Manchester United’s excellent run of form came to a humbling end at Goodison Park on Saturday lunchtime. Everton, who toppled Chelsea in their previous league outing, made the champions look ordinary in the second half.
European excursions may be used as an excuse but Everton were the better team on the day by a distance.
This sixth defeat of the season for United highlights two things.
Firstly United, and in particular Sir Alex Ferguson, have worked miracles this season. Injuries have decimated their defence with only Patrice Evra escaping a long-term ailment.
This is a team four points off the top of the table despite having played Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher at centre back in consecutive games.
The replacements for Vidic and Ferdinand have been shaky at best. Jonny Evans has, at times, been capable of putting in a decent performance but right now finds himself in a rotten run of form just when his team need him most. Wes Brown looks a shadow of the man he was two seasons ago.
United are four points off top spot despite also boasting a decidedly average midfield. Darren Fletcher, while his drive and tenacity are to be admired, is not deft enough, clever enough or dangerous enough to be United’s go-to-guy in the big games, yet he is just that.
Michael Carrick can control the midfield area against the lesser lights of the league, but put him in a pressure situation and suddenly he’s Harry Houdini.
Indicative of United’s midfield woes is their reliance on Paul Scholes. He may have been one of the best players in Europe in his day but that day is now speeding towards night and there’s no one to take his place.
And Anderson? Well did anyone even notice when he skipped training and took off back to Brazil? Yet despite a midfield devoid of any player who would make it into another top team’s midfield (think about it, it’s true) they are still in a great position to claim a fourth consecutive title.
Wayne Rooney is the only player covering himself in glory this season. He’s been in amazing form and some of his performances have been unfathomably good.
So much so that it is absolutely terrifying to think what would happen to United if Rooney picked up an injury. United don’t have another forward who can play on his own.
Dimitar Berbatov could do it if football adopted the same rules as cricket and baseball and he could get someone else to do the running around stuff for him.
Michael Owen? Well…I don’t think I need to say anything. United’s midfield is such that it cannot function against the best teams without three men in the middle. A Rooney injury would force a complete change in United’s formation.
The second thing the survival of United’s challenge highlights is just how poor the Premier League is this year. These deficiencies can go unnoticed against probably twelve of the twenty teams in the league.
The bottom half of the league has been relatively straight forward for them this season but defeats by Chelsea, Aston Villa, Liverpool and now Everton shows what can happen when this United team comes up against a really strong side.
But fortunately for them it isn’t going to happen very often from now till the end of the season, As tonight will prove, for every away to Everton there’s a home to West Ham waiting just around the corner.