Brilliant Fellaini condemns United to defeat
Robin van Persie's Manchester United debut proved a chastening experience as Everton, inspired by a majestic performance from Marouane Fellaini, opened their Premier League campaign with a 1-0 victory at Goodison Park.
The Dutchman was restricted to a place on the United bench following his £24 million move from Arsenal and prior to his introduction on 68 minutes the vantage point offered him an excellent view as Fellaini enthusiastically and ruthlessly laid waste to a brittle and vulnerable United defence.
A spate of injuries forced United to pit Michael Carrick against the Belgium international but it was not just the makeshift defender that Fellaini terrorised: few players in a United shirt were left untouched by a bruising display of physicality and technical ability that took the game away from the visitors and decisively towards Everton.
It was fitting that Fellaini scored the winner after 57 minutes, and so too was the manner in which he beat David De Gea, brushing Carrick aside to power home a header that ensured United's first defeat in their opening league fixture since 2004.
Only twice in the history of the Premier League has a team lost their first match and gone on to win the title.
Citing Van Persie's lack of football since Euro 2012, Ferguson opted to leave his new signing on the bench but Shinji Kagawa - whose arrival has been overshadowed by that of the former Arsenal captain - was given his Premier League debut, playing in front of Tom Cleverley and Paul Scholes.
At 37 years and 278 days old, Scholes was the oldest outfield player to have appeared in the opening round of Premier League fixtures and he soon demonstrated that none of the famous facets of his game have dulled with his advancing years as he linked up nicely with his team-mates, went close with one volley from outside the box and earned a yellow card for a horrible challenge on former United man Darron Gibson.
Still, Scholes and his two midfield cohorts were comprehensively dominated by an outstanding performance from Fellaini, as the big Belgian picked up from where he left off in the 4-4 draw between the two sides at Old Trafford last season that effectively ended United's title aspirations.
His masterful display unsettled United with regularity and as early as 15 minutes he struck the post from a tight angle after escaping the clutches of makeshift defenders Antonio Valencia and Carrick all too easily.
Fellaini then clattered into De Gea from a corner, an incident that early last season may have left the young Spaniard disorientated and reticent. However, the United keeper responded to the challenge and was his side's outstanding player.
After 24 minutes the Spaniard was forced to tip over an opportunistic header from Steven Pienaar from a corner having already repelled a low effort from Nikica Jelavic in the move that led to the set-piece; later he looked on helplessly as Fellaini found space once again, produced an outrageous piece of control to pull down a cross at the back post and spin in one swift movement before thumping his shot wide on the turn.
United threatened only sporadically. But Kagawa's debut was promising - the Japan international replicating the fluidity of movement and deftness of touch that made him such a resounding success at Borussia Dortmund, and on one occasion teeing up Wayne Rooney for a header that went wide with a gorgeous floated cross.
The visitors were struggling to turn possession into chances, even if Rooney saw one good free-kick turned around the post and should have scored when drilling a shot at Tim Howard from 10 yards.
However, the first half continued to mould itself around the figures of Fellaini and De Gea: while Everton's midfield juggernaut continued to swat opponents aside with contemptuous ease and continually punch holes in the visiting defence, the United keeper responded admirably by denying Pienaar and Leon Osman with two tremendous stops, before topping even those efforts when stretching out his right arm to paw at a Leighton Baines free-kick that was destined for the top corner.
Having presumably spent a decent portion of the half-time team talk discussing coping strategies for Fellaini, United were once again left helpless just four minutes into the second half.
Fellaini started the move as Everton shifted the ball wide to Tony Hibbert and then charged into the box to jump above Nemanja Vidic and head the ball down to Osman, who connected well with his volley but saw the ball cannon off the underside of the bar.
United broke immediately, and only a desperate challenge from Phil Jagielka prevented Danny Welbeck from testing Howard following another neat through-ball from Kagawa. But there was no mistaking the most influential man on the night, and on 57 minutes Fellaini scored the goal his efforts more than merited.
Baines delivered a fine corner from the right and, exploiting once again the fact that United had put Carrick up against him from set-pieces, Fellaini rose above his marker - beaten and broken in the presence of the Belgian - to thump a header past De Gea in the United goal.
Cleverley saw an effort cleared off the line by Jagielka following a cute lay-off from Kagawa but with United struggling for a consistent threat, Van Persie was introduced after 68 minutes in place of Welbeck, the Dutchman's arrival seemingly convincing Everton to sit back on their lead.
With 10 minutes remaining, Van Persie collected the ball to the right of the box and slipped a sumptuous pass through the legs of Sylvain Distin to try and find Kawaga square. However, Howard raced off his line quickly to put the Japan international off and deflect the ball over the bar. It was perhaps the brightest moment from the Dutchman in a rather subdued performance.
Everton invited pressure late on but Jagielka led a fine defensive performance as United proved unable to open up the home side. Fellaini and Everton departed with the three points they so richly deserved.