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.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Arts & Entertainment
tvJudge for yourself
Life & Style
tech
Life & Style
Tough call: is the psychological distress Trott is suffering an illness? (Getty)
healthJonathan Trott and the problems of describing mental illness
Life & Style
23 April 2014: Google marks St George's Day with a drawing depicting England's patron saint slaying a fire-breathing dragon
tech
Life & Style
On the dogwalk: a poodle on the runway during a Mulberry show in London
fashionThe duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
News
peopleEmma Appleton says photographer said he would shoot her for magazine if she slept with him
Extras
indybest
News
peopleRevealed: Goop.com's losses - and the pay rises
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents