There were so many sub-plots that surrounded Everton’s trip to Manchester United on Wednesday night.
Current United manager came up against his former team for the first time this season. The fact that Moyes tried to prise away two of his former players in a manner that was found to be derisory and disrespectful by Toffees manager Bill Kenwright was sure to make this fixture
all the more significant.
Lastly, Everton had not been able to muster a win at Old Trafford in the 11 years their ex-boss was at the club. 90 minutes later, what had been previously unthinkable happened.
Moyes had finally achieved it, but he did so while on the opposite dugout.
United succumbed to defeat for the first time since September in a result that sent shockwaves all around England and beyond. A bullish Everton left Old Trafford with all three points and with one up over their former boss.
Kenwright must have been gleaming with delight, as was the entirety of Merseyside, what with Liverpool winning as well. Moyes needs to go back to the drawing board before Newcastle turn up on Saturday and me being the nice guy that I am, will lend him a helping hand. Here are five reasons why United lost out on the night.
1. The absence of Robin van Persie
The mercurial Dutchman sat out yet another fixture since the victory at Arsenal, his groin and toe injuries taking longer than expected to heal.
RVP had been touted as being unhappy earlier in the season at his new manager’s rigorous and intense training sessions and subliminally alluded to that as being the reason for his fitness travails this campaign.
Van Persie, prior to Moyes’ arrival, had played 90 consecutive matches for United and Arsenal in the last two seasons but has only managed slightly over half of all United’s matches this campaign. Freakish coincidence? I think not.
With a World Cup on the horizon, Van Persie’s fitness assumes greater concern and importance. The Dutch national football association, KNVB, issued an enquiry after their all-time leading scorer pulled out of both matches over the course of the international break.
Netherlands drew both matches in his absence, just to put into perspective how integral the 30-year-old is to the team. At the moment, United are missing their attacking spearhead
a little bit more.
Wayne Rooney has assumed greater responsibility this term banging in the goals and providing the assists but he is like Batman without Robin, Starsky without Hutch - it’s just not the same.
United have a far greater win percentage when both of them play and it even increases when both score in the same match. United have dropped points in three of the games they have
played in the Dutchman’s absence.
Against Everton, his killer instinct, link up play and fear factor was sorely lacking for United. Welbeck is a willing runner but that’s it, he just runs. Chicharito has an eye for goal and is brilliant in the box, but came on a little too late and even then, United needed someone who
can hold the ball up against the brilliant pairing of Distin and Jagielka and bring the likes of Rooney and Kagawa into play.
Van the man needs to come back - and fast.
2. Antonio Valencia and the Kagawa factor
I already wrote on the Ecuadorian’s productivity, or lack thereof, for United so I will not dwell too much on that. However, what I will say is that he extended his ineptness attacking-wise to United’s backline as he was caught ball-watching for Oviedo’s late clincher.
Valencia had his positioning and posture all wrong in the build-up to the goal as he allowed
Oviedo to creep in behind him and tap in the winner.
Kagawa, who has been afforded an extended run in the side since van Persie’s injury lay-off, started the match in his favoured position but was shunted out wide to the left as the match wore on as Moyes looked to exploit Welbeck’s pace through the middle.
As a result, United lacked any threat through the centre as Gareth Barry and the outstanding James McCarthy were not seriously troubled on the night.
In addition, Evra was constantly left exposed on the left, Coleman and Mirallas and finally Deloufeu taking turns to run rings round the full-back who was repeatedly caught out of position. United were susceptible to wave after wave of attacks down that side of the pitch and
eventually conceded the goal after the build up took place on the inside left channel.
Moyes really needs to figure out how to protect the full-back while providing a threat down the left wing. United have scored the fewest goals from crosses this season than in any other season in the past decade. The bread and butter of their attacking play has not been so buttery of late and United are dropping points as a result.
3. The central midfield was overrun
The central midfield pairing of Giggs and Fellaini was dominated by the Barry-McCarthy axis for large spells of the match. It was hard to see any logic behind playing a 40-year-old with a burly midfielder who cannot do much running.
As a result, Everton had a lot more of the possession inside United’ s half and looked more composed and assured in the middle. Fellaini had a decent game but once again, looked a yard off the pace as Mirallas, McCarthy and Barkley breezed past him on many occasions.
His partner, despite the valiant effort, was stifled of time and space to dictate proceedings. Unlike against Leverkusen in Germany, Everton’s midfielders pressed United, hustling and harrying them into making mistakes and playing the ball back.
Giggs looked every day of his 40 years when surrounded by the youthful, energetic Barkley, Mirallas and McCarthy. United lost possession too many times in the middle of the park and Moyes must rue picking Fellaini over Cleverley or Giggs over even Anderson.
The Brazilian, especially, would have been perfect for this game yet for some reason Moyes keeps overlooking him.
4. Moyes’ substitutions
The United manager brought on wingers Nani and teenager Januzaj in an attempt to fuel United’s flat attacking play and offer more of a threat from the wide area.
The decision to haul off Rafael was in itself perplexing. The Brazilian had dealt considerably well, considering he had just returned from injury, with the threat of Mirallas and Oviedo, and even romped forward to deliver some teasing crosses.
His replacement, Antonio Valencia, who had been awful on the night, was moved to the back behind Januzaj and eventually was at fault for the goal that sunk United.
The Scot’s questionable substitutions cost his team points once again, much in the same winger he took off Rooney for Chris Smalling in the dying embers of the match against Southampton, only for the away side to equalise from a corner that was needlessly conceded by the defender.
Moyes needs to brush up on ‘substitutions 101’ or take a page from the Jose Mourinho hand book. The Portuguese seemingly always makes the perfect substitutions. Like over the weekend when withdrawing Essien during the break and introducing an extra forward in Demba Ba, who in turn completed the comeback against Southampton.
Moyes instead should have taken off Valencia for Januzaj/Nani and Fellaini for Cleverley or Anderson for Giggs, then Welbeck for Chicharito.
United, almost certainly, would have left Old Trafford with at least a point.
5. No consistency of the back four
David Moyes, much like his predecessor last season, has used multiple combinations for his backline and United are letting in goals like a church lets in people. The Scot needs to only look at his opponents for the night who have been defensively solid this season.
Martinez has stuck with the same back-four since the beginning of the campaign, only playing Oviedo at left-back because of the injury to Baines. The settled backline leads to better organization and solidity.
Jagielka and Distin have been so brilliant this season that it is easy to forget that the Frenchman is 35. They compliment each other perfectly, the former reads the game fantastically while the latter provides pace, muscle and guile. They are what United themselves used to have in Ferdinand and Vidic a not too long ago when they were in their prime.
Moyes needs to start blooding the younger defenders and develop a reliable partnership at the back. Evans, Smalling and Jones are all capable of forming United’s next great defensive duo and it is about time Moyes begins inculcating them into the role.
Rio and Vidic have been great and gallant servants but their time is up.
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