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Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester
Premier League
 Sunday 10 February 2013; 4:00pm
Man Utd
2 0
Giggs (13')
Van Persie (45')
Half Time: 2 - 0
Attendance: 75,525
Fixture 26
Referee: Mark Halsey

Match Report

A disappointing performance from Everton combined with wins for their top-four rivals gave the Blues something of a reality-check in their pursuit of Champions League football.

Though this was nothing like the meek displays of Premier League years past where the Blues have been convincingly beaten in all aspects of the game, the performance from David Moyes's side was well short of their plucky recovery last year where they came back from 4-2 down to draw 4-4 in thrilling fashion.

In contrast to that day, the final ball and the killer instinct was glaringly absent from Everton's play and two first-half goals made this a more routine victory than even Sir Alex Ferguson would have been expecting.

Moyes's plans were disrupted right before kick off when Sylvain Distin was forced to pull out through illness and John Heitinga, who had lost his place in defense with the return of Phil Neville at right back, was reinstated after two successive poor displays.

And the Dutchman was arguably at fault for the opening goal where Ryan Giggs was left in acres of space and left to roll the ball in off both posts after 13 minutes.

A dangerously high defensive line from Everton had been torn open early on when Robin van Persie ran clear, rounded Tim Howard but rattled his shot from the angle off the outside of the post.

That would serve in retrospect as a dress rehearsal for the goal that would render the game as effectively sealed just before the break. Van Persie again raced into space behind the defence and danced past Howard before slotting home.

The second half was largely a non-event, with Everton unable to find any rhythm or penetration. With Fellaini closely marked by Phil Jones and unable to dictate the game in the manner in which he did in the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season, the Blues struggled for drive and leadership in the middle of the park.

Coming as it did on the stroke of half time, the second goal had visibly knocked the visitors and though United dropped off and invited the Blues onto them, it was an invitation that Everton didn't accept.

The slick, one-touch football that was a hallmark of their play earlier in the campaign appeared to have deserted them, with passes regularly falling short of their mark from the likes of Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar, players so often at the heart of everything Moyes's side does going forward.

They were not without their moments, though. Twice Kevin Mirallas skipped his way to the byline and cross low but could not pick out a Blue jersey, while Leighton Baines carved out the opportunity to create something from a similarly dangerous position on the other flank but pulled his cut-back into no-man's land where it was easily mopped up the home defence.

A late flurry following the withdrawal of Victor Anichebe and Mirallas - the latter had looked the most likely Everton player to create something but just didn't see enough of the ball - and the introduction of Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith briefly offered hope. Osman sliced a decent chance from 25 yards well wide, though, and after Jelavic was incorrectly flagged offside having sprung United's own trap, the Croatian forced the only real save from David de Gea of the afternoon with a low shot from just inside the area.

At the other end, Howard did well to acrobatically tip Tom Cleverly's smart drive over his crossbar and also stopped the ball on the line in a goalmouth melee that the Blues somehow survived when Jelavic stuck out a leg to eventually divert the ball behind for a corner.

Ultimately, while the shot- and corner-tally stats would show this to be a reasonably close game, the reality was that, while far from the woeful showing asserted by some fans, this was nothing like the barnstorming Everton performance of a year ago. Only Phil Jagielka, who at times was covering two-thirds of the width of the pitch in front of his own box to compensate for Heitinga's glaring lack of speed, was really the only player in Blue to impress while it was a mystifyingly subdued display by Moyes's men in the final third.

The manager has put it down to fatigue among players who are being asked to play week in, week out through a 38-game league season, which really only throws up the questions following transfer deadline day around why heaven and earth were not moved to bring in much-needed reinforcements, even if only on loan. There is no doubt they tried but how hard and how late appear to be the crucially unanswered parts of the equation.

In combination, the performance, the result, and the points gap that has opened up between the Blues in 6th and Tottenham in 4th have thrown into serious doubt Everton's hopes of cracking the top four this season. Some, with the luxury of hindsight, have derided those aspirations as "silly", and that may prove to have been the case when all is said and done but the fact remains that were it not for a couple of very late slips against the likes of Newcastle and Fulham, this team would be right up there with Tottenham even after this defeat at Old Trafford.

Of course those games remain big "ifs", just as much as the flip-side wins over Sunderland and Spurs were, but had they fallen our way, it's likely the belief among the players would be fueling any fatigued minds or bodies more than they currently are.

Despite a tough run-in, much could yet change, of course, and you would write Moyes's men off at your peril. But there is no question that this game and the ease with which the Champions-elect won it has sucked a lot of the wind out of Evertonian sails. How the players and manager respond will be key.

