Marouane Fellaini proved head and shoulders above
United were certainly shaken to the core, left chastened and deservedly defeated. Without the reflexes of goalkeeper David De Gea this would have been an even more damaging evening for the visitors.
Those United supporters congregated in one corner of Goodison Park waited 67 minutes to glimpse Robin van Persie and now have to wait even longer to see their first points.
The headlines will inevitably brim with swooning eulogies to Fellaini, who was immense, repeating the strong form that forced the 4-4 draw at Old Trafford last season, so unhinging United’s Premier League title push. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men could not get close to the tall Belgian on Monday night.
Jean-Claude Van Damme might have been a less daunting opponent for Carrick, who was pressed into defensive service because of injuries to Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
In truth, Fellaini was unplayable. Few defenders could have lived with Everton’s No 25. Even a gang of them.
Fellaini’s height and strength were only some of the weapons in his rich armoury. His touch was good, controlling the ball instantly, ensuring Everton had a powerful clearing house in the danger zone.
Fellaini was playing just off Nikica Jelavic, causing United as many problems tactically as well as physically and technically.
Carrick was nervous about stepping out towards Fellaini while United’s central midfielders, Paul Scholes and Tom Cleverley, did not drop deep enough.
Even if they had, such challenges would have been Lilliputian against the giant Belgian.
If Fellaini was the obvious man of the match, victory was also rooted in the exceptional contributions of others.
Everton’s defence was outstanding, four rocks on which United’s occasional attacking waves crashed and then seeped away. Tony Hibbert reminded everyone of the sad decline of Patrice Evra, who simply could not get past Everton’s redoubtable right-back.
Phil Jagielka kept timing his tackles and interceptions immaculately, thwarting Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa and Cleverley.
Sylvain Distin resembled an air traffic controller, dealing with everything flying in. Leighton Baines was his typical self, a model of consistency, industrious up and down the left.
Moyes was full of praise for his players. Another Scottish manager, Ferguson, was left with much to ponder, although there were the positives of Kagawa’s debut and De Gea’s defiant leaps to keep all but Fellaini at bay.
Kagawa immediately looked a United player, never hiding, always showing for
the ball and playing some clever passes, linking particularly well with
Kagawa’s excellence as an attacking midfielder presents Ferguson with the obvious problem of how to accommodate Kagawa, Rooney and Van Persie in the centre, while keeping the balance out wide. Nani was especially poor at Goodison, eventually replaced by Ashley Young.
Welbeck started on the left until replaced by Van Persie while Antonio Valencia was required at right-back. If Young and Valencia start on the flanks, and Rooney operates behind Van Persie, the question Ferguson faces is will a Kagawa-Carrick central midfield be overrun?
Cleverley’s energy is needed while Scholes could easily have been dismissed at Goodison.
Ferguson needs his defenders fit. Darting between Valencia and Carrick, Fellaini hit the post as this compelling encounter unfolded. It was not to be the last time Fellaini eluded Carrick.
Everton had clearly decided to test De Gea’s resolve and blue shirts buzzed around him at set-pieces. Appearing through a crowd of players, De Gea punched one ball clear but took a clattering.
The sinewy Spaniard responded admirably, pulling off a series of saves, highlighting his agility and positioning. First he tipped over a Steven Pienaar header, then pushed away a Leon Osman shot and then a vicious free-kick from Baines.
Down the other end, Jagielka slid in to dispossess Welbeck and Rooney.
When Pienaar brought down Scholes, a slight role reversal, Rooney’s free-kick was pushed away by Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.
The attention swiftly switched back to De Gea’s goalmouth in a riveting second half. When Hibbert lifted over a cross from the right, Fellaini headed down and there was Osman crashing the ball against the bar. Frustratingly for Everton, the ball fell clear.
No matter. Everton took the lead their dynamism and discipline deserved just before the hour-mark. When Darron Gibson, looking more confident and sleek than during his United days, bent in a corner, Fellaini bullied Carrick to reach the ball first.
United almost equalised shortly afterwards but there was Jagielka anticipating the danger and racing back to clear Cleverley’s snapshot off the line with his left thigh, following a good move involving Kagawa, Rooney and Valencia.
Van Persie, having sat for more than an hour patiently between Anderson and Rafael, then sprinted on, taking up a roving brief across the front line, occasionally up top, then left and finally right.
United briefly threatened Howard’s goal. Van Persie whipped in a high cross that Nani failed to reach. Van Persie then found Rooney, winning a corner. Rooney curled it in but Jagielka was there again, heading clear.
Nani’s delivery was poor so Ferguson sent on Young. The England international quickly played a fine pass, releasing Van Persie down the inside-right channel. The Dutchman immediately turned the ball across to Kagawa but failed to keep his effort on target.
As United became frustrated, Everton fans screamed themselves hoarse in exhorting their team to hold on. They all stood to salute Fellaini when he was withdrawn during injury time, his every step across Goodison’s gleaming surface followed by rapturous applause. The noise intensified moments later when the final whistle was instantly drowned out.
Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Baines, Jagielka, Distin, Neville, Osman
(Coleman – 80), Pienaar, Fellaini (Heitinga – 90), Jelavic (Naismith – 89)
Manchester United: De Gea, Evra, Vidic, Valencia, Carrick, Nani (Young – 78), Scholes, Cleverley (Anderson – 85'), Kagawa, Rooney, Welbeck (Van Persie – 68)
Booked: Nani, Scholes
Referee: Andre Marriner