By Thomas Doyle
1) Kagawa is a real find
Despite the defeat to David Moyes’ impressive Everton side, Sir Alex Ferguson will take real optimism from Shinji Kagawa’s debut Premier League appearance. If the likes of Wayne Rooney, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck were on top form, the 23-year-old could have had a hat-trick of assists, and he finished the game with 70 of 77 passes completed, a 91% accuracy.
The Japanese playmaker always made himself an option for the ball, and was quick to press Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka for possession.
Unfortunately in such an encounter, rushing them to play the long ball made no difference, as the indomitable Marouane Fellaini had a field day against Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick, but Kagawa’s ability to hound opponents will be invaluable when United can retain possession against weaker opponents.
After finishing last season at Borussia Dortmund with 17 goals and 13 assists, United fans will believe that they have seen that rare type of player who can combine excitement and efficiency in a deadly manner.
2) Nani would do well to buckle down
The Portuguese winger endured a torrid game at Goodison Park particularly in the second half; he only completed 72% of his passes, made no successful dribbles, took one successful corner out of four, and most damning of all for a winger of his undoubted quality, made no successful crosses out of eight attempts.
To top it all he was booked in the second minute for a needless challenge, in part due to his frustrations at a decision barely a minute into the game.
Those are simply not the stats, or behaviour of a player that is currently said to be in the process of negotiating for an improved contract with the club.
With Antonio Valencia needed to cover at right-back, Ferguson placed faith in Nani on Monday night by leaving Ashley Young on the bench, but given the increased competition for places in United’s attack, it would be surprising to see the Portuguese in the starting line-up against Fulham.
The 25-year-old can be unstoppable, but he’s certainly not undroppable. If he carries on in this vein, he may become entirely sellable.
3) Manchester United need a bully
While excuses can be made in the sense that United’s defence had a ramshackle air about it, it is inexcusable that a team with such high standards – and ambitions – as United have no player that can seemingly stand up and lead the team through a stormy encounter.
Marouane Fellaini is almost unplayable in the air when in the form he showed on Monday night, yet United had no answer to it.
Yes, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans were missing, but Nemanja Vidic still lost five of his 10 headed duels in the game, including two to the Belgian, and made no tackles. Carrick lost five of his six aerial duels – four to Fellaini, of which one resulted in the goal.
Regardless of the tactical set-up, Vidic should have been marking Fellaini from set-pieces with the intention of disrupting Moyes’ game plan. The Serbian is unquestionably United’s toughest player, but when the key battle is ignored, there was only ever going to be one outcome.
Vidic lamented the fact that United were missing ‘big, strong defenders’, but the one they had on the pitch should have been roughing up Everton’s main threat.
He will improve after being out for so long with a cruciate injury, but United need their mean streak back, particularly in their captain.
4) Evra starts as he finished…
It can feel accusatory when looking at individual performances in a collective defeat, but once again Patrice Evra’s performance raised question marks over his future in United’s starting line-up. The Frenchman was not at fault for the goal and generally went about his business in a diligent manner, but his attacking play was desperately poor on a night when United needed to stretch Everton’s back line. With Distin and Jagielka so strong in the air, Evra and Valencia’s role was to get around Leighton Baines and Tony Hibbert. However, Evra consistently struggled against Hibbert, who made four interceptions in the game, including two key ones against Evra in the second half. The United player only completed 82% of his passes, the majority on the left wing, but failed in nearly all attempts around Everton’s penalty area. Whether Evra is still tired from EURO 2012 remains to be seen, but the addition of Alexander Buttner will provide him with real competition unless he can offer a more potent attacking outlet.
5) Abundance of options is no guarantee of success
Looking at United’s team-sheet before kick-off, it seemed only a matter of team from the first whistle before the Reds overran the Toffees. But the goals – indeed, even goal – never came. With two £20million-plus strikers on the bench, and one starting, the one thing nobody expected was for United to draw a blank tonight.
It will of course take time for the likes of Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa to find a connection with their new team-mates, but this is also a learning curve for Ferguson too.
While Rafael may be tired from the recent Olympics campaign with Brazil, the decision to drop him and place Valencia at right-back upset the dynamic of the team and negated the Ecuadorian’s attacking influence.
It seems perverse, too, to hand Dimitar Berbatov a place on the bench, only to keep him there with the side desperately searching for a goal, when the Bulgarian finished the 2011/12 season as joint top scorer. He may as well have been sat at home.
It’s clear that, despite the plethora of attacking riches he now commands, Ferguson will have to find a suitable formation, or formations, for each coming challenge.
Other notable mentions…
Robin van Persie and Kagawa look like they could strike up a great understanding.