United open up 12-point lead at the top
Manchester United warmed up for the reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo by marching 12 points clear in the Premier League title race.
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 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 for the Dutchman.
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 that Ferguson believes cost his side the league, Everton responded with vigour.
De Gea earns the clean sheet
United goalkeeper 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.
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 impressive, saving from Jelavic, which is just as well given what lies in wait when for the young Spaniard's return home for his club's mid-week clash against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League last 16.