Reaction as United draw against Everton.
So Manchester United are back to square one as they dropped points against an injury-hit Everton, in a game where they couldn’t complain about the result.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stuck with the team who faced Manchester City; a demonstration of faith in players who had showed good form, but also an indication of naivety considering that history dictated Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard might not be the right fit for such an occasion.
In the early stages United looked to draw Everton out and hit them on the counter. But Everton played deep, and United’s long range efforts were in front of the visitor’s defence.
The half wore on and United looked out of ideas against an opponent who, early on at least, had seemed happy to settle for a combative approach due to the fact they were depleted in midfield.
As in often the case in games like this, the team feeling as if the gods are against them were able to rouse themselves into a more disciplined and organised outfit, making it difficult for the hosts to do much other than test Pickford from long range.
And, as is also usually the case in football, enforced changes can somehow work well. United, having done so well of late, probably have their greatest question marks over Shaw and Lindelof. Both contrived to have a decidedly shaky first half, inviting confidence from Everton who advanced and searched for a goal.
It came through Baines – who had come on for the injured Digne – as the experienced full-back floated in a corner, which evaded the flailing De Gea and bounced in off the hapless Lindelof. It was a miserable contribution to round off a miserable first half for the Swede where he was bullied by Dominic Calvert-Lewin. McTominay and Fred often make such a difference when they are in pragmatic positions but outnumbered against similar opponents, their qualities are nullified.
United’s response before the break was poor. Their limitations against more pragmatic opponents have not been on show against Spurs and Man City who were both looking for positive results. That’s not to say Everton weren’t; in fact, to their credit, they clearly knew how to make life more comfortable for themselves against a United team whose forward line — whilst blessed with plenty of pace and some power — desperately needs some genuine creativity and craft.
In the absence of that, United would need movement, or luck, to compensate. Two minutes into the second half, birthday boy Jesse Lingard attempted a nutmeg on an aimless run towards the corner flag.
Solskjaer replaced Lingard with Greenwood and that switch had the desired effect; James switched over to the left, cut inside and found the young striker who levelled with a very smart finish from the edge of the area.
Mata then came on for James as United pushed for all three points but Everton were cajoled into life themselves and looked likely to get a second of their own.
A draw was probably fair, with Solskjaer back to the drawing board when it comes to games like these. One step forward, one step back.
If Solskjaer deserves credit for fashioning the change which got a share of the spoils, he also deserves some of the criticism for not anticipating the problems ahead of time, considering how well-versed he must be in them.
In midfield he had little choice but United consistently find themselves with a hard task when McTominay and Fred are asked to be proactive instead of pragmatic.
Luke Shaw, as an offensive outlet in a game where one is needed, is rarely the right choice.
And, while there is some sense in sticking with, and even rewarding, the team which faced City by giving them all an opportunity again, coming up against Everton at home is a very different proposition. Looking to counter attack against a team who are looking to do the same is not a game plan conducive to success with this side.
There is some mitigation as we wonder if the quality of players just isn’t up to scratch. And the manager has – in this writer’s opinion – earned the opportunity to bring in a player or two who can hopefully make such a game plan successful at home against this sort of opponent.
It is naturally a concern now, and if these same sorts of issues are present in April and May, one feels it may be a factor that will tell when it comes to Solskjaer’s, and United’s, future.
Part of United’s regeneration includes the theme of replacing capable squad players who are just not good enough for the title challenges in Manchester United’s future. That’s quite beyond the emergency areas of a creative star and another midfielder. Gary Neville, working for Sky, looked at the central defence before the match and opined that while it was the best at the club at present, it’s hardly one that can boast they’re the best in the league.
United have those issues all over the pitch. The more pressing of them seems to be with Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof. Shaw’s performance at City last week was as good as it was surprising but today he was poor and off the pace. Lindelof — shaky at the Etihad in stages — was again here, to United’s cost. It’s quite the firefighting exercise for Solskjaer, with little fires and bigger ones burning away.