Man United 2-1 Everton: Happy times are back

De Gea
David de Gea made three incredible saves to secure all three points for Manchester United.

Author: El Rob

Follow El Rob on Twitter.

Manchester United registered consecutive victories in the league for the first time since Louis van Gaal took over as boss, with another tense and nervy 2-1 win over Everton at Old Trafford. As they did against West Ham United, the Reds had to withstand a late barrage of chances and shots on goal, but with David de Gea in inspired form throughout the game, the three points were safe at the final whistle. Here’s a quick review of the talking points from Sunday’s game, looking at the performances in defence, midfield and attack – followed by some concluding praise for United’s lion giant in goal.

Defence: Some cause for optimism
Another game, another lack of a clean sheet. Just looking at the numbers, you’d be right in thinking that the defensive woes plaguing United continued in this game. Yet still, there were several reasons to feel more optimistic. In only his second first-team start, 19-year-old centre-back Patrick McNair was as smooth as his almost-namesake’s Microwaveable Body Wax, and he kept Romelu Lukaku very, very quiet throughout the game. Despite the striker’s poor early-season form, this counts as a significant achievement for the young Northern Irishman, given the major problems Lukaku has caused United in his two previous loan spells – at Everton last season and, famously, at West Brom in Fergie’s final game.

The senior centre-back, Marcos Rojo, looked solid enough, although it was plainly obvious in this game that he isn’t very good on the ball. A number of nervy passes across the backline and dodgy long-balls suggested that he’s not the ideal man to start United’s attacks from the back. Despite the variety of problems facing Jonny Evans this season, the side will benefit from his facility with the ball at his feet, when he makes his return to the starting XI.

On the flanks, Luke Shaw looked promising – making some inviting crosses, especially in the first half, and frequently offering himself as an attacking option – although he showed his naivety in being caught out of position and clumsily knocking Tony Hibbert over for the Everton penalty1Seriously, Luke. Tony Hibbert is rubbish. Let him shoot next time. Hang on… what’s that? Oh, I get it. You wanted to give David de Gea something to do. Fair enough, mate. As you were.. Tyler Blackett came on as a late replacement for Shaw, who suffered a minor knee-knock. Blackett displayed his excellent passing ability once again – probably the main reason that van Gaal has taken such a shine to him, in spite of his (understandable) defensive rawness.

On the opposite side, Rafael was one of the standout players on Sunday. His energy, enthusiasm and technical ability set him apart from most other right-backs in the division, and once he remains fit, he’ll be looking to recapture the excellent form of 2012/13. United look so much better when Rafael is on form. Much of the predictability under Moyes came from the fact that they were trying to get him the ball in a very linear fashion, but under van Gaal, the combination play between Blind, Valencia, Rafael and Van Persie was a notable feature of the side’s attacking play.

Midfield: Mata so-so, Blind solid, a bit of Angel dust
Daley Blind, at the base of midfield, had a pretty solid game again. That said, he had the freedom of Greater Manchester to spray the ball around, but unfortunately didn’t make full use of this opportunity. It might seem a bit harsh – especially given how excited I was when he signed – but I was really disappointed that he didn’t show more ambition with his range of passing. Despite the fact that fellow Dutchman Robin van Persie is somewhat out of form, they have combined in pretty magical fashion this year. However, Blind was absolutely superb in winning the ball back. The numbers might not show this fully because statisticians haven’t come up with an adequate stat for beings-in-the-right-place yet, but his smart positioning led him and his teammates to make a number of interceptions and forced loads of turnovers from Everton’s usually tidy midfield. Only when Leighton Baines became more involved, overloading Rafael in wide areas (the weak point of the diamond formation), did United come under sustained defensive pressure.

On that note, we should share some praise for Antonio Valencia, who did very well in a somewhat strange role yesterday. Where did this Valencia come from? He looked utterly transformed from the sulking mess of the last two seasons, snapping into tackles and varying his support for the attack from the identikit charge-and-cross we’ve come to know and groan at. I can’t remember ever seeing him come central so often, though that was also facilitated by the role – importantly, he looked comfortable when doing so. Most bizarrely, he nearly replicated the famous Verón-to-Beckham pass around the middle of the first half. Craziness.

With Wayne Rooney suspended for this game and the next two to come, Sunday’s match was an important chance for Juan Mata to show he can fit into the side, and into the quick-passing style and intense-pressing system that Louis van Gaal demands of his United squad. Despite an excellent assist for di Maria’s opener, the Spanish #8 was repeatedly guilty of taking too long to make decisions, and from that point of view he had a poor game. It’s a very strange situation with Mata. It’s not that he himself is out of form – witness the weight of pass for his assist, or the exquisite control to bring down a looping ball in the first half – but it still nags at the mind that he ultimately isn’t suited to what van Gaal wants to achieve with this team. His (Mata’s) is a slower, more cultured creativity – one, incidentally, that may have been perfect for the final incarnation of Fergie’s United.

