By Kelvin YapFollow @@plevyakin
Everton were fancied to give Manchester United a run for their money as it was widely expected that Sir Alex Ferguson would rest several key players with a Champions League trip to Real Madrid in three days, but as he revealed after the match, Manchester City's earlier loss prompted a raft of changes.
Most notably, Phil Jones took the place of Michael Carrick in midfield, which was understandable as Carrick had a poor game against Fellaini in the reverse fixture this season when he played as a makeshift centre back, not to mention that Carrick's 'continental' style would be better saved up to play Real.
As for Everton, their biggest change came in defence when Sylvian Distin was replaced by Johnny Heitinga after feeling ill during the warm-up.
As pointed out previously when Everton played Chelsea, Heitinga's positioning is suspect and he reacts slowly when he is beaten on the turn - a factor which later played a part in the build-up to Giggs' goal.
It was pretty straightforward win for United - they struggled against Everton in their last two meetings with a similiar set of players, but their smart strategy this time round helped secure the result.
Stopping Fellaini to shut Everton down
Fellaini is a key player for Everton because he embodies their hard, direct style - in fact, their attacks usually revolve around him with his ability to hold up the ball in the final third.
The big Belgian starred in the last two games between both teams because of his physical presence which works especially well up against United's 'continental' style when players like Carrick found him hard to deal with, but Phil Jones was tasked to man-mark Fellaini this time, and it was interesting the way he went about it.
Many teams have previously identified the Belgian as Everton's key man and tasked their midfielders to go head-to-head against him, which means challenging for every header and trying to out-muscle him.
Jones' approach was radically different - he followed Fellaini all around the pitch and let him win the aerial battles (statistics from whoscored.com showed that he went for zero aerial challenges) and instead go for the ball after the ball was brought to the ground.
That forces Fellaini to go backwards or sideways, and it denied Everton their swift, direct play as mentioned above. In turn, it led to Fellaini looking like he had a pretty decent game on paper - he was dispossessed only once and had a 78% passing accuracy, but people who watched the match would be able to tell that he was frustrated by Jones' tight man-marking.
With Fellaini nullified, Everton's attack was inefficient and easily dealt with by the United defence.
Rafael's key attacking role
Another of Everton's threat came from their left flank, where Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar usually combine to devestating effect. Instead of meeting them head-to-head, Ferguson's strategy was to take the initiative and pre-empt attacks down that same flank to keep Baines pinned back.
Valencia, who is usually deployed down the right due to his defensive capabilities to track back and cover up well, played a lot higher up the pitch to make sure Baines had to start his runs a lot deeper and it provided more space down the flank.
With the space, Rafael was United's main route of attack and he cut in early with his first touch all the time, even from the first minute when he launched their first attack.
This helped him avoid Everton's left winger (which was Kevin Mirallas at first and switched to Steven Pienaar later on) and engage Leon Osman, who was their left-sided defensive midfielder. Osman, who would then have the notion that Rafael was his direct opponent, pushed up, which in turn led to Rooney having the space to exploit in front of the defence.
United's first clear-cut chance, which came in the 9th minute, was a warning for Everton - Rafael cut in early before slipping a ball past Osman to Rooney, who then sent Van Persie through on goal after luring the defence out of line, only for the Dutch striker to hit the post.
United's second goal came from a similiar combination - Rafael pushed very high up, cut in early before playing a quick give-and-go with Rooney before setting up Van Persie.
Moyes' shift reveals lack of depth
As any decent manager would do, Moyes changed his approach midway through the game.
He pushed Fellaini high up to the left, bringing Jones with him, which left a gaping hole in midfield. Osman pushed forward to help Everton gain the numerical advantage in the area and dominate play for a 15-minute period in the first half.
However, United's defence was pushed back and too compact to be breached - by then, Ryan Giggs pushed in to help Tom Cleverley in the midfield battle. That left Phil Neville free, but it was an amenable solution as Neville wasn't creative with the ball at his feet.
This betrays a lack of depth in Everton's lines. While most teams find them a tough nut to crack, it was mainly due to Fellaini's brilliance and Baines' excellent link-up play with Pienaar. Take away the two factors, and Everton are only as good as most mid-table teams.
Moyes admitted after the match: "I thought we had plenty of the ball and I thought we done the right things well enough, but we just didn't really have that cutting edge or a little bit of enough at the top end of the pitch today."
With a big game against Real Madrid looming, Ferguson chose his battles well and nullified Everton's threats by thinking a step ahead. The two-goal lead also meant that he had enough comfort to slow the pace down in the second half to kill the game off.
In the bigger picture, the result helped United stretch their lead at the top of the table to two digits at 12 points. Ferguson's move to play his first team players could backfire if they fail to recover in time for the Real Madrid game, but it certainly paid its dividends in sealing up what many think is an unassailable lead to the title this season.
Kelvin will be analysing a Premier League match every Monday in Tactics Watch.