Match Report: Manchester United grab initiative with victory over Everton as Alex Ferguson keeps one eye on Real Madrid prize

Manchester United 2 Everton 0

Jose Mourinho described Manchester United’s visit to the Bernabeu on Wednesday night as “the game the world is waiting for” but in the meantime the world had to make do with Everton, although not the same kind of Everton that upset the applecart at Old Trafford last season.

Click here to watch highlights of the game

It was asking too much for this game to be as thrilling as the 4-4 draw in April, last season, when United twice squandered a two-goal lead and eventually had to acknowledge that it was the day when the title started to slide away from them. Even so, taking a 12-point lead in the title race was never supposed to be as easy as this.

 Sitting in the directors’ box, wrapped up against the cold and trying not to catch the eye of the hordes gawping at him, Mourinho watched a United side comfortably contain an Everton team that had none of the attacking menace of ten months ago. Even this United defence, with Rio Ferdinand rested and David De Gea never completely certain in dealing with Leighton Baines’ dipping crosses, was not unduly troubled.

Is that it for the title, then? Yes, according to Kevin Keegan, who was the Newcastle United manager when they blew a 12-point lead over Manchester United in 1996 – he said it would be over if United won yesterday. So too the usual publicity-seeking bookies, who are paying out on United already. Even Sir Alex Ferguson said that he had changed his team in the light of Manchester City’s collapse at Southampton on Saturday.

Having promised on Friday to play “two different teams” in yesterday’s game and then against Real Madrid on Wednesday, Ferguson claimed after the match that he had scrapped that plan following City’s defeat and played a stronger team to press home his club’s advantage at the top of the league.

All things considered it seemed a strange explanation given that he might just have likely decided that he could have afforded to play a weaker side yesterday. He made four changes and detailed Phil Jones to do an old school man-to-man marking job on Marouane Fellaini. Jones limped off before the end and he is a doubt for Wednesday but it begs the question, would Ferguson ask him to do a similar job on Cristiano Ronaldo?

There was the usual bonhomie about Mourinho, who had gone to see Ferguson before the game and was allowed to enter the stadium through the players’ entrance rather than have to brave the punters and come in through the directors’ entrance in the South Stand. Mourinho granted his only interview of the day to MUTV. You could see a beautiful relationship blossoming.

As well as all the usual stuff about the prospect of Wednesday’s game, Ferguson said simply that he hoped United would be able “to get the team we want out on the pitch”. There are concerns over Jones, and Jonny Evans came off with a touch of cramp, but otherwise, whatever can he mean? He has all his big guns ready to go.

Until Robin Van Persie scored United’s second goal, in time added on at the end of the first half, Everton’s threat remained. They beat United 1-0 at Goodison Park on the first day of the season and, even having lost Sylvain Distin, who was unwell, half an hour before kick-off, there is enough experience in this Everton side not to be intimidated by United. The problem is, there was simply not the goal threat.

David Moyes’ team have won just one of their last five league games and the manager admitted yesterday that the fatigue may well be setting in as the likes of Baines, Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman rack up the games without any scope to rest them. “Maybe it only allows us to have one half of the season,” he said. “I hope I’m wrong.”

For the first goal it was Baines who lost a crucial header to Antonio Valencia in the build-up. Johnny Heitinga failed to get close enough to Van Persie, allowing the striker to get away from in the box and cut the ball back to Ryan Giggs who had enough time to pick his spot, in off the inside of Tim Howard’s left post. It is the 23rd consecutive season in which Giggs has scored in the top-flight of English football.

That was after 13 minutes, and Everton’s best moments were in the latter part of the first half when De Gea saved well from Osman and Rafael Da Silva, United’s best player, got the ball away from Victor Anichebe in the nick of time. Then Van Persie killed the game by taking Rafael’s smart throughball past Howard and getting the ball in past Heitinga as the Everton player slid in on the line.

From much the same position, Van Persie had hit the post on ten minutes but once again he gave United that extra dimension of quality at a critical point of the game. After the break, Everton did not look nearly so much of a threat with the away fans finally getting their wish with Nikica Jelavic’s introduction. United went closer on 66 minutes when Howard saved three times from close-range in the penalty area and then from Tom Cleverley’s shot.

Moyes said afterwards that at the beginning of the season he would happily have taken three points from the two fixtures with United and it was hard to argue with him. As for United, they leave Manchester tomorrow with a huge European game in prospect and their neighbours, and title rivals, approaching meltdown. Which is just the way United like it.

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'