While Mata’s numbers remain excellent – 8 goals and a fair few assists in his last 12 games for the club – he suffers by comparison with the notorious lightning magic perfume genius of Angel di Maria. I was about to write that he was at his exhilarating best on Sunday, but that would be a total lie. Di Maria was at his exhilarating really-quite-goodness on Sunday2Roughly 66.3% by AdM standards. The friendly where he made a total mockery of World Cup winners Germany, scoring a goal and setting up three more? A 77.2%. The Champions League final was about an 89.1%. The absolutely incredible clásico in March 2014 (RM 3-4 FCB), one of the greatest matches ever, in which Leo Messi scored a hat-trick but di Maria still was voted MoTM? Probably a 99.7%., bringing joyous smiles to the faces of children, old people, and 27-year-olds who still get asked for ID at bars. The amazing thing is that he’s barely got started yet.

Attack: Radamel scored a goal! Everybody is happy!
A boring but important point: United’s pressing game, at least in the first half, was so much better than we’re used to, certainly better than anything this season and – considering that Man United were on sabbatical last season – a lot better than last season too. Louis wasn’t playing when he said that defending has to start with the forward players.

He scored last week, he’s slowly returning to form, and most importantly, Robin van Persie’s movement in a United shirt is way better than it has been in months and months. You can usually tell when Robin’s in or out of form, based on the timing of his runs. In form, his runs are cleverer than a fox with two Ph.Ds from Cambridge, but when he’s going through a bad patch, he racks up the offside numbers as though he’s in a really pointless bet with some Mexican striker whose name I can’t remember right now. Anyway.

Falcao scored a goal! Falcao scored a goal! I’m so happy! He’s so happy! We are all so happy! Really, I have nothing more to add than what the boss said after the game: “…He was forcing himself… against West Ham United too. But I said ‘I’m very happy with your performance, the goals are coming!’ The goals are coming.” You hear that? The goals are coming! I’m so happy! Be happy!

David de Gea: Badman
David de Gea is a total badman. Such a badman, that he made Leighton Baines 1) miss a penalty in the Premier League, something he’s never done before, and 2) take a penalty with the side of his foot, something he’s never done before. Here he is, saving a “speedy shot3Louis’ words, not mine. with about 17 brawny gentlemen obscuring his vision. Here he is pointing at the sky, reminding Jeezes that he owes de Gea £10 for donuts.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Seriously, Luke. Tony Hibbert is rubbish. Let him shoot next time. Hang on… what’s that? Oh, I get it. You wanted to give David de Gea something to do. Fair enough, mate. As you were.
2. Roughly 66.3% by AdM standards. The friendly where he made a total mockery of World Cup winners Germany, scoring a goal and setting up three more? A 77.2%. The Champions League final was about an 89.1%. The absolutely incredible clásico in March 2014 (RM 3-4 FCB), one of the greatest matches ever, in which Leo Messi scored a hat-trick but di Maria still was voted MoTM? Probably a 99.7%.
3. Louis’ words, not mine.

4 Comments on Man United 2-1 Everton: Happy times are back

  1. Excellent Rob!

    One of the bigger surprises I thought was Valencia. A role that didn’t require him to attack – i.e run down the line and panic – suited him. He won the ball a lot, rarely gave it away, was disciplined (bar one pretty poor tackle) and created a lot of room for Rafael.

  2. @Doron: I actually was going to include a small thing on Valencia, who I thought did really well yesterday, agreed. I’ll include it as a footnote. Also: he played a Veron-style 60-yard outside-of-the-foot pass to one of the forwards (or di Maria) that nearly made it, around the middle of the first half. Am I going crazy or did that really happen?!

  3. Where did this Valencia come from? . . .

    Wasn’t this the same position he played in during the world cup . . . of course he’s going to feel liberated – instead of being asked to run up and down the line all afternoon as if he were on tracks.

    As to the sulky mess you refer to, the sudden death last year of Christian Benitez aged 27, seriously overwhelmed him :

    “Close friend and international teammate, Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, tweeted several pictures of Benitez as well as a series of emotional messages:

    “Why now brother?”

    “Brother, God is with your family, we love you.

    “This strong pain you’ve caused me will stay forever my brother, but we love you.

    “Please brother. Someone please say no.”

    David Moyes offering him the No7 shirt probably illustrates the deep sadness and loss Valencia was feeling, as much as it does Moyes’s underestimation of events during his awkward tenure at United. Maybe Toni Valencia has found his mojo again, he had a huge game on Sunday – let’s hope he makes a full recovery in his new role.

  4. @Pete: Thanks for that, excellent points. I’d forgotten about Valencia’s grieving, and you’re spot on about his experience in the role with Ecuador. Hope Sunday was the start of a real revival for him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.