Manchester United threw away two points after twice being in positions to win against Everton; the visitors snatched a dramatic last-gasp equaliser to get a point that was thoroughly deserved after their second half performance.
After the thrills of midweek, United were always going to need to remember not to be as complacent as they were against Sheffield United; and, although it was more flat than against Southampton, it could also not be said that the hosts were taking the game lightly.
In the 24th minute, the big opening came; it seemed obvious that with the choice of starting Cavani, there was an instruction to get balls into the box. Rashford’s cross was exceptional and Cavani’s header was good to match – United had the lead.
It was not all pleasant and they didn’t have the first half all their own way. Paul Pogba came off before half-time with a leg injury and was replaced by Fred. Then, Richarlison had a decent opportunity where he tried to catch De Gea out of position – the effort was comfortably wide, but a warning nonetheless.
Just before half-time Bruno Fernandes made his team’s position a little more secure – he exchanged passes with Wan-Bissaka and feinted a cross before hitting a quite superb effort over the goalkeeper from 20 yards.
In the opening moments of the second period, Luke Shaw almost made it three, but his powerful shot was tipped wide.
The came the collapse. Everton were more sprightly and ambitious – and their forward play was intelligent, pulling Lindelof out of position so that Maguire’s lack of pace against Calvert-Lewin was exposed. The England striker’s shot was saved, but not very well, as De Gea palmed it in to the past of Doucoure to pull a goal back. Three minutes later the scores were level – James Rodrigues took aim with a smart shot from the edge of the box and was successful.
United’s own response was fair; Rashford forced a save from the keeper, before a free-kick from Shaw in he 70th minute was headed in by McTominay.
That looked as though it might earn the win for Solskjaer’s team, and to be fair, they didn’t shut up shop; Rashford almost got on the scoresheet after being put through but his effort went wide.
But in injury time, Everton had their own free-kick, and despite it being the last kick of the game, Calvert-Lewin was able to get in front of all of United’s defence to push the ball past De Gea and get a point for his team.
It was an incredibly deflating result after the win in midweek but United couldn’t complain.
Once more the limitations within the squad have come back to undermine the talk of a title challenge.
Clearly there are still some elements to get completely perfect – the fine-tuning of Pogba’s position, for example, though that’s as much a case about the player rather than the system. Solskjaer clearly went with the bold approach at home again, with his strongest team, and nobody could have any pre-match grumble with the team selection, so any criticism would have to be retrospective and with hindsight. Yes, some might have felt more confident with Bailly in instead of Lindelof considering Everton’s aerial danger, but Bailly wasn’t fit, so obviously Solskjaer would go with what he trusted.
The issue for United is that the issues are so prominent they continue to hurt and hamper progress. Lindelof isn’t commanding enough and Maguire isn’t quick enough; both issues are often exposed. Everton know how to do it. Maguire’s lack of pace can be compensated for because his quality as a defender is good enough. The difference between Lindelof and Bailly in the back line is pronounced, and at the risk of repeating to the point of insanity, Bailly is not the best defender in the league, so it shows just how desperate the need to improve there is. On nights like tonight it’s the difference between one point and three.
The midfield of McTominay and Fred continues to be an impressive breaker but is not one comfortable at controlling games at the top level. Their efforts should be applauded but United’s requirement – if their ambition is serious – has to be for better.
De Gea 5
Bruno’s amazing goal Vs. Everton 😨 pic.twitter.com/VUrHNxZd6O
— BF 18 (@FernandesThings) February 6, 2021