Manchester United Found Wanting as Everton Inflict Early Premier League Blow
In the days and nights since Sergio Aguero's climatic goal won the title for Manchester City, those sympathizing with the red half of Manchester have willed the arrival of the new Premier League season like never before.
With it came new hope, and the promise of revenge.
But few United fans could have envisaged the bruising 1-0 defeat to Everton on Monday night, in an opening game that saw Sir Alex Ferguson's team short on ideas going forward and overwhelmed by the verve and physicality of their opponents.
Not even the introduction of United's £24 million signing, Robin van Persie, could spark the 19-time league champions to life under the lights at Goodison Park. The Dutchman was a peripheral presence during his 25-minute debut. By then, the game already had its star.
His name was Maroune Fellaini. And to say he was man of the match doesn't tell the half of it.
Fellaini was everywhere. United never found a way to dilute his influence, and the Belgian international dominated aerial duels to such an extent that you were looking for his knock-downs the second he sprung into motion.
It was only right Fellaini's goal proved the difference. At 57 minutes, Michael Carrick was outmatched at a corner and Fellaini forcefully headed home. Justice for Everton. Just reward for the game's outstanding player.
It's performances like this that have earned Fellaini's Afro its very own Facebook page.
You could argue Carrick shouldn't have been marking him. Perhaps if Rio Ferdinand had played, he would have blocked Fellaini's path and United come away with a 0-0 draw.
That said, such was Fellaini's overwhelming influence, he would have found a way.
Others in blue deserved credit, too. Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines were immaculate in defense, Tony Hibbert tackled like it was the 1970s and Leon Osman's ferocious work rate in midfield were all key to the success of David Moyes' team.
Everton might have given away 69 percent of possession, but they made more opportunities and still managed seven shots on target, to United's four.
United simply fell short on inspiration. Sir Alex Ferguson's men passed the ball neatly and looked assured in defense for the most part, but they rarely threatened Tim Howard's goal and could find no way past the wall of blue shirts which inevitably confronted them in the final third.
Shinji Kagawa was perhaps the only United player to galvanise their forward motion. The Japanese midfielder, a new arrival from Borussia Dortmund, was purposeful throughout and took to his role as an advanced playmaker with ease.
Others fell short. Wayne Rooney was flat; Nani lacking focus; Paul Scholes unable to influence the game in way he would have liked.
It was certainly not the new dawn Ferguson will have ordered in the dressing room.
But to focus too greatly on United's tepid start is to take away from the impressive Everton effort in beating them. Moyes had his team supremely organized and they ultimately deserved their victory.
Perhaps the days of Everton's bad starts are finally over.
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