Fantastic Fellaini fells United

Robin van Persie’s much-anticipated debut for United failed to

prevent Everton delivering an early reality check in their bid to

regain the Premier League title.

While defending champions and near-neighbours City achieved a

come-from-behind win against Southampton on Sunday the Red Devils

were second best for most of the night at Goodison Park.

The thorn in their side was Fellaini, who was a constant threat

and deservedly capped an impressive performance with the only goal

early in the second half.

Van Persie, a ?24million acquisition from Arsenal, was brought

in to provide the additional firepower needed to challenge City but

in a late substitute appearance he did not register a shot on

target.

His team-mates had not done much better in the previous 70

minutes, however, as the Toffees dominated.

It was the first time United had failed to win their opening

fixture since 2008 but it was a first victory in five seasons for

the Toffees, perennial slow starters.

For once, though, they began the campaign where they had left

off as after losing eight of their first 14 league games last

season they went on a nine-match unbeaten run up to its

conclusion.

One of those was a 4-4 draw at Old Trafford in which Fellaini

played a key part, scoring in one of his more dominant

performances, to help swing the title race in City’s favour.

Sir Alex Ferguson should have learned from that but he was

hamstrung by the fact United started the match with just two

recognised defenders: Nemanja Vidic, who had not played since

December because of knee injury, and Patrice Evra, whose future has

been a matter for debate all summer.

Winger Antonio Valencia was deployed at right-back while

midfielder Michael Carrick was positioned alongside Vidic in the

absence of the injured Rio Ferdinand.

That was a telling factor in David De Gea being the busiest –

and most impressive – player in the first half.

However, he was run a close second by Fellaini, playing just

behind striker Nikica Jelavic, who was the dominant force in

United’s penalty area.

The Belgium international had already headed over Leighton

Baines’ corner before he collected a throw-in and turned into the

penalty area, holding off Carrick, to hit the post from the

narrowest of angles.

He was also the creator as his aerial power and strength on the

ball saw him chest one back for Steven Pienaar to slice wide and

then knock down a cross which Leon Osman did superbly well to hit

on the turn only for De Gea to bat away the shot.

The United goalkeeper, who arrived last season from Atletico

Madrid and quickly earned a reputation for being suspect under

pressure which he took a while to shake off, was on top form

throughout.

He denied Jelavic, tipped over a long-range Pienaar header and

flung himself to his left to save the South Africa midfielder’s low

shot before preventing Baines’ deflected free-kick sneaking into

the top corner.

But it was not all one-way traffic as United had chances of

their own, though not as good or as numerous as their hosts.

Danny Welbeck, the player with most to lose from Van Persie’s

arrival, had one shot blocked by Phil Jagielka and hooked another

wide under pressure from the centre-back.

Former Evertonian Wayne Rooney was quiet by his standards,

hitting two shots too close to Tim Howard and seeing a late

first-half header punched clear.

Fellaini’s ravaging of the United defence continued after the

interval as his header across goal was smashed against the crossbar

by Leon Osman with De Gea, for once, beaten.

And the big Belgian was finally rewarded for his outstanding

display with a goal in the 57th minute when former Red Devil Darron

Gibson swung over a corner and he left Carrick sprawling on the

turf to power home a header.

The presence of one of United’s other summer signings Shinji

Kagawa in the starting line-up had prompted a slight tweak in

formation to accommodate the advanced role favoured by the

attacking midfielder.

He had plenty of good touches around the penalty area, the best

of which in the second half teed up Welbeck who was denied by

Jagielka’s perfectly-judged tackle.

The Everton defender’s timing was even better when he cleared

Tom Cleverley’s shot off the line before, in the 68th minute, Van

Persie was finally sent on.

Rooney moved out to the left to allow the Dutchman to slot in up

front but it was Kagawa who was next to threaten, forcing Howard to

race off his line to block his run and shot.

Everton had won only twice at home against United in 17 years

but this result proved, if they can maintain a half-decent start,

they are destined for bigger things this season.