Manchester United let themselves down in spectacular fashion at Goodison Park, losing 4-0 to Everton and likely ending any realistic chance of finishing in the top four in the Premier League. Everton scored a pair of goals in either half, and shockingly, United never looked capable of clawing the game back.
One way or another, United’s league season will be decided this week. The clash against Everton was the first of 3 difficult matches in which the Reds could have afforded no losses if they are to qualify for next season’s Champions League. A trophyless end to the campaign and a failure to finish in the top four would certainly take the shine off of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s promising start to his managerial reign.
Everton started the match in control of proceedings. When David De Gea was called on to make the first save of the match — showing impressive reflexes to deny a Richarlison volley — it was after the hosts had won their third straight corner.
Two minutes later, Everton took the lead. A long throw-in from Lucas Digne went into the box, and the United defenders failed to win the first header. After Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s knock on, Richarlison was there again, and scored with an emphatic acrobatic volley.
United were not at the races, and the Blues made them pay quickly.
The Reds settled into the game after conceding, but coherent play was still missing. Solskjaer was perhaps making a point to some of the players he admitted to not being impressed with by starting Victor Lindelöf at right-back and Diogo Dalot on the opposite side, but the unfamiliarity in the team was showing. Perhaps the most ill-advised change to the line-up, however, was the reinstatement of Nemanja Matić.
Scott McTominay has impressed during Matić’s absence, and it was quickly apparent that the younger player should have kept his place. Everton launched a counter attack just before the half-hour mark that found Gylfi Sigurdsson being tracked by Matić. The Serbian struggled to keep up with Sigurdsson’s run, and gave him far too much space about 30 yards from goal. Given time and space to shoot, Everton’s no. 10, lashed a low powerful shot into the corner of the net to double the Blues’ lead.
Not even a second goal was enough to wake United from their slumber, and the rest of the half continued as it had started. United lacked any sense of urgency or commitment, and neither players nor coaching staff seemed to be doing any to address it.
Solskjaer shook things up at the break, sending on McTominay in place of Fred, and Ashley Young in place of Phil Jones, who — in typical Phil Jones fashion — had managed to injure himself while making a last-ditch tackle.
The changes didn’t help. Ten minutes after the restart, De Gea punched a corner well clear of the box. Unfortunately, the ball found its way to Digne, who lashed a first time shot through a crowd of players and inside of the post. It was 3-0, and fully deserved.
It continued to get worse. A throw from deep in Everton’s own half ended with the ball in the back of the net after no more than three touches. Theo Walcott — only recently on the pitch for the injured Richarlison — found acres of space between Dalot and Chris Smalling, collected a simple ball from Sigurdsson, and raced through one-on-one with De Gea. 4-0, and United’s effort was nothing short of embarrassing.
United’s first attempt of the second half came in the 70th minute, and was typical of the day. Anthony Martial was played in well by Paul Pogba, but the striker took too long to shoot, and shot tamely wide when he did. Shockingly, the first shot on target did not arrive until 4 minutes before full-time — another Martial effort that was comfortably saved by Jordan Pickford.
Solskjaer talked this week about the need to be ruthless this summer when he rebuilds his Manchester United side. Some players will need to be told that they aren’t good enough, and now that the honeymoon period is well and truly over, the new manager should have a clear idea of which players won’t make the cut. With three points needed to climb back into the top four, this team turned in the worst performance of the season; devoid of creativity, and unforgivably lacking in effort. Solskjaer will have to answer some questions himself over his team selection and set-up, but hopefully he gets the opportunity to ship out quite a few of his underperforming charges at the end of the season.