Monday, August 20, 2012

Manchester United Open With a Loss at Everton

After a crushing end to the 2011-12 campaign, you would think that Manchester United would come out firing on all cylinders in their opening fixture of 2012-13.
You would be wrong.
United were decidedly poor in the beginning of their quest to reclaim the title Monday evening at Goodison Park, falling to a determined Everton side by a 0:1 scoreline. The Red Devils lacked tempo and urgency from the outset, allowing the Toffees to dictate play and possession throughout the opening 45 minutes.  United relied on goalkeeper David de Gea on three separate occasions prior to half time, needing the Spaniard to make spectacular denials coming across the face of goal in the air.  Everton would also hit the post twice in the first half, and only Wayne Rooney would have a great chance in the frame for the visitors.  However, his off-foot strike from the middle of the penalty area was right into the hands of Tim Howard.

Refusing to introduce new signing Robin van Persie immediately after the break, Sir Alex Ferguson's men continued to find themselves on the wrong side of the ball.  After another Everton effort hit the woodwork, Marouane Felliani, spectacular all evening, would break through for the home side.  Former United man Darron Gibson lost his defender and lifted a cross over the United defense, which Felliani rose and met with his head in the 57th minute; de Gea had no answer despite his incredible play early.
Van Persie immediately began to warm up following the goal, and was introduced ten minutes after, but was unable to spur his new teammates to a season-opening draw or win.  United established possession in their hosts' end throughout the final 20 minutes, but wasted their chances, including a Tom Cleverley strike that hit the outstretched foot of Phil Jagielka.  After four minutes of extra time, the whistle was blown on a poor day for United that puts them significantly behind the 8 ball as they look to reclaim the top spot in the top flight.
It seems very strange that Ferguson would not start van Persie.  Extended practice time with the club or not, the man was the most prolific goal scorer in the League last year and was signed to create offense.  Against the Premier League's third-best defense from a year ago, not allowing the Dutchman to build his game throughout the full 90 minutes may have cost Ferguson's side a point or three.  I would certainly expect him to start the next game.
The United back four is decimated by injuries to Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, and Chris Smalling.  It showed, forcing Ferguson to start only two natural defenders in Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra - the former playing his first competitive match in eight months and the latter under heavy criticism. If the Red Devils have any chance to win the title, their defense needs to get healthy very quickly.
You have to wonder if United may have already lost their chance to win it all this year.  Defending champions Manchester City were shaky in their debut against newly-promoted Southampton, but nevertheless managed to come up with three points while their rivals could not.  The potential loss of Sergio Aguero for City would help United, but they are already three points behind their rivals in what seems to be a two-team race for the title.  If they expect to keep pace with last season's team, which had 89 points, the Red Devils can only afford four more losses.

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