For a team boasting a cornucopia of glittering talents Manchester United are proving oddly toothless. This was the same tale as last Saturday’s reverse to Aston Villa and Wednesday’s smash-and-grab win over Villarreal – bright beginnings turning to a fade of any consistently potent force.
Everton surely looked at Villa’s blueprint, in particular, and decided there was nothing to fear at Old Trafford, particularly when United’s team sheet showed no Cristiano Ronaldo or Paul Pogba, as Ole Gunnar Solskjær drafted in Anthony Martial and Fred as two of five changes from the Villarreal victory.
Of these two big selection calls the manager got one right, one wrong. Martial was the success, his finish before the interval breaking a 17-game scoring drought for the club. Fred, sadly, was the failure: his inability to stop the excellent Demarai Gray from powering off and along the left presaging the visitor’s equaliser.
While Bruno Fernandes is also a culprit as it was his weak corner from which Everton counterattacked, when Gray found Abdoulaye Doucouré United were in a panic-mode that proved unrecoverable. Andros Townsend took over, left a worryingly sluggish Raphaël Varane behind, and beat David de Gea to the goalkeeper’s right with a pinpoint finish.
A further scare occurred a little later when Yerry Mina ran on to the pass of the Everton substitute Tom Davies and hit what the assistant referee deemed a fair goal before VAR chalked this off – correctly – for offside.
Martial’s strike was the sole moment United were as scintillating in attack as the roster of A-list forward acts all in the XI – Martial, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Fernandes – should have been throughout. The adjective here is simple: disjointed. From back to front this is not currently a team in the dictionary definition of the term.
If this began as a story of Ronaldo’s exclusion and Martial’s inclusion it ended, for United, as the same yarn of recent outings: if there is a Solskjær script that details a gameplan when his players are to advance upfield it they are not reading or heeding it.
The manager now has the international break fortnight to digest what precisely is going on, and come up with a solution.