5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 4 Everton 4


By Thomas Doyle

1. “Game on”

Just two weeks ago, Manchester United were champions elect; eight points clear of a stuttering Manchester City side, the red half of the city was all but certain of title number 20. How different the run-in looks now. After a shock loss away to Wigan, Sir Alex Ferguson is sure to have warned his squad against the dangers of taking their foot off of the gas, yet that is exactly what happened against a strong Everton side on Sunday afternoon. Nikica Jelavic’s opener shocked United into life, yet although United twice had a two-goal advantage, the game never looked safe, with the defence and midfield especially porous. To throw away a two-goal cushion with less than 10 minutes to play is almost unheard of for a United side closing in on a title, and the Monday night clash at the Etihad now looks a whole lot more important to the destination of the title. “Game on”, as the manager said.

2. Welbeck and Rooney are gelling

Few were expecting Danny Welbeck to go from a promising loan spell at Sunderland to first-team regular at United in such a short space of time, yet he seems intent on fulfilling the rich promise that he clearly holds. With a sumptuous curling goal and two clever assists on Sunday, he was at the heart of everything positive that Ferguson’s men created. His delicate flick for Nani’s chipped effort took out Everton’s defence in a heartbeat, and his bamboozling interplay with Rooney for the fourth showed why he is currently preferred up front to Javier Hernandez. The Mexican still appears to be the more clinical of the two, but the young Englishman has so much to his game that Ferguson may have just found the perfect partner for Rooney. The fourth goal was reminiscent of Dwight Yorke and Andrew Cole’s movement for a goal in the thrilling 3-3 away draw with Barcelona in the 1998/99 Treble season, and more of the same will be most welcome.

3. Old Trafford is leakier than a sinking ship

Given the monumental task of entering the season without Edwin van der Sar and Paul Scholes (at least for a while), and the serious injury to captain Nemanja Vidic it seems inconceivable that United are still clear at the top of the league. However, while there have been some fantastically entertaining games at the Theatre of Dreams, Ferguson will be aghast to have seen so many conceded at the usually impregnable fortress. Six at home to City, four to Everton, three to Basel, Atletico Madrid and Blackburn, two to Ajax and Benfica – these are not seemingly the stats of a title-winning team (although with the majority against European teams, this goes some way to explaining the dismal European runs). David de Gea has improved and matured, and can readily be considered the number one keeper, and Jonny Evans is unrecognisable from the shadow of a defender at Upton Park last season, yet there are still gaping holes to exploit. Rafael has done well, but still looks vulnerable while defending, while Patrice Evra’s positional sense seemingly switches from professional to Sunday League in a matter of moments. United may scrape home this season, but work must be done to progress in Europe next season – how Ferguson must long for boring 1-0 home wins.

4. Nani could be crucial on Monday

After a relatively long spell out following a bad tackle in the away win at Arsenal, Nani has come back at just the right time for United. The Portuguese was impressive during his cameo against Aston Villa, and with two assists and a well-taken goal against Everton, deserved more than a point for his display. With Ashley Young facing media heat following a few questionable tumbles of late, it is the perfect time for Nani to remind us exactly why he was Players’ Player of the Year for the club last season – what better way to showcase his return to form and fitness than with a match-winning display at the Etihad?

5. Stick or twist?

Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick have formed a solid relationship once more in the middle of the park during United’s recent fine form, yet they were put under pressure by Everton’s midfield throughout. Phil Neville, Darron Gibson and Leon Osman harried the cultured duo, while Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini were combative in forward positions, increasing the pressure on United. Ferguson may have missed a trick in not sending out Phil Jones to disrupt any potential comeback while the score was still at 4-2, and the image of Evra heading against the bar at 4-2 will cause United fans nightmares if City do indeed take the title. The formation against City will be vital – while Rooney and Welbeck played well together on Sunday, a 4-4-2 against resurgent rivals could well be suicide. One would expect Welbeck to occupy the lone striking role, with Rooney, Valencia, Park/Giggs/Cleverley, Scholes and Carrick behind, yet whether Ferguson sticks for a plucky draw or twists for glory – or failure – is anybody’s guess.

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  1. Avatar
    SouthernBlue on

    For what its worth here is a view on the subject from the blue half of Manchester.

    I think Utd would be mad to play anything but a safe defensive line up on Monday. if they draw the game, they’ve effectively won the title. If they go out for a win on Monday night, then anything could happen (as it did last time!).

    I’m surprised you are rating Evans. As a City fan, I’m always lifted when I see his name on Utds team sheet.
    However I agree with your assessment of Nani. I’m always worried when I see his name on the team sheet…He’s class!

    As for Rooney….Well there are some subjects I find so disagreeable that I’m unable to comment.
    Good luck on Monday. Hopefully you’ll need it.

    • Avatar

      Good points SouthernBlue – we’ll have to agree to disagree over Evans. He can look shaky at times, but he’s been absolutely solid this season for United; great in the tackle and in the air, and much, much better on the ball than most PL cb’s now.

      I think SAF may be cautious at the start and look to open up the game on the counter, much like in Europe.

      I expect he’ll have Nani and Young in reserve, or he’ll drop Welbeck and play Nani, although Welbeck’s form has been scintillating.

      Sideshow Bob, Smalling may well play and does a great job at right back, would’ve liked him to have more football going into the most important game of the season though.

      If Jones plays at RB, then Valencia’s defensive work could allow Jones to come inside and drive at City with his bursting runs, or aid in blocking off Silva in the ACM hole.

      For Monday night, I can see this formation, give or take a player or two…:

      —————de Gea————

      Subs: Amos, Smalling, Rafael, Cleverley, Young, Nani, Hernandez.

  2. Avatar
    Sideshow Bob on

    SouthernBlue, I’m intrigued to know your opinion on Rooney?

    I hope Fergie goes 451 against City. Carrick and Scholes, with one of Cleverley, Giggs or Park. Fletcher would be perfect. Nani and Valencia on the wings. Smalling replacing Rafael due to City’s physical presence.

  3. Avatar

    Lesson #6 – give Everton more credit for a very impressive performance – honestly, did anyone foresee some of their excellent build up play. Maybe the MoM, Fellaini, along with Pienaar, and a few of the others are better players than you think!

  4. Avatar

    Hi ToffeeMan,

    I respect your point, and if it was a neutral site I’d obviously have written about Everton more, but the ‘5 things’ for this site is generally what we learned about United from the games, as readers are obviously going to generally be United fans.

    Everton played fantastically well, and were actually much more fluent in possession than I realised before, despite their recent fine form. I’ve always liked Everton, and Moyes is a great manager. I’d love to have Fellaini at Old Trafford – he has the skill to play for anybody team the league.

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