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Summary

Both David Moyes and his Glaswegian role-model Sir Alex named strong sides for today's big game at Old Trafford but Nikica Jelavic was once again dropped to the bench from where new fullback John Stones was never likely to make his debut, as Moyes looked to Marouane Fellaini for a reprise of his domineering performance against the Mancs back in August.

But Everton would receive a big blow before the kick-off when Sylvain Distin was forced to withdraw due to sickness. Heitinga replaced him in the starting line-up. Everton were under pressure early on with a foul on Rooney giving Man Utd a free-kick that Howard had to punch. Rooney then had a wild shot from distance. Gibson won a corner Baines delivered deep and on the follow-up Pienaar was blocked twice.

After some dreadful first touches by Anichebe, it was Man Utd who got the first real chance, Rooney playing in Van Persie who rounded Howard with ease and incredibly hit the outside of the post with the goal gapping! A massive let-off for the All-Blues.

A soft foul by Mirallas on Jones gave Utd another chance, and after the first effort was defended, Everton were sliced open, Heitinga beaten easily by Van Persie who squared for Giggs to roll the ball past Howard and in off the post after just 14 mins.

Everton showed some intent but Mirallas's low cross was poor after a good run to the by-line, and the Blues were limited to possession football that led nowhere as Man Utd contented themselves with the early lead, after brushing Everton aside in the early exchanges and getting the goal Sir Alex would have wanted.

Mirallas won a corner that Vidic headed away, but the cross back in from Mirallas was horribly over-hit as Everton struggled to really get into the game, always looking vulnerable when Man Utd would break with frightening speed. Anichebe stumbled into the area but it was not a penalty and the Blues then won a free-kick that allowed their first attack down the left but it came to nothing.

The pattern of the game seemed set with Everton playing deep but utterly fruitless possession in their own half, bereft of ideas until Osman got a lovely shot in but it lacked enough power to beat De Gea whose dramatic dive gave away a corner, which saw some more sustained pressure and more panicky defending by the home side.

Anichebe showed some dreadfully poor control when played in to the Utd area, and he looked rather pathetic, walking the ball lamely over the byline. But Everton kept pressuring and Giggs fouled Pienaar, Gibson floating in a fair cross that was easily defended, Heitinga, relieving the Everton pressure by fouling needlessly.

But on a great break Fellaini playing in  Mirallas, Anichebe got ahead of the ball and Osman could only fire wide. Everton had dominated for an extended period but the quality to get an end product just wasn't there. Mirallas then went in far too hard on Cleverly: stupid yellow card and a free-kick for the Reds out wide, defended by Gibson.

Rooney was upset after he fouled Neville by the Utd byline and Mirallas sent in a floaty kick for Fellaini to head in that forced De Gea to punch but the ball came back and his second punch was not as good, and Osman had a snatched chance that he wellied well wide.

Man Utd finally got themselves into the Everton area but Rooney's cross was clipped behind Van Persie. But Utd had a spell of decent pressure that ended with a soft cross to Howard. Van Perise looked to get behind the Everton defence but was offside.

Then an almost identical play, Van Persie not offside, he danced around Howard and Heitinga slidding in could not keep it out, a real killer goal against Everton after their promising efforts for much of the first half.

No pro-active changes at half-time from David Moyes, as the pattern of Everton possession with no real progress continued from before the break. David Moyes dithered until before the hour mark to make his move, putting Jelavic on in place of Anichebe, who had gone down with some injury, while Carrick replaced Jones, with half-an-hour to play but the game having died as a contest.

Fellaini had been marked out of the first half by Jones and was struggling to have any impact on the game in the second half as the clock ticked.on... Man Utd eventually sensing that they were not going to get much of a contest in their quest for a 12-point lead.

Jagielka gave away a corner with a horrible clearance, Van Persie swung it in and a point-blank save off Evans led to an almighty scramble that somehow kept the ball out, Howard then finger-tipping a long shot by Cleverley just over the bar.

Another tactical change after better movement down the Everton left, which had been hardly used all game, Osman getting the corner but the header was weak as Mirallas was hooked for Naismith with Fellaini dropping back. It was meant to lift the side but they looked dispirited at best, their absent slick passing letting them down badly, with far too many attacks coming down the right through the ponderous Neville. Osman did finally get in close but a soft lob from a narrow angle was easy meat for De Gea.

Everton had a good spell: lots of possession, lots of movement, but the final ball in was always poor: no end product. Meanwhile, a quick break, Rooney and RvP... who could only shoot wide. Another escape for the Blues.

