Everton vs. Manchester United: 5 Ways Red Devils Improved After City
Manchester United did what they had to do following their mauling at Old Trafford against City. A draw was not good enough and a defeat would have heralded talk of a slide.
Everton are always tough to beat and United have failed to do so at Goodison Park since their 4-2 win in 2007. Early last season they threw away a winning position.
Given the scant resources and lack of money at Everton, David Moyes does an excellent job week in week out, season in season out. His teams are always very well organised. They play with heart.
And so it was today. He could reasonably claim to be unlucky not to share the spoils, given their share of the attacking. But unless you score you don't win.
Meanwhile Sir Alex is still unable, for a variety of reasons, to field his first choice team.
So what did he and his team do right today that they failed to do last week? And what smart changes did he make to produce the result that everybody at Old Trafford needed?
Tightened Up the Game
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Marouane Fellaini is a dangerous player. So is Louis Saha–and he is fit and in good form. Jack Rodwell is on the road back to the top.
Last week and in recent matches, it has been the United midfield that has been overrun. Sir Alex has banged on and on about the games being too open. Last Sunday at 3-1 down, his team went kamikazi.
So the message today was to keep it tighter. After all that was what David Moyes would do. With Chris Smalling out with a broken foot, the obvious choice was Phil Jones at right back. Rafael is back in training but nowhere near ready.
The skill for Sir Alex, however, was to play a team that could also nick a goal. On the wings he was also without Ashley Young through injury. Wishing to retain Hernandez up front, he chose Welbeck on the left and Ji Sung Park on the right. Both can win the ball back, as can Cleverley, through the middle.
Drop Players to Send a Message
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Rio Ferdinand has been extraordinarily quiet this week. He probably can't quite believe what has happened. Dropped from England–first as captain and then as a player, he now faces a similar fate for United.
He has already been suspect fitness wise, but last Sunday he was woeful, even allowing for the daftness of some of his colleagues. Uncharacteristically for Rio, he looked short of pace.
After Sunday's debacle, somebody had to go to get over the message that nobody is indispensable and that such a shambles just won't do. But to drop everyone would have been suicidal.
Against City, David Silva was everything that Nani was not. The Portuguese wants to challenge for Ronaldo's former crown, but at the moment he goes AWOL too often.
It is too glib to suggest that he fears tackles such as that dished out by Carragher last year. Last week he hardly took on a defender and looked a shadow of the danger he was at the start of the season.
Anderson also had to go. What the two players share is a self-confidence verging on arrogance at times. Yes they have the skill to do this, but neither contributed much of worth last week. In short, both were brushed aside. This just won't do.
The Brazilian was having his best start to a season and Nani was in the same vein. Once Sir Alex opted for 4-4-2 last week, both of them had to give 110 percent. They failed and that's why they got their "come-uppance" this week.
Give Some a Second Chance
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
If Rio was woeful last week, Patrice Evra was a disgrace. What's worse, he was wearing the captain's armband. Just when you want a sense of responsibility from your senior players, the Vice-Captain ran amok and was AWOL for all the last five goals against City.
Jonny Evans was arguably as big a culprit–first by sleeping while Balotelli scored the first goal; then by getting caught short and sent off.
Sir Alex has been incredibly loyal to Jonny. Some credible pundits rate him potentially one of the best defenders in Europe and he has shown such form for Northern Ireland. But he still has alarming lapses of concentration.
He even made a gaffe today that Jack Rodwell nearly capitalised on. But Sir Alex knows his confidence is fragile. If he had dropped Evans today, he might just as well have sold him in January. Also, with Rafael and Smalling injured, he couldn't afford to drop him as well as Rio.
As for Evra, he was given a chance to show that he can defend when needed as well as support Welbeck down the wing. It was a much better game.
No real blame could attach to Rooney, Hernandez or Fletcher last week. The former could have been a risk on his return to his home town, but he played with real responsibility and was involved in most of United's dangerous moves.
Relied on Players He Can Trust
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
According to Sir Alex, Vidic always needs more games to get back to full match fitness. Nemanja also had something to prove after his crazy sending off in Romania. And the Boss needed his captain back.
The Serb did everything that was asked of him; was a giant in defence; kept things tight; and produced a calming, settling performance. Helped by the admirable Phil Jones at right back and better organisation, the game was much tighter than last week.
Another player who never lets Sir Alex down is Ji Sung Park. He was dangerous in attack, helped limit Everton's forays down the left; and tackled like a demon. Together with Darren Fletcher, he helped provide the solidity that was needed in midfield.
And if anyone was in any doubt as to whether Cleverley's start to the season was a "flash in the pan", young Tom added creativity and penetration as well as energy and control in midfield.
Meanwhile, the Rooney/Hernandez combination worked a treat and young Welbeck showed that he still hasn't had a bad game all season.
All in all, something to build on.
"What We Have We Hold"
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
David de Gea is rapidly becoming the commanding presence that Edwin van der Sar was, at the tender age of 20. Put Vidic in front of him, with better organisation and the foundations on which United have built their recent title triumphs are back in place.
He could hardly be blamed for any of City's goals last week, but looked deeply upset at one point. Nevertheless, Sir Alex threw him back in and the lad did not put a foot wrong.
It must have come as a huge relief when Hernandez scored in the 19th minute. And although Sir Alex never shuts up shop so early on a 1-0 lead, his primary tactic from the start was to keep the game tight:
The formation struck a balance between defence and attack, in which Rooney is always a key element. The players were well organised, did not flood forward and leave gaping holes in midfield. They worked hard for each other, especially in and around the penalty area.
As the game wore on, however, Ferguson became more pragmatic. While he used Cleverley's needed substitution to introduce a little more flair, through Nani, he later brought on Valencia, just as much as a defensive foil as a threat down the right.
Finally, Berbatov was brought on for Welbeck because the former can win and hold the ball, as well as provide creativity and the possibility of a second goal.
In the event this didn't happen but United looked solid from the start and finished comfortably, despite Everton's growing possession.
It wasn't always pretty but it was effective. 1-0 wins may be the order of the day for the time being, rather than 8-2 or especially 1-6 and with the added bonus of a Chelsea home defeat, Sir Alex will go to sleep with a smile rather than a scowl for an extra hour tonight.