United have lost their first match of Premier League season in disappointing fashion to Everton 1-0, courtesy of a Marouane Fellaini header in the second half.
The big Belgian midfielder, who started this game up front, had another game to remember against Manchester United, picking up where he left off after last season’s epic display at Old Trafford in a 4-4 draw that arguably cost United their 20th league title.
Today’s loss is not so crucial, and whilst there were some mitigating circumstances as far as the defence was concerned, this was not United’s finest performance, against a well disciplined Everton side who refused to give their opponents an inch of space.
Michael Carrick started the new season at the heart of defence alongside Nemanja Vidic, who was making his first Premier League appearance for 2012 after a 9 month lay off with injury, providing Fellaini with the perfect weakness to exploit. A player better known for his ability with the ball at his feet as opposed to his aerial prowess, matching Carrick with Fellaini always looked a recipe for disaster and so it came true. Fellaini out jumped Carrick at a 56th minute corner to power home a header beyond the otherwise brilliant David De Gea to score Everton’s winner.
It was a result they duly deserved, and though they finished the game on the back foot, they opened the game with far more appetite and determination. Nani pre-empted a terrible performance when he found himself in the book a mere two minutes into the game, in an opening five minute period where United couldn’t seem to get out of their half.
Everton’s avenue to goal was not exactly well disguised and from a number of set pieces in the opening exchanges, with Fellaini a particularly eager target, and the Belgian went close in the 13th minute when he drove through some rather weak challenges from Antonio Valencia, who was playing at right back, and Carrick. David De Gea forced him wide though and he could only hit the post.
United’s chances were few and far between in the first half, but when they did present themselves, it was usually Shinji Kagawa that was probing the Everton defence. He managed to play Rooney in with a superb through ball, and then did the same for Welbeck in the 37th minute. Welbeck drove through on goal, and as he was falling managed to prod the ball beyond Tim Howard but his effort rolled just beyond the post, amidst muted claims for a penalty with Welbeck feeling he had been hauled down unfairly.
It was the the other end that United’s hero was keeping them in the game. De Gea’s immense contribution that United went into the half time break level at 0-0. The Spaniard made a brilliant save from Leon Osman, who struck a venomous volley on the turn, before turning away Leighton Baines’ deflected free kick with a superb save just before the break.
United got the last chance of the half when Shinji Kagawa floated a cute ball into the box, but it lacked the power neccesary to allow Rooney to flick the ball goalwards with enough power. Welbeck almost got in between Howard and the ball, but it was eventually cleared for a corner.
The chance was a sign of better things to come for United in the second half, though it did start in similar fashion to the first, with Osman smashing a volley into the crossbar after another knockdown from Fellaini, who outfought Carrick once more.
Kagawa came to the fore for United once more, and before the half was even five minutes old, he had played in Rooney and Welbeck, splitting defenders with ease. Unfortunately for Welbeck and Rooney, getting a shot on goal proved a harder task, with Phil Jagielka putting in an epic shift at the back, denying both strikers with superb last ditch tackles.
United’s bright start was dampened shortly after when Fellaini pounced to give Everton the lead, courtesy of a corner provided by former United midfielder, Darron Gibson. Fellaini almost repeated the feat in the 63rd minute when he won another header, but he could only direct this one straight at De Gea.
Manchester United should have had an equalizer in the 66th minute, after Valencia’s cross caused trouble in the Everton penalty area. The cross floated over Everton’s defender, and Scholes forces the ball towards goal. Lacking the necessary power to beat Howard, Shinji Kagawa nipped in quickly to knock the ball back to Tom Cleverley, who enjoyed a decent game in the middle of the park, but the English midfielder saw his effort cleared off the line.
Sir Alex gave Robin Van Persie his Manchester United debut in the 67th minute when the Dutchman replaced Danny Welbeck, and he almost layed on an equalizer 11 minutes later when he prodded a cute ball across the face of goal. Kagawa couldn’t get on the end of it, despite his efforts, with Howard quick off his line to intervene.
United spent the rest of the half searching in vain for an equalizer, but could not find a window of opportunity in Everton’s watertight defence. The lack of imagination in United’s approach played into Everton’s hand, as did the lack of width, hampering United’s chances of scoring.
All in all, a disappointing start to the season for last season’s runners up, to the delight of Everton and David Moyes.
United: De Gea 8*, Valencia 6, Carrick 6, Vidic 6.5, Evra 6.5, Cleverley 7, Scholes 6.5, Kagawa 8*, Nani 5, Welbeck 6, Rooney 5
Men of the Match:
David de Gea:
A fantastic start to a very important season for the Spanish goalkeeper. The player critics love to hate, De Gea proves his quality once more with a string of outstanding saved that ensured United conceded only one goal. Confident in dealing with aerial threats, despite being absolutely clattered early on, and superb shot stopping to boot.
Though he will want to forget the result, this was a debut to remember for the nifty Japanese international. He was essentially the only player to create any chances of notes, finding lovely little gaps in the lines in which to receive the ball, and then splitting defenders with consummate ease. United have signed something special.