Javier Hernandez scored the only goal as United clung on to claim three points at Goodison Park, in a hard-fought Premier League encounter. A week after being battered by City in the derby, United got back to winning ways, thanks to a smash and grab win. Everton-United matches are always feisty affairs and have produced their fair share of late drama in the last few seasons, with United registering their last win on the blue half of Merseyside four years ago.
Sir Alex had stressed during the week the importance of bouncing back immediately after last Sunday’s defeat and his line-up reflected his attitude. With Vidic making his first appearance since the opening game of the season, Evra and Evans kept their places in the starting XI, joined by Phil Jones to complete the back four. Park, Fletcher and Cleverley were part of a 4-men midfield including, somehow surprisingly, Welbeck on the left wing with Rooney and Hernandez up front. In truth United looked more like as if they were playing 4-1-4-1, with Fletcher as a screen in front of the back four, and Hernandez alone upfront, with Rooney the link between the Mexican and the midfielders.
Everton started on the front foot, Coleman firing at De Gea after 17 seconds to get the crowd right behind Moyes’ team. United responded quickly, Welbeck squaring the ball for Park after a brilliant run, only for the Korean to force a decent save from Tim Howard. 60 seconds later, Fellaini headed towards De Gea without troubling the United keeper. It was the start David Moyes had been, undoubtedly, looking for but United soon settled down, controlling possession and the tempo of the game. With 19 minutes gone, Hernandez showed once more why he’s such a lethal finisher. Welbeck played a clever first time pass to Evra, the United number 3 raced down the left wing, delivering a brilliant cross into the box, too good a chance to miss for Chicarito. Miss he did not, finishing off the move with a left foot touch to give United the lead.
Despite Everton’s best efforts, United controlled the game quite comfortably, threatening to create opportunities going forward, with Cleverley and Jones very much involved. The young midfielder is pivotal to United’s midfield, as he guarantees composure and produces the kind of runs that Anderson and Carrick very rarely indulge in. As for Jones, well, he might lack experience – who wouldn’t, at 19 years old – but some of his runs are simply amazing and today he was exceptional at the back too.
United committed what could have been a crucial mistake by letting Everton into the game, and were lucky to escape unscathed when Baines struck the bar with a wonderful free-kick 5 minutes from halftime.
Everton started the second half in the same attacking fashion, having replaced Bilyaletdinov with Barkley – the teenage midfielder reportedly on United’s radar – as United were happy to sit back. Rodwell tested De Gea after 52 minutes, as he struck a good effort from the edge of the box, but the Spaniard calmly fisted it away.
United’s afternoon seemed to take the wrong turn when Cleverley had to be replaced by Nani after 55 minutes, after what it appeared to be a problem with his left ankle. United would hope that this is nothing serious, as the talented midfielder is definitely Fergie’s first choice in midfield. With Nani coming on, Park shifted into a central midfield position, which did nothing to stop Everton going forward, although the Korean produced a solid shift.
United’s best chance of the second half came from a counter attack, with Welbeck forcing a good save from Howard, after a clever ball from Hernandez. That was to be Chicarito’s last contribution to the game, as he made way for Berbatov for the last 25 minutes. With United inviting Everton forward, the choice of Berbatov as isolated centre forward made perfect sense, as the Bulgarian’s first touch is better than Hernandez’.
With a quarter of an hour to go, Fergie replaced Welbeck with Valencia, while Moyes introduced Velios for Osman, which meant that Everton were going down route one.
Despite an array of balls into the box and 6 minutes of added time, United held on, with the only nervy moment coming as Gueye appealed for a penalty after being put under pressure by Evra.
Definitely not a swashbuckling performance, but United can be happy with the way they responded on a difficult ground such as this, and Fergie will no doubt be delighted with the first clean sheet since the game against Norwich. A win was essential to keep City under pressure and, with Chelsea losing ground, this could be a really good weekend for United. The focus now switch to the Champions League, where three points at home next Wednesday are a must.