Robin van Persie’s bow may have been the most eagerly anticipated Manchester United debut since Wayne Rooney’s introduction in 2004 but it was overshadowed and upstaged by a truly magnificent performance by Everton’s record signing, Marouane Fellaini. This was an inauspicious start, an underwhelming unveiling.
United started the match with two midfielders in defence, their defensive crisis rearing it’s ugly head again as Rio Ferdinand was the latest to pull out with a groin injury. It meant a start for Michael Carrick in central defence alongside the returning Vidic. Everton’s tactics were clear from kick off – Fellaini was the focal point of all attacks, everything positive was coming from him. His afro cut exerting a magnetic pull on the ball as United struggled to get close to him.
Fergie opted to leave van Persie on the bench as he went for Danny Welbeck on the left wing with new recruit Shinji Kagawa playing behind Wayne Rooney up front. Kagawa was United’s most impressive outfield player on the night, keeping possession well and putting Welbeck clear on two occasions only to see the England international fluff his lines.
But the problems at the back were mounting as Pienaar, Fellaini and Jelavic kept finding acres of space in front of the visitor’s defence. David De Gea made the most number of saves of any goalkeeper in the Premier League last season (102), and he was subjected to intense pressure in the first half as United’s defence wobbled and laboured under Everton’s attacking intensity. De Gea is yet to convince when it comes to set pieces but there is no doubting his shot stopping abilities as he produced one top save after another to keep United in the contest. Ferguson’s insistence at not buying a holding midfielder looked baffling as Scholes and Cleverley, good as they were in possession, failed to win the ball back throughout the game.
Nani was at his frustrating best again, as he struggled to get into the contest. He picked up a booking for a silly challenge in the third minute and things just did not pick up from there. Passes went astray as his team mates’ shoulders drooped in disappointed everytime the ball fizzled out of play. His corners did not beat the first man as Ferguson cut a frustrated figure on the sideline. He wants a new contract but in the face of increasing competition, Nani will have to up his game considerably to earn a new pay hike.
Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar, the dwarf gems, produced stellar performances to show that size doesn’t always matter. While Fellaini provided the focal point to Everton’s attacks, Pienaar and Osman were willing runners throughout as they hussled and harried the United midfield and defence. Carrick found himself incresingl isolated against Fellaini and did not get enough help from his team mates. He builds his game around composed passing and a calm head, both were severley tested by the Belgian. Where Carrick floundered, Fellaini thrived. A simple corner floated into the area found Fellaini who rose easily above the hapless Carrick to power a header into the bottom corner to put a spanner in the works of United’s season.
United withdrew Welbeck and went all-out attack in the last 20 minutes as van Persie was thrown on but the solid blue line that was Everton’s defence held firm on each occasion. Phil Jagielka produced yet another thrilling display, his finest moment coming when he anticipated Cleverley’s effort and threw himself at the ball – a brilliant off-the-line block. That United did not test Howard enough drew Ferguson’s ire, as he admitted in the post-match interview that they did not play to their strengths.
For all their attacking talent, United are looking barren at the back again. The lack of a holding midfielder is still a source of concern. The hugely anticipated partnership of Rooney and van Persie was given a brief chance but it never threatened to ignite. That man and Robin, Everton’s old boy and United’s newcomer failed to spark into life, both were outshone by Fellaini.