After last week’s disastrous Manchester Derby in the eyes of Manchester United fans, it was absolutely imperative that Sir Alex Ferguson regrouped his squad and prepared them to provide a response to a humbling defeat. The week started well enough, albeit against lower league opposition in the Carling Cup with a 3-0 victory at Aldershot. This week saw United hosted by Everton. Merseyside has not been a happy hunting ground for United in recent years, with Ferguson’s men failing to win at Everton on their last four attempts. Changes were made from last week’s side, with Rio Ferdinand and Nani dropping out, Ashley Young and Chris Smalling both injured and Vidic being brought in with Jones to start in defence. Jonny Evans received a vote of confidence from Ferguson after his sending off for which he served his suspension. In all the game was less spectacular in comparison to other high scoring games on an eventful Saturday, with David De Gea perhaps being kept the busier of the two goalkeepers although with few clear cut moments. For United, the game was about recovering and getting the job done, as well as dealing with defensive frailties than all out attack. The day started well enough, with both sides starting brightly, with Everton having their first chance with merely seconds on the clock via Coleman and United also providing some creativity going forward, with Park and Welbeck combining well to force a good save from Tim Howard. On 20 minutes, the deadlock was broken when Evra played a cross which fell to the foot of Javier Hernandez in the 6 yard box, ever the goal poacher. United were able to resist Everton’s threatening response that followed, although were unlucky not to equalise when Baines’ free kick on the edge of the box came off the crossbar with De Gea beaten. Despite some shaky moments at the back, United were able to maintain some composure at the back, with Vidic providing some much needed organisation to the back line and Phil Jones proving very capable at right back. After all the high scoring affairs of recent weeks, a 1-0 victory with a clean sheet will likely be taken by Ferguson as a positive and something to build on from here on. Back to winning ways in the league and a result to push on from, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Good to see Tom Cleverley back
After his performance on returning from injury against Aldershot, midfielder Cleverley was given a starting role for the trip to Goodison Park. Up until his substitution he showed good passing and movement, contributing to United’s attack as well as having a little involvement in the game’s only goal. Certainly he has a positive influence in the centre of midfield and it is hoped he will continue to improve and develop as the season continues. There were concerns when he limped off in the second half, however those fears were allayed when Ferguson confirmed after that he was expected to be fit for the next outing.
2) Brave to keep Evans in and drop Ferdinand
After finding himself to be the villain that everyone blamed for last week’s defeat, some may have considered it a brave (or unwise) decision to reinstate Evans to the starting line up, with Ferdinand sacrificed and dropped to the bench. Although there were a couple of moments where things looked a little unsettled (including a moment where Vidic looked to stare him down fiercely), overall it was not a bad performance from him. Fairly solid throughout he did not put much wrong all day, justifying the manager’s decision to keep him in the side at a time when his confidence may well have been extremely low. It was hinted that Evra and Ferdinand were the ones primarily to blame for United’s capitulation in the final moments of last week’s derby and it came as no surprise that one of them was to be dropped, and with Ferdinand being considered by many to be somewhat off the pace of late, it was he who was to make way for a different defensive pairing.
3) Vidic brought some much-needed stability
I believe the man of the match came from a defensive position on this occasion, and I believe the two in contention are Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic, with perhaps the former impressing more on the day. However, Vidic certainly put in a strong showing, proving a rock at the heart of the defence, clearing when he could and getting his head to the ball when the crosses came in. ALthough Everton had plenty of attempts at goal during the day, there were few truly clear cut efforts that were let through, with exception to of course to Baines crossbar shattering free kick. Vidic organised the back four in a way that has been missing in recent games, constantly providing a voice and leading as the experienced defender that he is. Definitely a welcome return.
4) Phil Jones impressed on the right
With Chris Smalling injured it was the turn of Jones to take position at right back, and impressing in doing so. Throughout the game he showed strength when Everton tried going forward down their left, with Jones putting in effective tackles and preventing the opposition in making much threat going down his side. On more than one occasion he was able to break up attacks, showing determination and peer without getting reckless and finding himself booked. It is a position that he may well find himself in more regularly in weeks to come with the news that Smalling is to be out for a few weeks after fracturing his toe.
5) Rooney – unusually quiet
Perhaps the events of recent weeks involving members of his family continue to effect him, perhaps his confidence took a hit after the previous week’s hammering or perhaps the return to his former club phased him, whatever the reason Wayne Rooney had an unusually quiet day, unable to exert himself on proceedings and not having the impact that fans are accustomed to seeing. Of course it could just be that we expect fireworks every week considering the blistering start that he got off to with multiple hat tricks, but by his standards fans may well agree that Saturday’s game proved a strange one for the often influential striker. It could also be the fact that United opted for 3 strikers up front today, with Welbeck and Hernandez joining Rooney at the forefront of United’s attack, something not often used by Ferguson. Certainly Welbeck had a bright game, providing an influence throughout and could well have found himself on the scoresheet when he controlled a long pass sublimely on the chest, only for Howard to punch the ball over for a corner. However it was Hernandez who was to be the hero, showing good instinct in the box as ever to place home the first and only goal of the game. Although not a rout and a game where Everton may well have deserved a point, Sir Alex Ferguson will likely be happy to come away with 3 points from a ground that has been awkward in recent seasons as well as keeping a clean sheet something which will likely be used as a platform to push on in the coming weeks.