For a team boasting a cornucopia of glittering talent, Manchester United prove strangely toothless. This was the same tale as last Saturday’s reverse to Aston Villa and Wednesday’s smash-and-grab victory over Villarreal — a bright start that turned into a dish of any consistently powerful force.
Everton looked at Villa’s blueprint in particular, deciding that there was nothing to fear at Old Trafford, especially when United’s team magazine did not show Cristiano Ronaldo or Paul Pogba, as Ole Gunnar Solskjær drafted in Anthony Martial and Fred as two of five changes from the victory in Villarreal.
Of these two major committee calls, the manager got one right, one wrong. Martial was the success, his finish before the interval broke a drought of 17 games for the club. Fred was unfortunately the failure: his inability to stop the brilliant Demarai Gray from turning off and along the left predicting the guest’s equalizer.
While Bruno Fernandes is also a sinner as it was his weak corner from which Everton counter-attacked when Gray found Abdoulaye Doucouré United in a state of panic that proved irreparable. Andros Townsend took over, leaving a worryingly dull Raphaël Varane behind and beating David de Gea to the goalkeeper’s right with a precise finish.
A further scare arose a little later when Yerry Mina ran on to the delivery of Everton substitute Tom Davies and hit what the assistant referee considered a reasonable goal before VAR descended this – correctly – to offside.
Martial’s strike was the only moment United were as brilliant in attack as the overview of the A-list’s forward-looking actions everyone in XI-Martial, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Fernandes-should have been through. The adjective here is simple: incoherent. From the back to the front, this is not currently a team in the dictionary definition of the term.
If this started as a story about Ronaldo’s exclusion and Martial’s inclusion, it ended for United as the same thread from recent outings: if there’s a Solskjær script describing a game plan when his players have to move up the field, they read does not or does not follow it.
The leader now has the international break every fortnight to digest what exactly is going on and come up with a solution.