Well, that certainly wasn't the result we were all hoping for, now is it? Although it shouldn't come as a massive shock, given the form Everton has been in of late and with a less-than-stellar starting XI for Sir Alex's men.
The short story was Everton kept battling, even after Berbatov put United up 1-0 in the 16th minute. Rooney was not able to impose his will against his boyhood club (even England's talisman is entitled to one subpar outing here and there, although we should hope he's played his last subpar game this season). Everton's youngsters came off the bench to finish off United, who squandered plenty of opportunities. More after the jump.
Berbatov's finish was smooth and it came from a serviceable cross from Valencia: enough for the result, but hardly anything to be impressed about(especially with the bit of luck that Distin couldn't clear it). Valencia played well enough, but was shockingly poor when it counted the most: allowing Pienaar the space and time to find Gosling for the go-ahead score. Fletcher put together a decent performance, IMHO, and if he had scored on that shot in the 51st minute, I suspect United would have been able to hold off Everton in the end.
Our defense continues to be patchwork, with Neville, Evans, Brown, and Evra the starting men in the rear. The return of Vidic and Rio will be a welcome boost, because, quite frankly, ol' Gary is on his last legs. He's been a great servant to United (and England) over the years, but he just doesn't have the evergreen ability to keep with his game,as Giggs and, to a lesser extent, Scholes have done. The squad wasn't our best XI, but it was certainly solid enough to secure a victory at Goodison Park. Squad depth is vital and before, our second-tier XI have been able to sustain United immediately following massive European matches. Today? Not so much. That will have to change down the stretch if United want to hold on to the title.
As Sir Alex readily admits, United just weren't good enough today. Fergie's tendency to tear into the refs is the stuff of legend, but even he conceded Everton were the better squad:
"Milan could have had an impact," he said. "It is difficult to think that when you go through all the emotions and the pace and intensity and atmosphere of a game like Tuesday, you don't lose something.
"Whatever it was, it was just too much for us today. We had some good chances early on and we could have been two or three up. The equaliser changed the game a little bit. But it was the second half that let us down.
"Our second-half performance was very poor and when you are going for the championship you expect Manchester United to respond to the importance of the game."
Couldn't have said it any better. During our double run (which ended in such glorious fashion in Moscow), our second-tier first-team guys (I know that's a mouthful, but you know what I'm getting at) were able to pick up points in these kinds of matches. We'll have to be able to not drop points down the home stretch while United pushes toward Madrid.
At the end of the day, with the Stamford Bridge Mercenaries and Wenger's Children both winning, United finds itself in dangerous territory. Champions League automatic qualification is all-but-assured with City and the Scousers more than a dozen points back (although City has two games in-hand, so if they pick both up, they'd only be six back), but with Arsenal only one point back and Chelsea extending their lead to four points, United has a lot to work to do in the last eleven fixtures.
The lads should get back on track against the Hammers at Old Trafford. Our only away fixtures at this point are against Sunderland, Wolverhampton, Bolton, Blackburn Rovers, and of course, the dickheads from City. United can't afford to drop any points on the road if they are going to push Chelsea to the end. Fortunately, we're done with Arsenal for the season (who hopefully lose Cesc to Barca this summer) and the Scousers have to come to Old Trafford (and we should dispatch the Spanish Waiter's chumps and put one more nail in his coffin).
Image courtesy of boxofficefootball.com
It's shaping up to make the April 3 match against Chelsea at the Theatre of Dreams looks absolutely crucial. Should be a fun one to watch: hopefully our squad remains fully fit going into the match. Disappointing weekend for United, but after the crushing blow we gave to AC Milan, it's one that's a bit more bearable than normal.