Everton 1-0 Manchester United
To begin a new season Everton and Manchester United went at each other for 45 minutes like a pair of red-meat starved pit bulls. Unfortunately, one dog quit early. Led by their gutsy Belgian midfield warrior, Marouane ‘Bog Brush’ Fellaini, Everton pummeled a weaker willed Manchester United into submission. And when Fellaini finally powered home a header in the 57th minute shunting aside a passive, petrified Michael Carrick, it was a reward he had earned with a mixture of bullying and enterprising hard work.
Unfortunately, the whole team, save Kagawa and De Gea. proved to have no battle, either. The lessons that should have been learned against Basel and Bilbao did not sink in. The disgrace of losing to the Swiss, who take pride in their neutrality and lack of emotional commitment, has been neither sussed nor absorbed. When both Phil Neville and Jamie Carragher both laugh at United and insist we own no bottle, somebody needs to listen!
It was, to be sure, Fellaini’s day, but some accolades ought to be saved for the tactical nous and man management of Everton’s cunning manager David Moyes. Outgunned on paper and still clearly missing the energy and moxy of veteran Tim Cahill, Moyes seems to have taken a leaf out of the book of Roberto Mancini and converted a defensive box-to-box midfielder, like Yaya Touré, into a second striker. As both Moyes and his brave captain Phil Neville noted after the game, there’s zero mystery about Manchester United’s game. They aim to imitate Barcelona and Borrussia Dortmund’s one-pass game at breakneck speed, utilizing Shinji Kagawa as a sort of fulcrum. It’s a great idea if you’ve got the horses! Stop that passing game and United simply cannot cope.
Although Everton chose to shut up shop for the last fifteen minutes or so and put nine men behind the ball, it did not help an exhausted, sloppy, undisciplined United. Even the late arrival of their shiny, brand-new purchase, Robin Van Persie, proved frustrating as his teammates failed to make any passes to him.
Predictably, for Sir Alex Ferguson is never generous beyond clichés after a comprehensive defeat, like this one (and who among us would be any more generous?). The Gaffer reiterated the fact that his back line is depleted, and that our over matched, gutless midfielder Michael Carrick was obliged to be a stopgap center half while Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and others are injured. Truth be told, however, that Carrick was pitted against Fellaini last season while partnered with Rio Ferdinand and the same humiliation took place. Was there an alternative? Could the kiddiwinkies Ferguson so distrusted, Ryan Wootton or Michael Keane, have done better? Possibly not, but the fact is that, whether it’s the P.L. or the E.C.C., Carrick’s lack of character and bravery has been duly noted-repeatedly!
Never solid at the back, United were like a barren wife from the get-go, laying back with her legs wide open. Indeed, only fourteen minutes in, Fellaini drove past Valencia and Vidic off the left wing before hitting the post with a pile driver. And yet, having given United due notice to the Red Devils’ defense that he was hot to trot, Fellaini, was repeatedly left to his own devices while Carrick retreated and United’s skipper Nemanja Vidic had his hands full taking care of Milan Jelavic. David De Gea, simply brilliant on the day, made two saves each from Fellaini and Jelavic, before the aggressive Steven Pienaar hit the post in the 32nd minutes.
Having struck twice at Old Trafford in the last seven minutes for a 4-4 draw in April, the sheer visceral shock of that defeat has still not been forgotten by Ferguson or United. When asked if the arrival of attackers Shinji Kagawa and Robin Van Persie has helped United, the Everton skipper Phil Neville said he felt that his old boss was counting on winning a lot of high scoring games. The club’s new Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa was actually, along with the goalie, De Gea, the only player to give Everton’s defense consistent difficulties. Playing with his back to goal, Kagawa was superbly slippery. Unfortunately, his midfield partners, Cleverley, Scholes and later Anderson, simply could not find him as scores of their passes were repeatedly picked off. And with Wayne Rooney simply looking hung over for ninety minutes, while his teammates Danny Welbeck and Nani swapped positions and repeatedly lost loose balls, United only made three truly legitimate goal scoring attempts over the whole match. So that when De Gea tipped away yet another Leighton Baines free kick, United were already playing like a team of subjugated squaddies.
Then, twelve minutes into the second half, United finally winced one time too many as Fellaini casually sidestepped an impotent Patrice Evra before climbing on Carrick’s shoulder and powerfully heading a Darron Gibson corner home to drive the loud Goodison Park crowd into a state of ecstasy. With Fellaini jumping up and down like a Moroccan jack-in-a box, one couldn’t help but notice Darron Gibson and Phil Neville squeezing one another .with the utter joy of the vengeful reject as goalie Tim Howard roared encouragement from the back.
.66 minutes in, after so much frustration, Tom Cleverley who will want to forget this match for ever, put in United’s one really superb shot of the might, only to have it blocked on the goal line by the brilliant Phil Jagielka.
Finally, again, I want to praise Marouane Fellaini. Very much available throughout the Summer at a reasonable price because his contract was up next Spring, Fellaini only signed an extension two weeks ago. Yet by by virtue of this fantastic display, the Toffee’s beloved Bog Brush has joined the elite of the league. Although Sir Alex Ferguson accused Everton of playing a game of primitive long ball and “just lumping the ball forward” to Fellaini, who he wrote off as “troublesome because he’s big and gangly” there was clearly more going on than a Sam Allardyce-imitation. Clearly United will be okay in the long run, but one really wonders if Fellaini can carry on producing this way for Everton just how successful they can be this season.
“We could’ve had him!” my mate Jonesy said yesterday. And cheap, too!