Everton 1 (Fellaini) Manchester United 0
1. Strength, or lack of. The problem was there last season – set pieces were our greatest weakness as teams aerially dominated us and used it to their advantage. Tonight, it was on show for everyone to see. It wasn’t just in the set pieces, it was everywhere. A midfield trio of Cleverley, Scholes and Kagawa were being outmuscled and overpowered by Fellaini, Neville and Osman at will.
It was such a major problem last season that I can confidently say it was one of the biggest factors behind us losing out on the title. I thought the return of Nemanja Vidic would smooth over the problems from set pieces but for some unknown reason, Carrick was marking Fellaini and Vidic was given Jagielka. Quite why our captain wasn’t marking the star of the show is a bit beyond me.
What I would give for United to have bought Fellaini this summer. He played an absolute blinder. We have missed a bully in the middle ever since Keano’s departure and the problem just seems to be getting worse every year.
2. Where’s our defence? Jones, Smalling, Evans and Ferdinand are all on the injury table before the season has kicked off. It is a familiarly painful sight to see Michael Carrick as a centre back but it doesn’t get any easier to watch. Our defensive frailties were exposed massively last season as we topped the injury tables. This season looks to be more of the same.
We may well have brought in two world class attackers in Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa but it is a mere distraction from the real issues with our squad. The midfield lacks the powerhouse and the defence lacks stability. Last season, our best run came when Ferdinand and Evans struck a partnership without being interrupted. Considering Vidic is our only fully fit centre back, having come back from an eight month lay off, it is sure to be a bit of a nervous start to what is going to be a tough season.
3. The Shinji Show. Overall, the team performance was woeful but credit goes where credit is due. On his first Premier League performance for United, Shinji Kagawa was magnificent. He was poised in possession, intelligent in passing and darted around the pitch like butter on a hot pan.
He completed 68/75 (90.7%) of his passes and was the lynch pin in most of United’s good forward play. His through ball to Danny Welbeck halfway through the first half was my pick of the bunch. Everton away as a debut is a baptism of fire, tonight showed that – but Kagawa took the game by the horns when he could and dictated play as much as possible.
No longer do we have to admire David Silva or Juan Mata‘s excellent playmaking because we have our very own magician. I’m sure Shinji will be a hit this season and will happily eat my hat if he isn’t.
4. Dave’s great saves. It looks like a few bench presses have done Dave the world of good. He looked a bit bulkier tonight between the sticks but it certainly didn’t stop his agility. Not at fault at all for the goal, he had a wonderful game. The oustanding save of the game was from Leighton Baines’ whipped free kick and the performance was a far cry from 12 months previous.
A shaky game against West Bromwich Albion and De Gea had the media biting his head off. “He’s not good enough for United”, they cried. Jamie Redknapp will no doubt still try and say he is not sure about De Gea but considering his previous outbursts at United, I’d rather listen to a baby cry than take the opinion of Redknapp on board.
I am really happy for De Gea. He silenced his critics last season and starting this season off on a good note will do him the world of good. When we have our full defence in front of him, I am confident that the clean sheets will come pouring in.
5. Evra, Nani and Rooney. Woeful, absolutely woeful. Thank god we look to have signed Buttner from Vitesse as left back cover because Evra has become so comfortable in his starting berth that he seems to fall asleep for half of the game. He played himself into danger on multiple occasions and it makes me livid to see him inviting pressure onto the defence for no reason apart from his own inability to play a ball to safety. He really has to buck up his ideas or sit on the bench.
Nani, Nani, Nani. What can you say about him? He either takes a team apart or does absolutely naff all. Tonight was the latter. A disciplined defensive performance from Everton kept him at bay and he didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t break them down, he couldn’t penetrate the lines and he wasn’t able to provide United with any spark whatsoever. I think Sir Alex took him off 15 minutes too late.
Not immune to criticism, Wayne was very poor tonight. He looked at sixes and sevens every time he had the ball and was never really looked like he was going to do anything to change the game. His fitness has been in question ever since the Euros and it might be a few more weeks before we see the best of him.