|photo by Banalities||via PhotoRee|
It's the home side with the early pressure, as Manchester United welcome a quality Everton side to Old Trafford. Sunday's contest was likely one Sir Alex circled on his personal calendar on the day the schedules were drawn after last year's disastrous 4-4 draw cost the Reds their 20th top flight title. United is energized in the game's early going, neatly personified by old boy Ryan Giggs sprinting down the touchline and young gun Phil Jones busily man-marking the ever dangerous Marouane Fellaini.
Unsurprisingly, it's the Reds with the game's first real opportunity: Robin Van Persie fluffs his opening lines, however, denting the post after faking Tim Howard out of his jock in a move that left the goalmouth begging. But the score does not remain level for more than a few more minutes: RVP makes up for his uncharacteristic miss by squaring the ball to a wide open Ryan Giggs, who batters the post himself but gets a kinder rebound than his Dutch teammate was treated to. The game's opener marks the Welshman's first goal of the Premier League campaign, a statistic that means Giggs has now scored in every single season of the Premier League's existence -- a record that can never be broken.
Although United look dangerous on almost every foray forward, Everton offer stubborn resistance, with midfielder Kevin Mirallas generating several early corner kicks through a show of sheer grit and determination. The Toffees seek to use their height and physicality as weapons to strike the Reds, but in particular Jones, Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans appear well up for the challenge.
The visitors seize the initiative after the home side's opener, and Leon Osman offers David De Gea his first real test of the afternoon. The Spaniard's outstretched arms are equal to the test, however, and Vidic's sacrificial block puts an end to the threat. Everton amps up the pressure after the half hour mark, and it takes a timely intervention from right back Rafael to steer the ball away from the bruising Victor Anichebe and out of harm's way.
United change to more of a counter-attacking style to see out the first half, although RVP is repeatedly flagged for being offside -- until he no longer is. Philip Neville's deep lying position means the Flying Dutchman is onside near stoppage time, and despite valiant efforts by both Everton 'keeper Tim Howard and Center Back Johnny Heitinga, the League's leading scorer is not to be denied, and United's lead bulges along with the back of the net to two goals just before the half.
The second half opens with a midfield tussle, neither side able to seize the initiative. Nikica Jelavic replaces Victor Anichebe and Michael Carrick comes in for Jones, both managers seeking something new to shake up the back-and-forth pattern of the first twelve minutes.
How Evans is denied on a corner and the ball kept out is still under investigation by the municipal police, and Tom Cleverly's laser strike requires a superb Howard save to keep the lead from stretching to three. Carrick sees out a Toffee threat at the other end, before Mirallas is sacrificed for Steven Naismith.
Everton are game for the run in, putting continued pressure on the home side and penning them in. Chris Smalling replaces Evans to offer the Northern Irishman a rest, and the substitution almost affords Everton a way back into the contest. De Gea, however, is again equal to the challenge, and denies Jelavic with a save pushed properly out to the side to preserve a very workmanlike 2-0 victory. At the final whistle there are sighs all around Old Trafford -- a determined foe has been seen off, the lead stretched to 12 points, and a visit to the capital of Spain now looming large in the near distance.
This is farlieonfootie for February 11.