Sunday, February 21, 2010

Landon Donovan-Inspired Everton Exposes Manchester United's Soft Underbelly

After David Beckham and AC Milan came close to beating the Red Devils on Tuesday, Everton picked up where the Italian outfit left off and cruelly exposed all that is bad about this current Manchester United team.

The 3-1 defeat at Goodison means that United are now four points adrift of Chelsea with 11 games remaining. It puts the Pensioners firmly in the driving seat with the Red Devils now requiring snookers to catch the Blues.

It was the Blue half of Merseyside who were smiling after the lunchtime kickoff produced yet another turn in this strangest of seasons.

United had taken the lead through an early Dimitar Berbatov strike that was quickly cancelled out by the improving Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

David Moyes then brought on his two stars of the future, Dan Gosling and Jack Rodwell, who added a goal each to leave the current Premiership Champions scratching their heads.

It was a thoroughly deserved victory by an Everton side who have now beaten both United and Chelsea at Goodison this season.

Before the match many had felt that the Toffees would dearly miss their inspirational midfield duo of Tim Cahill and Maruoane Felliani.

But the five players thrown in at the deep end by David Moyes (Landon Donovan, Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman, Bilyaletdinov, and a returning Mikael Arteta) took the game to their more illustrious opponents and gave them a real lesson on how to keep possession and then turn that into incisive attacking play.

United, quite simply, were not at the races. Their midfield was anonymous while their defence without the "continued absence" of Nemanja Vidic looks a pale shadow of itself.

Add that to the Red Devils now having too many players who cannot play three games in the space of a week and Alex Ferguson faces a period of rebuilding.

Everton snapped into every tackle and showed none of the fear that United have become accustomed to when playing teams outside the top four.

Although it was only the Toffees' third victory in 35 games against the Red Devils, you can see the improvements that Moyes has made at the club.

For much of this season, Alex Ferguson has chosen to use a 4-5-1 formation. Yesterday against Everton he went 4-4-2, after underestimating the Toffees strength in midfield following the withdrawal of their two best players.

It was a tactic that backfired as United's four in the middle, led by the increasingly moving backwards Michael Carrick, were out-fought, out-thought, and thoroughly over run by the marauding Everton midfield.

With the vital battleground of midfield conceded, Everton went on to dominate all aspects of the game. And the only real surprise was that United managed to score and take an early lead.

It was a similarly insipid display to that of the first half against AC Milan, before Wayne Rooney decided to take the game by the scruff of the neck and turn the tide in his team's favour.

This time there was to be no repeat. Facing the club and manager that introduced him to the game, the best player in the world at the moment, was strangely mute.

On Tuesday, a David Beckham-led AC Milan were put to the sword with the ex-LA Galaxy player being exposed for exactly what he is, a player with a huge reputation who is only playing to maintain an image.

It is ironic that the LA Galaxy team-mate Beckham is famous for putting down was one of the best players on the pitch yesterday, running United's midfield and defence ragged with pinpoint passing and penetrating runs.

Since moving to Everton, Landon Donovan has enjoyed a great run of form and it would come as no surprise to see the American move back to Europe after the World Cup.

Ferguson would have known that the trip to Goodison was going to be tough, so it is extremely strange that he chose to go with four in midfield, especially when you consider that Johnny Evans and Wes Brown were his anchors in defence, and that Moyes always uses a five-man midfield, too.

Both players enjoyed a torrid time against Louis Saha. Ferguson must take his fair share of the blame in fielding the wrong side, but on greater inspection, this United team are far from being of the required standard.

United are fighting fires in every part of their squad. Van Der Sar is rumoured to be considering retiring this coming summer, leaving Ferguson with a massive problem as neither Kuszczak or Foster are of top four quality.

In defence, he faces losing Vidic to either Real Madrid or Barcelona. Ferdinand's injury problems mean he is in virtually the same position as Ledley King and cannot play games in quick succession.

As good a servant for the club that Wes Brown is, his pace and positional play seem to have deserted him.

Rafael, Fabio, and De Laet are still learning the trade, meaning there is a huge gap between players of the verge of retirement and players breaking into the team.

Only the injured John O'Shea, Fabrice Evra, and the want-away Vidic bridge this gap at the moment.

In midfield, Alex Ferguson has been walking a tightrope for sometime now. Giggs and Scholes are still his most consistent performers, but their best years are well behind them. They too are considering retirement this summer.

The Anderson experiment has failed. The young Brazilian must be moved on as soon as possible. Nani will join him on the way out of Old Trafford unless his form improves dramatically between now and May.

Michael Carrick is getting worse with every passing week to such an extent that he is in real danger of not making Fabio Capello's World Cup squad. Darren Fletcher is ploughing a lone furrow at Old Trafford at the moment and he needs a partner badly.

The forward line is probably the only area that has covered itself in glory this season, but then again, it is only one player. Wayne Rooney. This season, he has carried the team. Yesterday was a day when he needed help, and no one was up to the task.

Berbatov and Owen have been unmitigated disasters this year, and both will in all probability be moved on come June.

In short, United need a massive facelift to win the league. But how will they afford it? Make no changes and they will still be good enough to finish in the top four, but is that good enough?

It is no disgrace to lose to David Moyes' team. On their day, Everton are a match for any team in the Premiership.

They have an extremely hard working midfield, a reliable back four, and a decent strike force. Yesterday, they showed Manchester United what standard they are expected to reach. Ferguson has to act sooner rather than later.

And for Moyes? All he has to do is get his best team on the pitch at the same time...