1) Felli Fail
Marouane Fellaini has been instrumental during the six match winning run that ended last week at Stamford Bridge, where he was nullified by Jose Mourinho’s tactics and the impressive Kurt Zouma. On Sunday he was again unable to provide the desired influence on proceedings, in what was a subdued performance on his return to Goodison Park.
His first foul early on was worthy of a yellow, but referee Andre Mariner let him off with a warning, but his second foul so soon after saw him wrongly booked, as replays showed Ross Barkley had dived.
The booking, along with the jeers he received from the Everton faithful meant that he had to keep his emotions in check, thus halting him from putting his mark on the game. United lost something through this, and Fellaini was a marked man as the Everton players aimed to rattle and provoke the Belgian into committing a second bookable offense.
United’s only clear cut chance fell to Fellaini and he blazed the ball over the bar when he should have scored, with the atmosphere and occasion perhaps getting to him.
Fellaini was withdrawn at half-time in place of Radamel Falcao, a sign that Van Gaal didn’t want to risk Fellaini being sent off.
2) Blind – Left Back, Defensive Midfielder Or Squad Player?
Daley Blind has enjoyed a fine first season at United following his arrival from Ajax in the summer.
He struggled on Sunday, however, with his positional discipline and awareness exposed by Everton’s counter attacking football. The performance led to some questioning Blind’s best position – is he a defensive midfielder, left back or an able back-up player?
Some believe he lacks mobility, physicality, pace and positional awareness to play in midfield, which are fair points to raise. He will need to adjust and change the way he performs the role by ‘sitting’ more instead of pressing, or his lack of mobility will continue to be exposed and an improved positional awareness will help hide any physical deficiencies. His future may still lie in midfield; he is relatively young and he will have no better teacher than Michael Carrick to gain an appreciation of fulfilling the role to the highest standard.
Blind’s better games in the second half of the season have come at left back, where he formed an excellent understanding with Ashley Young and Fellaini. His form earned an extended run in the role until injury allowed Shaw back into the team, giving a timely reminder of his promise, with a strong performance against Chelsea. Van Gaal’s preference at left back once Carrick is available will be an interesting discussion point.
Blind could find himself behind Carrick, Shaw and new summer arrivals, and if that is the case, he will prove to be a valuable squad player, who is capable of fulfilling several roles. Players like Daley Blind are required in modern football, where the necessity for strong squads is important.
3) Where Has Roo Gone?
Wayne Rooney was the only player to perform badly away at Liverpool last month in the 1-2 victory.
United’s captain always seems to struggle against the Merseyside rivals, and that was evident again on Sunday.
Restored up front, Rooney was isolated between his two England counterparts in the centre-halve position for Everton.
His captain instincts seemed to disappear as well, failing to rally the troops after falling behind early on. Normally a vocal character, Rooney’s head seemed to be elsewhere, which is not what you want from your captain.
To make matters worse, Rooney was withdrawn towards the end with an injury, in a day to forget for the club, in particularly Rooney.
4) Evans Exit?
The manager admitted in his pre-match press conference that the absence of Jonny Evans through suspension left him “frustrated” suggesting that the Northern Ireland international would be involved after his six games ban and having played for the U21s away at Leicester City last Monday.
Paddy McNair played very well away at Chelsea last week, despite it being his first appearance since the defeat to Swansea back in mid-February, and rightly kept his place at centre-halve, whilst Tyler Blackett was on the bench, leaving no place for Evans in the matchday squad.
With Chris Smalling having signed a new contract last week; Phil Jones’ versatility, alongside his understanding with Smalling; Marcos Rojo offering a left-footed option and his versatility at full-back, and a new central defender likely to join the club come summer, one wonders whether Evans’ time at the club is now up.
5) Battle Still On?
If rivals Liverpool win their game in hand away at Hull City on Tuesday night, the gap between fifth and fourth will be reduced to just four points.
United’s fixture list is a tough one to say the least.
Next Saturday sees West Bromwich Albion visit Old Trafford, under the guidance of Tony Pulis, who has steered them clear of any relegation fears. They have kept two consecutive clean sheets, defend well, and counter well, in the way that Everton hurt United so much in this fixture. It is also a fixture United lost last season and only a late Daley Blind earned a 2-2 at The Hawthorns back in October.
Crystal Palace follows the week after, one of the form teams in the league since Alan Pardew took charge in January. They have beaten Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City amongst others at home this season, although they have lost their last two games against West Brom and Hull.
Arsenal is the final home game, a fixture that sent United crashing out of the FA Cup in March, and after also winning at City this season, they have seemingly unlocked the mental block of the big game occasion. The Gunners also have ambitions of finishing as high as second.
Hull City away ends the season, a team in desperate need of points if they are to stay in the league, and with their remaining fixtures, you would feel they will need something at the KC Stadium on the final day.
After two consecutive defeats the quest to secure Champions League football is in jeopardy, although this author remains confident of a top four finish. Liverpool’s recent form is poor, with only one win in their last four games and they have tough away fixtures at Hull, Chelsea and Stoke.
United will need eight points if Liverpool win all of their remaining games.