Sunday’s result at Old Trafford was of vital importance for both teams. Not only has it has allowed Manchester United to create a possibly insurmountable lead of twelve points over their ‘noisy-neighbours’ Manchester City, but also portrayed worrying signs for Everton, who gave a heavily fatigued performance, leaving David Moyes questioning whether his side have the strength within the squad to consistently challenge for a Champions League place throughout the season.
On a day where many Evertonians were sensing their first victory at Old Trafford since a 3-0 win back in 1992, things couldn’t have got off to a much worse start, as Sylvain Distin complained of feeling unwell in the warm-up, forcing Moyes to bring in under-fire defender John Heitinga as a replacement. Surprisingly, Sir Alex Ferguson only made three changes to his team ahead of this week’s clash with Real Madrid; Vidic, Jones and Giggs came in for Ferdinand, Carrick and Nani.
Everton started brightly, and kept possession well in the early minutes, although they failed to make anything count from it. As United have been renowned for over the years, they tend to make their chances count. This was once again the case, excluding Robin Van Persie’s shocking miss, which rebounded off the woodwork from close range, as they took a 13th minute lead through Ryan Giggs, his first league goal of the season, meaning that he has now scored in every Premier League season. The defending for the opener can only be described as shambolic, with Baines failing to win the original long ball, and Heitinga in his own world managing to lose Van Persie.
The away side responded well to this set-back, and again had long periods of possession. They came closer to finding the net this time, though, having several corners, as well as a long-range volley which was brilliantly saved by De Gea, and a good opportunity for Mirallas to find Anichebe in front of an open net, but his cross was poor.
In the 45th minute, United scored again, which evidently dampened Everton’s spirits further. Minutes before, Van Persie had been caught offside twice, but it was third-time lucky for the Dutch international, who was sent through by Rafael, and rounded Howard to slot home, despite a last-ditch attempt from Heitinga to clear the ball off the line. A thoroughly undeserved goal, but Everton hadn’t taken their chances, so they couldn’t complain.
The second half was an entirely different affair. United, as expected, controlled the game, and Everton saw very little of the ball. Worryingly, Anichebe was forced off with a muscle injury just 10 minutes into the half, although he had failed to make an impact on the game, after being tightly marked by Vidic and Evans. This brought Nikica Jelavic onto the field, who seemed to have more desire to play than anyone else, and forced a good save from De Gea after a mistake by Chris Smalling.
The home team came closest to scoring after the break, as Nikica Jelavic did well to block an effort from Jonny Evans on the line, following a brilliant reflex save from Tim Howard. The former United ‘keeper was again on hand to keep them at bay just moments later, with a stunning save from a superbly struck Tom Cleverley volley.
The final whistle merely put Evertonians out of their misery, and awarded the Mancunians a big lead over their city rivals. With just twelve games to play in the season, they are surely out of sight. Everton, on the other hand, are now nervously looking over their shoulder at Liverpool, having sunk into 6th place behind Arsenal, and could be behind the Reds before they fulfil their next Premier League fixture at Norwich in two weeks’ time. A bleak thought for the blue half of Merseyside.