There’s only one name on the lips of every Evertonian this morning and that name is Fellaini. Who would have thought that in a game that boasted the likes of Jelavic, Rooney and a debuting Robin Van Persie, it would be Everton’s central midfielder who would emerge as the match’s stand-out forward?
Playing just behind Jelavic, positioned in an unfamiliar role, the one inhabited by Tim Cahill for the past few seasons, Fellaini adapted with aplomb. It’s rare that we Evertonians get to use the word ‘majestic’ to describe how one player has performed, but last night the adjective was appropriate.
In short, like a less-muscular Macy Gray, Fellaini bossed the game; winning everything in the air, humiliating Michael Carrick (admittedly himself in an unfamiliar role) and putting in a performance that made the Utd back four look decidedly average.
They seemed to be utterly intimidated by him; something that I attribute to both his size and the fact that’s it’s feasible that he could be concealing some kind of weapon within his afro.
like a less-muscular Macy Gray, Fellaini bossed the game
But this wasn’t just a big man thrown up front to knock on long-balls, no Andy Carroll gambit. Fellaini controlled with skill, spread the ball with precision and took players on with verve.
It was a masterclass in the virtues of a ‘big number nine’, the kind of player that was once so common in English football but which has gradually been edged out over the years.
It was arguably fitting then that the player who did so much in the game to give Everton the advantage got the goal that gave the club the lead and ultimately all three points.
But as good as Fellaini was, it would be remiss of me if the quality evident in the rest of the home side wasn’t given a mention. There was not a single player in the Everton eleven who didn’t put in a performance worthy of praise.
The back four neutered the attacking potency of what is arguably (on paper at least) one of the most impressive front lines in Europe. The midfield never let the opposition settle and showed a degree of creativity that was often absent during Everton’s performances last season. And the front line harried the opposition’s back-four where possible and for much of the game made their lives a misery.
There was not a single player in the Everton eleven who didn’t put in a performance worthy of praise.
If you read the papers this morning, the same old tired clichés about Everton’s performance have been trotted out. The team’s approach has been described as ‘committed’, ‘organised’ and ‘defensive’ and it’s style of play ‘direct’ and overly dependent on ‘long-balls’.
Mr gracious-loser himself, Alex Ferguson, claimed that Everton just ‘lumped the ball forward to him (Fellaini), that's all they did’.
There is no question that at times those descriptions are fitting. Only the most blinkered of Blues would fail to see elements of the above in the team’s performance. What’s more, for the final twenty minutes of the game Everton did do little more than stick almost every player behind the ball, soak-up Utd’s pressure and knock it long whenever the chance arose.
But for about three-quarters of the match Everton took the game to Utd and did so in a way that contained different playing styles. Yes, the long ball was used, but equally, at times Everton passed their way through the opposition.
This approach was combined with a determination to stifle Utd’s creative play. Everton were indeed organised throughout, never really giving the opposition time to settle on the ball. But this shouldn’t be labelled negatively. Only a side managed by a half-wit would look at Utd’s team-sheet and not think it prudent to harass and chase the likes of Nani, Kagawa and Rooney.
And overall it was an approach that worked. To someone watching football for the first time, it would have looked as if it was Everton who were the side tipped to finish in the top three and Utd the one tipped to finish mid table. Everton’s effectiveness was so complete that ultimately the final score-line flattered the Mancs.
we provided every club outside the top six with a template of how to thwart a team like Utd
Not that Utd fans have much to worry about. As every fan knows, the early games in a season are no indicator of where a team will finish in the league. Utd have too much class to not push for the league and it’s arguable that had this game been played later on in the season then the score-line could have been very different, and not necessarily in Everton’s favour.
The only point of concern that Utd fans might have is their team’s inability to break an organised opponent down. In the last twenty minutes, when Everton seemed content to get behind the ball and protect their lead, we provided every club outside the top six with a template of how to thwart a team like Utd.
Despite the millions Ferguson has spent on his side, they looked clueless when faced with a blockade of nine blue-shirts. There was a total absence of guile or creativity and despite being camped in the Everton half for much of this period Utd seemed unable to do anything more effective than simply pass the ball back-and-forth across the Everton eighteen-yard-box.
Everton’s style of play towards the end of the match is something that Utd are going to come across more than once this season. If they have any hope of recapturing the league then it’s an obstacle that they are going to have to surmount at some point.
For Everton, the game proved that the club have no-one to fear. If we can outplay and stifle a team of Utd’s class then there is no reason why we shouldn’t have a great season. The side finally seem to have the right combination of creativity, defensive organisation and attacking potency.
And in Marouane Fellaini not only do we have an individual who seems to be maturing into a wonderfully versatile player but also one who can theoretically hide an additional player within his afro, one who could pop-out when that all important extra body is needed in a game.
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