Matches at Goodison Park are never easy for any team, not even Manchester United. But it wasn’t just the 1-0 loss to Everton that has to be troubling Alex Ferguson, United’s first opening day loss since 2004. It’s the way his team looked, which was far from anything he imagined the new season to begin with.
Lets hold off the doom and gloom forecasts. This is just another example of how tough the Premier League, especially the away matches, even for the best of the teams. Eventually, Everton will struggle to consistently put on such displays and especially score goals while United, who have been known to be slow starters in recent seasons, will pick up the pace at some point.
Still, Ferguson can’t dismiss everything that was bad about last night’s performance and say – it’ll get better. United’s midfield, with Paul Scholes and Tom Cleverley was simply out-manned by the tight and aggressive Everton formation. Shinji Kagawa showed some nice touches and vision, but wasn’t involved enough in the ‘boring’ ball movement and an attempt to keep possession during Everton’s better minutes, when United needed to slow down the pace just a bit.
Ferguson had his usual problems in the back – Nemanja Vidic was the only true centre back available to use, partnering with Michael Carrick just ahead of David de Gea, who had a fantastic day. No Smalling, Ferdinand or Phil Jones at the moment, and problems in the back reflect on the entire team.
But the most disappointing was the United front four – Antonio Valencia was too busy playing right back to actually help the unbalanced Untied attack, which made it very simply for Everton defenders to concentrate on Nani, Rooney and Welbeck, who were having a bad day as it is. Shinji Kagawa showed a lot of support with his passing, but needs to start and threaten the goal more, just like he did with Dortmund (21 goals in 49 matches) over the past two seasons.
Robin van Persie? Ferguson let him play almost as a winger on the right side when he came in for 22 minutes. Not the ideal way to give his brand new star signing his debut, while too many of the team’s parts weren’t performing properly. Ferguson obviously thought, or at least told the media he thought United played better, but those are the usual manager lies you hear after matches. He didn’t get the perfect, clean slate to start the season with, but he made mistakes before and during the match.
No longer favorites to win the title? I’m not sure they ever were. It’s still Manchester City’s championship to lose – the club with the deepest squad and the most quality on the pitch most of the time. It’s now a matter of stabilizing the back four and hoping Kagawa and Robin van Persie find themselves as quickly as possible, although a potential overstepping problem between Rooney-RVP-Kagawa might arise, unless someone shifts them into different roles.