(1) Unsurprisingly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made nine changes for the AZ Alkmaar match on Thursday night — rotating everyone but Harry Maguire and Anthony Martial from the regular starting eleven. The squad members made their chance count with a strong second-half performance — the less said about the first half, the better — in a 4-0 win over the visitors. And, yes, one of United’s goals came via another penalty kick. That’s now three straight games with a Red scoring from the spot. This really might be the “Year of the PK.”
(2) The boss on a remarkable week for Manchester United:
A week is very long in football, of course. A lot of things can change in a week, but for us we just want games coming and the boys are in good shape. It’s a good group. Today, we made nine changes — we could have made more, but I’m looking forward to seeing how this December goes, because they’re growing into a good group.
(3) Manchester United are unbeaten in their last five Premier League matches, a run that’s propelled them up to fifth in the table. Their league schedule looks pretty soft for the next few weeks, so this is the perfect time to close the gap with Chelsea in fourth — and preemptively fight off an inevitable challenge from Tottenham Hotspur right below. Really, there’s no excuse for any more dropped points before New Year’s.
(4) Nemanja Matić and Diogo Dalot are back in full training and will be joined shortly by Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. With the busy festive period right around the corner, Solskjaer needs all the healthy bodies that he can get. Matić has no path back into the starting eleven after Scott McTominay’s breakout — and the same goes for Dalot with Aaron Wan-Bissaka crushing it at right back. Paul Pogba is the only starter still on the sidelines.
(5) Sunday marks an incredible milestone for the club: 4,000 consecutive matches with an academy graduate in the squad. That’s a streak that stretches back over 80 years and doesn’t look to be in any danger of ending soon.
(6) It’s been a wild week for the blue half of Merseyside. Everton sacked manager Marco Silva after a crushing 5-2 derby loss to Liverpool, handing the reins to club legend Duncan Ferguson for the foreseeable future. Big Dunc, as he’s called, inspired his new charges to a 3-1 win over Chelsea on Saturday and will be looking to make it two in a row this weekend. Ferguson urged his players to get back to basics, deploying them in a traditional 4-4-2 with instructions to sit back and play long balls over the top. That’s not a style that wins plaudits from neutrals, but it worked well — especially with so little time for the new boss to prepare.
Everton made 37 tackles today against Chelsea, the most any team has made in a Premier League game since the start of the 2016-17 season.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 7, 2019
Big Dunc making his mark. pic.twitter.com/Tv9X48jUIf
(7) Ferguson put Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin up top, pairing the Brazilian’s movement and knowhow with DCL’s blazing speed. It paid immediate dividends, with the duo scoring all three goals against Chelsea at the weekend. Calvert-Lewin notched a brace and showed how his pace can be used to good effect on those long balls blasted over the top. Richarlison, meanwhile, celebrated his contract extension with a typically well-taken goal.
(8) For the deposed Marco Silva, his dismissal from Goodison Park might be the end of the line for him in the Premier League. Less than three years ago, Silva arrived at Hull City after successful spells at Estoril, Sporting, and Olympiacos, but it never really came together for him in England. Despite Hull’s relegation, Watford snapped him up — and he repaid the favor by making eyes at Everton once the going got rough at Vicarage Road. While he skated away from two bad situations with his reputation mostly intact, Silva will take most of the blame for Everton’s recent struggles.
(9) Ferguson might have shocked Chelsea in his first match, but few expect him to remain a viable contender for the full-time job. (Of course, the same was said about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last winter...) Everton reportedly met with Unai Emery to discuss the position and will certainly be interested in the just-sacked Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian’s star has faded a bit after a difficult time at Napoli, but it would still be quite the coup if the three-time Champions League winner took over at Goodison Park. If serious about Ancelotti, though, the Toffees must fend off other interested clubs, including Arsenal.
Ancelotti would be an outstanding appointment for Everton in the unlikely event they pull it off.— Dan McLaughlin (@Dan23_92) December 11, 2019
He’s definitely capable of leading them to the title next season and even if he can’t quite do that you’d still fancy him to take them back up through the play-offs.
(10) Most of Everton’s troubles come from shambolic transfer activity (and some bad luck). This summer, Moise Kean signed for £27 million from Juventus, but hasn’t managed a single goal in thirteen appearances. Andre Gomes joined from Barcelona — and then suffered a horrific ankle dislocation that will keep him out for months. Everton have spent an eye-watering £450 million since Farhad Moshiri took over in 2016 and have precious little to show for it.
(11) Duncan Ferguson on his undying love for the 4-4-2:
I knew 4-4-2 would work well. We wanted to press the ball. With two strikers, you can shuffle across midfield and screen their midfield. We did that well enough. We were worried about the ball over the top because we’ve been done by that a few times. In the main, it worked well. We blocked the middle of the pitch and, when it went out wide, we pressed hard.
I think 4-4-2 gets a bad name, but we needed to make sure we were defending. We were not going to play pretty patterns because we did not have time to work with the players. 4-4-2 is the default position for me.