So, Moyes faced defeat in his first match against his former club. While United had chances through Rooney, Evra, Welbeck and Januzaj, a late Oviedo winner condemned us to a first defeat in 12 games.
United lined up in a side that suggested Moyes saw the opportunity to win, the return of Rafael to right back along with Fellaini offering a physical presence in the midfield. It was a key game for Fellaini as United’s £27.5Million summer signing looked to prove his worth in the starting XI. The support of Giggs would have offered assurance to him in a teacher-student midfield role.
The first 20 minutes was a chance for us to absorb the pressure that Everton applied but we then began to find our feet and start to register counter attacks that allowed us to stride forward with purpose. After Giggs’ header flashed wide from Rafael’s cross, Rooney managed to unleash a deflected shot that left Howard at a standstill before it bounced back off the post. Just before the break a ball from Kagawa fizzed across the box but beat both Welbeck and Rooney for pace. Half time came at a time where 45 minutes of end to end football were brought to an end.
The second half started with promise that saw an early shot from Evra sting the fingertips of Howard and the tireless Fellaini ever present in his own defensive third. Just before the hour mark, a double substitution allowed for the introduction of Januzaj and Nani for Kagawa and Rafael. This was a signal of attacking intent that Moyes was keen to force a win. These introductions should’ve allowed us to play without fear and with the flair that Nani can occasionally offer. Januzaj had a shot well saved and linked well with Valencia down the right. A well worked Rooney corner then allowed Evra to force a save before Welbeck hit the bar with the follow up header. Everton snatched their winner close to time as a Lukaku ball was poorly defended and rolled across goal for Oviedo to score coming in from the left.
Overall it showed how a great game of football can be stolen from one moment as the back four were caught napping and conceded late on. Yet an encouraging performance from the former Everton man Fellaini as he was everywhere tonight. Moyes must surely now realise that the fixtures from now until new year require points to keep us in touching distance with the top four.
1) CB Partnerships
Moyes has not yet chosen to settle on his preferred centre-back pairing with Rio, Vidic, Smalling, Evans and Jones all featuring in a variety of combinations. The lack of consistency in choice is perhaps causing a lack in understanding between them when they do play as communication is vital in that area of the pitch. There are questions over whether Rio and Vidic are the force they once were, should the other three be given time to learn with them or should a new partnership be forged. The added complication with this is that Jones is too versatile and has also proven his quality holding things together in the centre of the park. When will this be rectified or will Moyes continue to tinker as the season progresses?
2) The Left Back
I am a big fan of Patrice Evra and thought that after coming off the back of an excellent season last time out, he was starting to perform again. Yes there was the goal against Cardiff counterbalanced by the lapse in concentration for the goal. With continued rumours circulating about a possible return to France I feel that we should allow him the occasional rest to develop other players. I feel Fabio needs some game time and could learn so much from a season working match days with Evra to develop his game. Tonight as much as Evra offered going forward, nearly opening the scoring, he often lacked the pace to track back completely. This was further shown as both Welbeck and Fellaini were required at times to cover him. Although I don’t think a bid for Baines would help us, our current squad should allow us to relieve the pressure on Patrice.
3) Twelve Points
We now sit twelve points behind Arsenal and five points behind Everton and Liverpool which begs the question of where can we finish this season. We all knew that a period of transition would be necessary but the facts remain that our squad is largely unchanged. Yes, we are still in the League cup and have had some good performances in Europe. The addition of the FA cup offers another choice of a trophy but strength in depth will be key as the fixtures pile up over the next month.
4) The Central Midfield and Trust?
In a similar stance to the centre backs, Moyes seems undecided on who to play in the middle. Giggs is ageing and cannot be expected to play back to back games, Cleverley has been unconvincing for the majority of performances, Anderson has hardly featured and Carrick is out injured. The decision to haul off Kagawa at the hour mark suggested that after a run of games in his preferred no.10 role, Moyes is still unconvinced. The stand out performer tonight for me was Fellaini who put in a great shift and covered ground throughout the evening. The issue however remains that with Carrick out until after Christmas and Fellaini requiring surgery on his hand, who can cement a place to hold it together in midfield?
5) Attacking Options for Newcastle?
The yellow card for Rooney means that he will serve a suspension for the match against Newcastle this weekend. This could prove a headache for Moyes as, with Van Persie doubtful, who does he select up front? Welbeck tonight was his usual workaholic self but didn’t really get into the game before he was replaced by Nani. Hernandez too was introduced late on but having been given just a handful of starts this season, can Moyes trust him for a now vital game? Should Van Persie return