Everton 1 Manchester United 0
After the hype, the reality.
Robin van Persie’s arrival was supposed to leave Manchester United floating on clouds of renewed optimism but the Dutchman endured a losing start to his United career after Marouane Fellaini’s 57th-minute winner earned Everton a thoroughly deserved win over Alex Ferguson’s lacklustre side.
Van Persie, who joined United from Arsenal for £24 million last Friday, was forced to watch the opening 68 minutes from the substitutes’ bench at Goodison Park before coming on 11 minutes after Fellaini’s goal.
But the Dutchman was unable to inspire a United comeback, Everton deservedly chalking up a fine win in their first match of the Premier League season against the disappointing visitors.
Belgium international Fellaini had already been denied by the woodwork before heading the winner, while Everton midfielder Leon Osman was also denied by the underside of the bar when the game was goalless.
But Ferguson’s team need more than van Persie if they are to wrestle the title back from neighbours Manchester City.
Fellaini was a menace to the United defence all night and capped an impressive all-round performance with the winner, an unstoppable bullet header from Darron Gibson’s corner.
The Belgian, however, was quick to pay tribute to the team effort.
“It was a good goal, it was a good cross, a good corner. It was good for me and for Everton. Everton had a lot of chances in the first half and we had to keep going and hoped the team scored.
“I think everybody was motivated. Manchester United is a great club. Everybody is motivated, and I think today everybody played well.”
Phil Jagielka was also quick to salute the team effort and urged Everton to carry their momentum into Saturday’s clash at Aston Villa.
“I think the whole team was a bit tired towards the end but the effort that we all put in towards the end was fantastic and it’s nice to send the Everton fans on the first day of our season home with a win and not the doom and gloom we normally start with.”
Van Persie’s arrival has raised a flurry of questions. Has Ferguson invested too heavily on a 29-year-old? After all, until last season van Persie was regularly troubled by injuries and is approaching the age when many strikers tend to lose their edge.
Will Wayne Rooney really hit it off straight away in a partnership with the potential to cause mayhem to opposition defences? It is worth remembering that Rooney has not always flourished in a pairing.
And by signing van Persie, has Ferguson ignored other areas of his team that need strengthening, such as the defence and midfield?
There was compelling evidence last night that he could do with adding strength in depth to both areas.
Although van Persie was left on the bench due to a lack of match sharpness, there was one new face in United’s line-up in the shape of Shinji Kagawa, the £12m signing from Borussia Dortmund, who was impressive in spells.
But it was the familiar face of Nani who went closest to opening the scoring for the visitors, the Portuguese flashing a 25-yard effort narrowly wide in the 23rd minute before Wayne Rooney was denied by Tim Howard’s outstretched hand from a free-kick six minutes later.
However, this was Everton’s night.
David Moyes’s side had been partly responsible for United’s title downfall last season when they came from 4-2 down to draw 4-4 at Old Trafford on April 22. And last night they caused United’s makeshift defence all kinds of problems before half-time.
With Rio Ferdinand out with a groin injury, Michael Carrick stood in at centre-back alongside the returning Nemanja Vidic, back in the team after a long-term cruciate knee ligament injury. But the ease in which Fellaini glided past Carrick before striking the woodwork in the 14th minute made uncomfortable viewing for Ferguson.
In addition, United keeper David de Gea made four excellent stops to twice deny Steven Pienaar before half-time, while Leon Osman and Leighton Baines also suffered frustration at the hands of the Spanish keeper.
De Gea’s stop from Osman’s powerful shot-on-the-turn, an effort the watching van Persie would have been proud of, was the pick of the saves.
The second half started the way the first half ended — with United rattled. The impressive Osman was denied by the bar after a sweeping 49th minute move before the outstanding Fellaini broke the deadlock, outjumping Carrick to meet Baines’s corner and plant a powerful header beyond De Gea.
That sparked movement on the United bench, van Persie entering the fray on 68 minutes after Tom Cleverley was denied an equaliser by Phil Jagielka’s goal-line clearance. Van Persie showed flashes of what he is capable of yet he was unable to inspire his team-mates as United lost their first game of the season for the first time since Eidur Gudjohnsen’s goal secured Chelsea a 1-0 win over them in 2004.
There will be better nights for van Persie in a United shirt but this was a million miles from the start he had dreamed of when he left Arsenal.
EVERTON (4-4-1-1): Howard 7; Hibbert 7, Jagielka 7, Distin 7, Baines 7; Osman 8 (Coleman 90), Gibson 7, Neville 7, Pienaar 7; Fellaini 9 (Heitinga 90); Jelavic 7 (Naismith 89).
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): De Gea 8; Valencia 5, Carrick 4, Vidic 6, Evra 6; Nani 6 (Young 78), Cleverley 6 (Anderson 85), Scholes 6, Kagawa 7; Welbeck 6 (van Persie 68, 5), Rooney 6.
Referee: Andre Marriner 6.
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