Red Devils open up 12-point Premier League lead
Updated: Sunday, 10 Feb 2013 19:07
Manchester United warmed up for the reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo by marching 12 points clear in the Premier League title race after recording a 2-0 victory against Everton.
Even with Jose Mourinho watching on, Real Madrid seemed to be the last thing on United minds as Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie scored the first-half goals that were enough to see off a dogged Everton.
Giggs has now scored in a remarkable 23 successive league seasons, yet another milestone in an unparalleled career.
For Van Persie, it was the 23rd goal of a sensational debut campaign with United.
Yet both men were more focused on the fight to be champions for the 20th time, of which Giggs would be a factor in 13, and Van Persie, finally, one.
None of this would come as any surprise to Mourinho.
What would have been to his liking was the way United fought tigerishly for their prize, which cost them Phil Jones to a second-half injury.
There had been a school of thought that would have had Ferguson responding to Manchester City's surprise defeat at Southampton last night by resting all his main men in readiness for Wednesday's mouthwatering showdown.
That analysis underestimated how deeply the loss of the Premier League crown to Manchester City last term burned Ferguson and his players.
If anything, instead of leaving players out, with the exceptions of Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick, Ferguson reinforced his team, in the belief that victory would open a gap on City so wide it cannot realistically be closed.
They made the perfect start too as Wayne Rooney threaded a pass through to Van Persie, which allowed the Dutchman to cruise round Tim Howard.
It looked certain to be the latest addition to Van Persie's scoring scrapbook. Unbelievably he turned his shot on to the post.
The hosts refused to let the setback affect them though, and it was not long before Giggs' shot was rolling in off a post after Van Persie had set him up.
It extended the veteran Welshman's remarkable record of scoring in all 21 Premier League seasons and means he has now found the target in 23 campaigns altogether, a period longer than team-mate Tom Cleverley has been alive.
Much like the corresponding fixture last season, when they twice came back from two goals down to clinch the draw which Ferguson believes cost his side the league, Everton responded with vigour.
David de Gea produced an excellent flying stop to deny Leon Osman and Kevin Mirallas' cross was not quite accurate enough for Victor Anichebe, who would have had the goal at his mercy.
But the Toffees pressure was notable for two things.
Firstly the defending of Nemanja Vidic, who threw himself into the fray, literally at times, with relish.
Secondly, danger-man Marouane Fellaini picked up a shadow in Phil Jones, who nullified the Belgian in exactly the same way he did to Gareth Bale last month.
Indeed, after taking a knock in the first half, the manner in which Jones headed straight to the dressing room for treatment after failing to run it off in the second suggested Ferguson had something similar in mind at the Bernabeu.
Fellaini did not enjoy Jones' attentions that's for sure and a late swipe at Cleverley to collect a yellow card summed up his afternoon.
These combined efforts kept Everton at bay and when Rafael supplied Van Persie with a similar chance to the one he had spurned earlier, this time the Dutchman's finish, after again rounding Howard, had greater accuracy and just too much power to prevent Johnny Heitinga from keeping it out.
United managed to keep Everton at arm's length for most of the second period.
They might well have increased their lead too, only for Jonny Evans to be left bewildered at how he was denied three times within the space of five seconds.
Two Tim Howard saves and a scrambled Nikica Jelavic clearance frustrated the Northern Irishman, who had never left the six-yard box.
Rooney's last-minute header to deny Heitinga a shooting chance epitomised the effort United had put in.
Even De Gea was impressing, saving from Jelavic, which is just as well given what lies in wait when on his return home.