Manchester United put in a professional and clinical display by beating Everton 2-0 at Old Trafford. Ryan Giggs opened the scoring, maintaining his record of scoring in every Premier League season, before Robin Van Persie added a second as United dispatched the Toffees.
A watertight defence
“Manchester United” and “back-to-back league clean sheets” is a phrase that has been uttered on very few occasions this season. However for the second time since Boxing Day, United have kept the opposition out two games on the trot.
Nemanja Vidic was nothing short of exceptional in his best performance since his return from injury. His aerial dominance was reminiscent of the Vidic of old and his body-on-the-line blocks showed he is getting better with every performance. He looks a cert to start on Wednesday in the Bernabeau. To have the influential Serbian back in imperious form is a huge boost for the remainder of the season.
Rafael also had an excellent game and he has come on a phenomenal amount since the last time the two sides met at Old Trafford, where he was culpable for three of Everton’s four goals. The rashness has gone and the young defender has improved tremendously. It was fitting that iconic former fullback Gary Neville named Rafael Man of the Match.
The tactical nous of Phil Jones
Deploying Phil Jones in a holding midfield role proved to be a bit of a tactical master stroke from Sir Alex Ferguson as Jones was able to stifle Marouane Fellaini, who has been the focal point of Everton’s attack this season.
After hearing the team, I felt that the omission of Michael Carrick was a little worrying as United have often looked very unorganised without their midfield lynchpin. However, while possession did suffer, Fellaini was dealt with extremely well by the athletic Jones who will likely start against Madrid in midweek if he is passed fit to try and thwart Cristiano Ronaldo.
Fellaini tamed at last
Big-haired Marouane Fellaini has been United’s tormentor in chief in the last couple of fixtures contested between the two sides and since he has taken up a position as a second striker, he has been in ruthless form. After scoring twice against Villa the week before the game, many Reds were in less than confident mood after the sizeable Belgian was passed fit for the game.
Scoring the winner in the season opener and destroying United in the disastrous 4-4 draw last season, Phil Jones was tasked with shackling Fellaini, and he did an excellent job. Jones was literally all over him like a rash, preventing Everton from using Fellaini as the focal point of their attacks.
By nullifying the Toffees brightest attacking threat, United went half way towards winning the battle.
Is Tony back?
As well as 6”4 Marouane Fellaini, Everton boast the impressive England fullback Leighton Baines among their ranks who is almost always a constant threat for club and country. Hence, Antonio Valencia, fresh from scoring in mid-week for Ecuador was selected, as much for his defensive work as his attacking potency.
It would be fair to say that Antonio Valencia has been among the poorer performers in the squad this season. In fact, that’s being kind – he’s been nothing short of atrocious this term following a fantastic 2011/12 campaign. However, Sunday was one of his better performances.
While he was not up to his swashbuckling levels of last season, it was a much improved display from the winger. He looked threatening at times and even had Baines on the back foot on a couple of occasions, even beating his man a few times which is something we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing for a good while.
12 points – Is it over?
Following City’s shock defeat on Saturday evening and United’s subsequent victory on Sunday, the gap between the Manchester clubs stands at 12 points with just 12 games left to play.
United now need to take just 25 points from the remaining 12 to guarantee a 20th Premier League title and during United’s apparent collapse last season, 28/36 points were taken from the last 12 games.
The Reds are certainly in a strong position. So strong in fact that PaddyPower have already begun to pay out on bets of United winning the league.