Manchester United vs. Everton: 6 Things We Learned
First-half strikes from Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie ensured that the Red Devils capitalised upon Manchester City’s loss at St. Mary’s earlier this weekend to see out a comfortable 2-0 win.
However, with just more than three months of the season left and a Champions League fixture against Real Madrid to think about, it’s a case of no rest for the wicked for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
As ever, the seasoned Scotsman will have pointers to take from the clash at Old Trafford, both good and bad, some of which we’ll discuss here.
1. The Premier League Title Will Return to Old Trafford
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Although one would never like to admit that a competition is indeed over three months prior to its official crescendo, it’s pretty much a certainty that Manchester United’s time away from Premier League glory will come to an end this season.
With 12 matches left and a 12-point gap now separating the Red Devils from second-place Manchester City, it would take something of a spectacular fall for the Red Devils to spoil their bid now.
In those first 26 matches, United have dropped just 13 points, meaning that Roberto Mancini would need the division leaders to drop just as many points in half that number of games to mount a challenge.
The players played really bad—without strength, without personality. We conceded a goal that I have never seen in my life.
I was really disappointed with my players today. When we perform like today, I'm very angry. The players were away on international duty—that's not an excuse, but it is a reason.
We have a 10 percent chance: 12 points is too much at this moment.
2. There’s Only One Ryan Giggs
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After opening the scoring against Everton, Ryan Giggs extended his run of claiming a goal in every Premier League season in history, netting for the 23rd consecutive campaign.
Putting it frankly, never will a player eclipse some of the Manchester United legend’s achievements in this sport, which now rank near mythical territory.
The 39-year-old midfielder made his 651st Premier League appearance, 107 of which have come as a substitute dating back to 1991, when the Welsh Wizard first made his Red Devils' debut.
With foreign acquisitions a growing trend and the old trend of the “one-club man” slowly decreasing in number, it’s players like Giggs who will be sorely missed when they finally take their bow from the Beautiful Game.
3. Everton Machine Running Low on Fuel
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After a sensational start to the season that saw them climb within mention of a possible Champions League finish, Everton’s season is slowly tipping toward its regular standards.
Following the trip to Old Trafford, the Toffees have now taken just six points from their last five matches and are now in sixth spot after spending much of their season simmering around fourth place.
The Blues are usually renowned, like Manchester United, for getting off to slow starts only to pull it all together in the second half of the season, claiming a very respectable top-half finish more often than not.
This term, things appear to have gone in the opposite direction. What was looking like a good show of initiative has take a turn toward complacency.
To revive any hopes of a top-four finish, David Moyes’ men will need to first of all make Goodison Park the fortress it once was before moving on to bigger and better things.
4. Phil Jones Thriving in Midfield Responsibilities
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Although the youngster was forced off in the second half due to injury, Phil Jones’ appearance was another example of the player’s vast maturity, once again filling in as part of the Red Devils’ midfield.
Ever the willing candidate, Jones stood in for Michael Carrick, presumably as a more defensively oriented option to deal with the threat of Marouane Fellaini, a job he fulfilled admirably.
The 20-year-old took up residence next to a more attacking Tom Cleverley, and while he might not exert the same creative presence as Carrick, Jones proved just why his talents can be well suited to a midfield role when called upon.
Calm, physical and tailored for a specific duty, the 55-minute cameo was testament to Jones’ on-going versatility and, much like David Luiz is over at Stamford Bridge, the Red Devil appears to be enjoying life in a more advanced position.
5. Toffees Tame Rooney Talents Once More
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The responsibility of scoring against one’s former club is often something that can either give a player added license to go that extra mile in any game or, alternatively, hold them back as they go about their business.
Although one would be brave to bring the player’s loyalty into question, Sunday was another goalless outing against Everton for Wayne Rooney, who continues a disappointing record against the club where he grew up.
A Merseyside lad at heart, the Toffees remain one of the Premier League outfits Rooney has scored against least since coming to Old Trafford in 2004.
In eight-and-a-half years as a Red, the 27-year-old has just the four goals against Everton, showing that performing against his old club is perhaps somewhat of a burden to the striker.
Although the display was encouraging, Rooney seemed to lack a certain spark in his play on Sunday and had just the one shot all game, an off-target one at that.
As mentioned, playing against a former club can often go one of two ways for a player, and for Rooney, his scoring relationship with Everton would appear to be an undesirable one.
6. Red Devils’ Defence Hitting Form When Needed
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Another three points, another much needed clean sheet for a Manchester United side that was crying out for anything of the sort six months ago.
This season saw the Red Devils’ defence reach a disappointing low as what was usually a foundation for the English giants had rapidly turned into their weakest attribute, a factor not helped by absences from Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
With all three of those defenders now fit, Sir Alex Ferguson has ample defensive options at his disposal and has seen his team concede just three goals in their last six outings.
Add into the equation the improving form of Jonny Evans and the table-topping side begin to look more and more like the impenetrable outfit of old.
In the modern game, full-backs can sometimes be looked at as a defensive weakness for some sides, more focused on what they contribute going forward than in defence.
However, both Patrice Evra and Rafael—whom Gary Neville awarded Man of the Match honours following his display—are entering a phase of great consistency.
The left- and right-sided pair, respectively, were massively effective against the Toffees but also did their duties magnificently in preventing the opposition’s efforts.
What’s more, David de Gea had a very fine day at the office, stopping the likes of Anichibe, Jelavic and Osman from scoring on several occasions, bringing a happy conclusion to an all-around pleasant outing for the Manchester United back line.
You can follow me on Twitter @TomSunderland.