It has been said so many times now that Evertonians must be sick of hearing it, but their club are notoriously slow starters. However, against Manchester United last night they came out of the tracks with a purpose, producing a display full of the fire that burns beneath David Moyes’ steely glare. Pound for pound United are of course a better side, but roared on by the ever passionate Goodison crowd, the Toffees seemed hungrier for the victory.
To put their win down to sheer desire would be a massive discredit to the players and the manager. When they perform to their best, Everton are an excellent side capable of beating anybody and last night was one of those occasions. From back to front there were performances in blue shirts to be proud of. Marouane Fellaini was the obvious star of the show as he was simply unplayable, fully deserving his Man of the Match award. It wasn’t just that he won every aerial battle, but his touch was exquisite, whilst his distribution and link up play were near faultless. Nobody could question that he deserved his winning goal.
The giant Belgian was up for the challenge from the first whistle and it was obvious very early on that he was Everton’s biggest threat – but Moyes’ plan was not as simple as aiming for the big man and playing from there. I’ve often heard criticism that the manager makes tactical errors against the bigger teams, some of it from Toffees fans, and at times it has probably been fair as he has adopted an overly negative approach. But recently, he seems to have overcome this flaw and last night his tactical approach was perfect.
Having tormented the United defence in the 4-4 draw at Old Trafford towards the end of last season, which ultimately cost Sir Alex Ferguson’s side the title, he recognised that Fellaini would be his most effective weapon. The trick was then to maximise the impact of this threat and this is where Moyes earned his victory.
Nikica Jelavić may have seemed quiet to those not paying attention but his task was not necessarily to be as involved as you would normally expect. All night the Croatian striker occupied Nemanja Vidić, with constant movement designed to seperate the two centre-backs and effectively cancel out United’s only top-class defender (Patrice Evra has not been at that level for a couple of years now). This left Michael Carrick isolated, who was easy pickings for Fellaini, although most top-class defenders would have struggled last night in fairness. Carrick had no answer to Fellaini’s dominance and will be having afro based nightmares for weeks to come – best to keep him away from anything Jackson 5 related.
Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman were superb as always, buzzing around Fellaini at all times and so ensuring that his aerial prowess was utilised as much as possible. Although they dropped back into their shape without the ball, they had licence to roam when Everton were attacking and with United having no natural defensive midfielder, they exploited the space in front of the defence.
Just as impressive was the work done without the ball. United were allowed to have the possession deep in their own half from where they could do little damage, with Moyes instructing his charges to press and harry the opposition as soon as it was played forwards. Phil Neville and Darron Gibson took it in turns to chase and close down each time the ball was played into the feet of Paul Scholes, Tom Cleverly or Wayne Rooney when he dropped deep, meaning that the trio had little chance to impact the game.
A special mention must go to Phil Jagielka, who ran Fellaini close for his Man of the Match award with a central defensive display of the highest order. Without the performance of the back five, and especially Jagielka, Moyes’ game plan would have been undone but just as we would blame the manager for a disjointed defensive display, we must give him credit for organising them so well.
Moyes and Everton got their approach spot on against United and executed it perfectly. If last night was an indication that Everton are finally ready to start a season as they usually finish it, they could be best equipped of the chasing pack to make a push against the traditional big boys of the Premier League.