A Javier Hernandez goal was enough to give Manchester United victory over Everton as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side put the heavy defeat to Manchester City behind them and kept up the pursuit of their near-neighbours at the top of the Premier League.
Hernandez struck in the first-half to cap an encouraging start by the champions but Everton nearly bounced back with a Leighton Baines free-kick that struck the crossbar and a series of efforts from distance that tested David de Gea. That said, United were never unduly troubled by their hosts and held on to their slim advantage with relative comfort.
United’s back four, with Jonny Evans returned to defence after his red card a week prior, was well-protected by the midfield duo of Tom Cleverly and Darren Fletcher, while Hernandez, Danny Welbeck and Park-Ji Sung made for a lively front three. Wayne Rooney was tasked with playing between the lines but spent much of the game deep in midfield attempting to orchestrate the play.
Everton, without Phil Neville and Tim Cahill, were able to call on Phil Jagielka and Louis Saha who had been doubts ahead of the match. Leon Osman was Saha’s principal support from midfield while Seamus Coleman replaced the suspended Royston Drenthe. Jack Rodwell and Marouane Fellaini took the midfield berths but, Coleman aside, there was far too little dynamism in the Toffees XI to unsettle the visitors’ defence.
Much of Everton’s football was side-to-side and back again, looking in vain for an opportunity to break through and challenge United’s rearguard. United’s players, however, worked so hard that there was little chance of a gap opening up while decent crossing positions were spurned by balls either under or over-hit. Most of Everton’s sights on goal came from turning possession over in dangerous areas, but the eventual shots, bar Rodwell’s second-half drive, came from too far out and with too little power to force de Gea into anymore than a routine save.
United, for much of the match, had Everton on the carousel, as Ferguson famously described his side’s efforts against Barcelona. The neat interplay between the forward players meant that even when defending the lead late on and leaving five players behind the ball at all times, Everton were still worried by the few red shirts amongst a sea of blue. It is the same approach that carved the home side open a few times in the early going.
Once United were in front, however, they did not overtly strain for a second goal; the mindset was more containment than anything else. This was achieved with minimum fuss – only Rodwell’s aforementioned shot from distance that had de Gea diving to parry and a late penalty shout when Patrice Evra barged Magaye Gueye in the kind of coming together that is a foul anywhere else on the field but across the 18-yard line looked like drawing Everton level. For United it was the straightforward victory needed after last week’s horror show, for Everton a timid home defeat that rarely threatened to be much more.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Coleman, Rodwell, Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov (Barkley 46); Osman (Vellios 76); Saha (Gueye 84)
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Jones, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Cleverly (Nani 56), Fletcher; Park, Rooney, Welbeck (Valencia 73); Hernandez (Berbatov 66)
Did you know… The combined cost of United’s three substitutes, Berbatov, Nani and Valencia, was around £63m. Everton’s three substitutes, Barkley, Vellios and Gueye, cost less than £1.5m.