Manchester United secured an important win against Everton, with Bruno Fernandes returning to form at the opportune time.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a number of key changes, returning to a game plan to win the game and not shoehorning the best players in for the fit. When he manages in such a way, United are at their best. So it proved – although for much of the first half it felt like it might go either way.
United started with decent composure; the first effort came from Martial in the 15th minute, but he – like Rashford a minute later – couldn’t get a proper connection and fired wide of the target.
Lindelof, as he is prone to do, gave a heart in the mouth moment with a short back pass that birthday boy De Gea had to deal with. And the Swede was culpable again a couple of minutes later with an errant header from a long Pickford kick. Lindelof was challenged by Calvert-Lewin but his flick on was better than the Everton player could have hoped to do – Bernard collected the ball and cleverly finished from the edge of the box at the near post, though Wan-Bissaka might think he could have done better to close him down as well.
United needed a response – and, to be fair, it was strong. Mata and Rashford were involved in neat build up, the former teeing up a nice ball for Shaw to cross. Fernandes had a lot to do with the header but it was superb to beat Pickford in the 25th minute.
Bruno Fernandes’s goal against Everton pic.twitter.com/tSBcJ1MGUd
— ً (@utdz0ne) November 7, 2020
But Lindelof’s shaky first half continued when he was pulled out of position for Digne to play a one-two on the left – his shot struck the post with power.
The Goodison goalposts were once more helpful to United seven minutes later – Fred’s fine penetrative pass found Fernandes in space. Fernandes used the run of Shaw as a decoy and crossed himself; Rashford thrust himself at it, though couldn’t connect, though it was immaterial; the ball went straight in off the far upright.
Marcus Rashford scores to give Man Utd the lead…
Or does he?! 👀
It looked like he buried the header, but replays suggest that’s Bruno Fernandes’ goal! 🇵🇹 pic.twitter.com/brG8wypFPc
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 7, 2020
United held the lead to the break and it seemed as if Solskjaer could once more feel vindicated in his decision to pick a team to win the game and not necessarily have to deal with the concern of shoehorning players in.
The second period was as obnoxious as the first was entertaining; niggles, personal battles, penalty appeals (involving Maguire at either end), play-acting… it was hard to tell which side preferred it that way.
Whether it was the hosts trying to get Fernandes sent off through his running battle with Coleman, or Cavani looking momentarily like his only memorable contribution to the club would be the penalties his dives didn’t win, the game descended into something that felt as if it would instantly forgettable.
But United did end the happiest – as the Toffees committed all their men forward to grab an injury-time equaliser, Maguire did well to clear. Fernandes led the charge and picked the right pass for Cavani to net his first goal for the club – something a little positive to try and kickstart his United career.
There are a few United players looking to kickstart their season. Let’s hope today is the start of that.
Sampai 3 kali eh dia ulang cavani goal. pic.twitter.com/ICFYH7c6Vb
— eyha (@salihahysp) November 7, 2020
The narrative about this being a definitive match has been driven by the press. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t; and so it follows that Solskjaer named a team he thought he could trust to pull out a result when he needed it.
Some might have described it as negative, but Ole needed a win – desperately – and he is long enough tuned to the expectations of Manchester United to know how those things go. He’s better tuned to the expectations than you or I, whether or not you want to believe that.
He also has a familiarity and control over the squad, with the caveat of the limitations imposed on him from the ownership and poor transfer strategy which influences the squad he has to use through the season. Within that, there are options stronger and weaker than others.
So that means the selection of Mata, McTominay, Fred and Lindelof were representations of faith when his back was against the wall. It certainly felt as though – and this hasn’t been said – it was Axel Tuanzebe’s inexperience that has been held as the reason for the disorganised defending on that first goal in Turkey.
How that worked out today? Well, this writer has said on more than one occasion that with certain players, when you select them, you now no longer hope for an improvement, you expect them to do what they have always done.
Paul Pogba was left on the bench. It was symbolic when that happened at Anfield in Jose Mourinho’s last game but it’s not any longer, because the level of expectation around the player has dropped so significantly that it’s become a surprise when he plays well. You could see the sense in not starting him at Goodison. What a fall from grace.
Van De Beek hasn’t fallen from anywhere but still can’t get a start, though the impetus is on him to force that with his performances when he does get on – and he is getting plenty of game time.
Lindelof looked shaky and that might have been emphasised with a crowd at Goodison. Solskjaer’s decision to use a screening midfield seemed sensible and helpful. Maguire needed a good game – he got it, with a number of timely clearances.
Rashford and Martial looked as though they should have been wearing each other’s shoes – swapping their positions might prove more profitable.
Ultimately, we saw no surprises from United.
The win felt like a stay of execution in the way we have seen in the past but this wasn’t a sign of the tide turning, it’s just a performance we’ve seen before and come to expect. It wasn’t a Mark Robins moment. There’s nothing new with this. It’s whether or not the familiar good can outweigh the familiar bad.
In that regard it’s the manager who has the most to prove moving forward. That is going to be the test – Ole is going to have to use game plans like this to get positive results because trusting in the players has not proven to be effective. We know that – we’ve been here before with them.
Whether it does anything but delay the seemingly inevitable we’ll see, but this is Manchester United in crisis, and even in the wake of strong victory, we’re only ever one defeat from asking all the same questions again.
De Gea 6