MANCHESTER United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that Manchester City’s shock defeat by Southampton on Saturday had a major impact on his team selection for yesterday’s 2-0 defeat of Everton at Old Trafford.
Ferguson revealed that he was going to make “seven changes” from the side which beat Fulham last weekend ahead of the Wednesday’s monumental Champions League clash with Real Madrid, but Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick were the only regular starters omitted from the staring XI.
The move paid off as United ran out winners thanks to goals by Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie to move 12 points clear of Roberto Mancini’s men, who were beaten 3-1 at St Mary’s.
“Yeah it did,” Ferguson said when asked if Saturday’s result had prompted a change of heart.
“I thought I’d make about seven changes but, when I saw the result yesterday, I knew how important the game today would be for us and we can make more changes later on in the season.”
The success over Everton was the perfect warm-up for the last-16 first-leg tie with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. The Spanish side won 4-1 against Sevilla on Saturday night to warm up for United’s visit.
Even with their manager Jose Mourinho watching on, Real Madrid seemed to be the last thing on United minds as Giggs and Van Persie scored the first-half goals that were enough to see off a dogged Everton.
Giggs has now scored in a remarkable 23 successive league seasons, yet another milestone in an unparalleled career. For Van Persie, it was the 23rd goal of a sensational debut campaign.
United made the perfect start as Wayne Rooney threaded a pass through to Van Persie, which allowed the Dutchman to cruise round Tim Howard. It looked certain to be the latest addition to Van Persie’s scoring scrapbook but, unbelievably, he turned his shot on to the post. The hosts, however, refused to let the setback affect them, though, and it was not long before Giggs’ shot was rolling in off a post after Van Persie had set him up.
It extended the veteran Welshman’s remarkable record of scoring in all 21 Premier League seasons and means he has now found the target in 23 campaigns altogether, a period longer than team-mate Tom Cleverley has been alive.
Much like the corresponding fixture last season, when they twice came back from two goals down to clinch the draw which Ferguson believes cost his side the league, Everton responded with vigour.
David de Gea produced an excellent flying stop to deny Leon Osman and Kevin Mirallas’ cross was not quite accurate enough for Victor Anichebe, who would have had the goal at his mercy.
But the Toffees pressure was notable for two things. Firstly the defending of Nemanja Vidic, who threw himself into the fray, literally at times, with relish. Secondly, danger-man Marouane Fellaini picked up a shadow in Phil Jones, who nullified the Belgian in exactly the same way as he had Gareth Bale last month.
Indeed, after taking a knock in the first half, the manner in which Jones headed straight to the dressing room for treatment after failing to run it off in the second suggested Ferguson had something similar in mind at the Bernabeu.
Fellaini did not enjoy Jones’ attentions that’s for sure and a late swipe at Cleverley to collect a yellow card summed up his afternoon.
Those combined efforts kept Everton at bay and, when Rafael supplied Van Persie with a similar chance to the one he had spurned earlier, this time the Dutchman’s finish, after again rounding Howard, had greater accuracy and just too much power to prevent Johnny Heitinga from keeping it out.
United managed to keep Everton at arm’s length for most of the second period and they might well have increased their lead too, only for Jonny Evans to be left bewildered at how he was denied three times within the space of five seconds.
Two Tim Howard saves and a scrambled Nikica Jelavic clearance frustrated the Northern Irishman, who had never left the six-yard box.
Rooney’s last-minute header to deny Heitinga a shooting chance epitomised the effort United had put in.
Even De Gea was impressive, saving from Jelavic, which is just as well given what lies in wait when on his return home.