and put his foot in. And it was Cleverley who should have scored the United equaliser. A Van Persie corner caused problems to Everton’s defence and when the loose ball was picked up by Kagawa (who else), who kept calm to lay back to Cleverley. Cleverley himself though lacked a little composure and shot towards the centre of the goal which gave Jagielka the chance to clear off the line.
United wouldn’t come anywhere as near again to saving a point and Everton claimed a well deserved win. It’s been a rude awaking to the new season but with Carrick the likely partner to Vidic against Fulham on Saturday a start which may have galvanised our make shift defense.
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