|1||Van der Sar|
United are back on Chelsea’s shoulder after midfielders Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia engineered an easy 3-0 win over Everton.
It was the perfect response to two results at Stamford Bridge – the champions’ unjust defeat there a fortnight ago and Chelsea’s comprehensive home win over Wolves earlier in the day. The bonus of Arsenal’s loss at Steve Bruce’s Sunderland enabled the Reds to regain second place in the title race.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s line-up showed several changes to the side which dominated in West London. At the back, Rafael replaced John O’Shea on the right and fit-again Nemanja Vidic returned to the centre in place of the now-injured Jonny Evans. Further forward, the boss deployed an extra forward – Michael Owen, a boyhood Evertonian – at the expense of midfielder Anderson.
The Reds took the game by the scruff of the neck and pitched camp in Everton’s half, albeit without fashioning anything for ex-United goalkeeper Tim Howard to save until Ryan Giggs’ tame strike curled towards the bottom corner in the 15th minute.
Opposing full-backs on the South Stand flank caught the eye early on, with Rafael tucking into his tussles with Louis Saha and Marouane Fellaini and delivering a low ball into Everton’s six-yard box that just failed to find Wayne Rooney. Meanwhile, Toffees left-back Leighton Baines thwarted Antonio Valencia with a sturdy tackle at one end, and a cross at the other that resulted in van der Sar’s first save from Saha.
Valencia’s next attack resulted in a rising shot over the bar after one of numerous neat interchanges between Rooney and his supporting midfielders, in this case Carrick.