Perhaps the moment of the game was when Jelavic had an opportunity to run in and shoot; his shot was weak and low rather than strong and high, De Ghea able to save easily. Fellaini, who was involved but completely ineffective, finally saw yellow for his troubles.

Everton had a chance to break but Pienaar stopped the play and any chance was gone before possession was rolled over and Man Utd once again drained any hope out of the game for Everton by playing possession football.

In the end, a completely toothless display from Everton, who have surely now waved goodbye to any silly dreams of Champions League football next season, with David Moyes going back into his shell of fear and trepidation at Old Trafford as his side completely failed to deliver to anywhere near the level they are capable of.

Man Utd: De Gea, Rafeal, Vidic, Evans (81' Smalling), Evra, Valencia, Jones (56' Carrick), Cleverly, Giggs, Rooney, Van Persie. Subs: Amos, Anderson, Hernandez, Nani, Welbeck.

Everton: Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Distin(Sick) Heitinga, Baines; Mirallas (70' Naismith), Osman, Gibson, Pienaar; Fellaini, Anichebe (57' Jelavic). Subs: Mucha, Stones, Heitinga Duffy, Oviedo, Hitzlsperger.

Michael Kenrick

Match Preview

1992... Mo Johnston... Bob the Pole... it's the same refrain every season as Everton prepare for what was once a ritual slaughter at Old Trafford but which is now a fixture that not only holds some hope for the Blues but could also be a growing thorn in United's psyche.

Though the deposed Champions lost home and away to their eventual successors from across Manchester — including, of course, a staggering 6-1 hammering on their own turf — Manchester United regard the 4-4 draw with Everton in April last year as the game that lost them the Premier League title.

Add to that the Blues' 1-0 win on the opening day of this season and the performance of one Marouane Fellaini and according to Sir Alex Ferguson's own rhetoric, the visit of Everton is now regarded as a "big game."

David Moyes maintains that his side will go out with the same intent to win as they did the last time they visited Old Trafford, an approach that looked dead on when Nikica Jelavic headed home the opener early on and then questionable when United were stung into a response that had them 3-1 and 4-2 up by the closing stages.

Everton's powers of resilience and never-say-die spirit snatched a memorable draw from the jaws of defeat and proved that Sir Alex's side are fallible and don't particularly "like it up 'em", as the saying goes. Plenty of incentive, therefore, for the Blues to just have a go and hope that they can make a breakthrough and then hold it in the face of United's superior attacking weaponry.

In terms of team selection, the return of Phil Neville in place of the struggling John Heitinga is the most obvious change to the eleven that started against Villa, but it remains to be seen whether Moyes will consider changes up front.

Jelavic may have found success in this game last season but Victor Anichebe has been in fine form recently and could be retained due to his physical presence and consequent ability to unsettle a United defence that can be rattled when challenged.

And in Kevin Mirallas, Moyes finally has a player with pace again who can provide a counter-attacking outlet to keep the home side on their toes. He and compatriot Fellaini could provide the keys to the Blues finally laying the Old Trafford hoodoo to rest but it will take belief and a supreme collective effort to spring the kind of surprise that really would have Moyes's side believing that Champions League qualification is achievable.

Lord knows we've waited long enough for both.

Lyndon Lloyd

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MAN UNITED (4-4-2)
  De Gea
  Jones (56' Carrick)
  Evans (81' Smalling)
  Van Persie
  Subs not used

EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Mirallas booked (70' Naismith)
  Fellaini booked
  Anichebe (57' Jelavic)
  Subs not used
  Barkley (loan)
  Bidwell (loan)
  Gueye (loan)
  Distin (ill)
  Coleman (injured)

Premier League Scores
Chelsea 4 - 1 Wigan
Norwich 0 - 0 Fulham
So'hampton 3 - 1 Man City
Stoke 3 - 1 Reading
Sunderland 0 - 1 Arsenal
Swansea 4 - 1 QPR
Tottenham 2 - 1 Newcastle
Aston Villa 2 - 1 West Ham
Man United 2 - 0 Everton
Liverpool 0 - 2 West Brom

Team Pts
1 Manchester United 65
2 Manchester City 53
3 Chelsea 49
4 Tottenham Hotspur 48
5 Arsenal 44
6 Everton 42
7 Swansea City 37
8 West Bromwich Albion 37
9 Liverpool 36
10 Stoke City 33
11 West Ham United 30
12 Fulham 29
13 Sunderland 29
14 Norwich City 29
15 Southampton 27
16 Newcastle United 27
17 Aston Villa 24
18 Reading 23
19 Wigan Athletic 21
20 Queens Park Rangers 17

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