As if by pure coincidence, the Premier League returns just days before the weekly rant does. However, this article has been loaned out to Wednesday for a short while given that we played on Monday evening, only until the Transfer Window draws shut. And no, we don't expect any bids for it, and nor do we encourage any!
When I saw the team on Monday night I was livid. Resorting to playing Phil Neville in midfield against Manchester United at home stunk of roll over and draw. We don't usually start the season well, and there is arguably no tougher test than Man Utd for your first Premier League game of the campaign. I thought (and I wanted) us to go for the kill. Start Fellaini and Gibson in the middle of the park, Osman right, Pienaar left, and the very lively Naismith just off Jelavic. After all, we had nothing to lose, right?
I could understand the thinking behind David Moyes' selection. But it didn't mean I had to agree with it. However, I found myself driving away from Goodison Park with the smile on my face being joined by the satisfaction of being proved wrong.
Moyes wanted to pack the midfield, hassle their creative players, try to keep Kagawa and Scholes quiet and deploy the world class Marouane Fellaini just off Nikica Jelavic as an outlet to hit and link up play between the midfield and the Croatian up front. So, he paired Gibson and Neville together in the centre.
You know what you're going to get with Darron Gibson. He's a steady work horse who breaks up play, keeps it simple and lets rip with the occasional shot from distance. And, hes a central midfielder. Phil Neville is not. The amount of times I've found myself looking away in disgust when the captain has played in midfield is ... well I've forgotten! Especially when we played Manchester City and Moyes paired him with John Heitinga. A centre back and a right back in the middle of midfield?! What?!
Monday night was different though. We started off really well. The shape was good, with two banks of four holding their lines, compact, pressing when needed not individually but as a unit, harassing the key United trio of Kagawa, Scholes and Rooney when they were on the ball, Fellaini dropping in and making a five man midfield when defending.... they found us really difficult to break down. And when we did have the ball we used it well, and I don't think people who saw the game will be in disagreement when I say we should have been 3-0 to the good at the break.
Gibson went about his shift as usual. His positioning was good, he broke the play up well, he looked forward for options and when there were none he had no issue going sideways or backwards. He also played a part in some fine one touch triangular passing with Baines, Pienaar, Jelavic and Fellaini to name a few.
Surprisingly to me, Phil Neville was the same.
Neville also held his shape, read the different phases of the game really well and threw a tackle in when needed. All things we know he can do. The surprise came when Neville actually had the ball at his feet in a busy midfield. He looked composed and almost mirrored Gibson in giving it simple. It was refreshing to see. (I even think I seen him throw a Cruyff drag back in too!!)
It was refreshing to see the game being played with simplicity. There was nothing fancy. It was a back to basics performance from the midfield pair. They won the ball and gave it simply, looking first for the players who can create, the Osmans and Pienaars, and if they weren't open then playing it to Fellaini, Hibbert or Baines and even to each other.
The one point where Neville, in particular, started to go wrong was the ten minute spell just after Fellaini's excellent header put us one up. The cliche about just before half time and just after you score being the worst time to concede definitely has substance. It's a time when you need your units to remain compact, solid, disciplined and simple. However, Neville found himself at times at full back, on the wing and basically ball chasing. The idea is to react to the first man closest to the ball. If that's you get in, close the ball down, and then get out. If it isn't you it's positioning yourself to cut off the option and force the opposition back. If my memory serves me correctly at one point the gap between Neville and Gibson was about 40 yards, as Neville closed down at left back with Baines, and as the ball made it's way backwards Gibson closed Vidic down. There shouldn't ideally be no more than a 15 yard gap between each player when defending, as a basic rule.
But, the experienced former England man was obviously spoken to and regained his composure in time enough to see the game out. Kagawa looked particularly impressive and during the period I have just spoken about he almost scored, only for Howard to close the ball down as Kagawa shot. On the whole though United had plenty of possession but were unable to do anything of note with it, and Everton were very good value for the win. A cracking start to the season.
The days after have all been about Robin van Persie firing a blank on debut, United being ordinary, United getting off to a bad start, United this, United that. They forget that all those things happened for a reason - Everton. But that's the way we like to go about our business, under the radar.
We need to back this one up with a trip to Aston Villa on Saturday, and I for one will be happy to see Neville switched for Leon Osman, with Kevin Mirallas let loose on the right.
What do you think? Comment below....