Manchester United made the journey to Goodison Park to take on Everton following, two back to back wins against West Ham United. While they won the second won convincingly, they only managed a draw in the first, extending a run of poor results in the league, with just one win in seven matches coming into today’s match. In-form captain Wayne Rooney misses a return to his former club due to suspension, and him being replaced by Paul Pogba is one of only two changes in the lineup from the Wednesday’s win, along with Matteo Darmian coming in for Luke Shaw.
The first half was a mostly cagey affair, with both sides failing to create any chances, although it was more intense than United’s usual games, as Everton’s tidy setup and strong pressure took the edge off United’s dominance, and their midfield was particularly troublesome in that aspect. The first shot on target came quite late in the half and was, in fact, United’s opener. Zlatan Ibrahimovic took advantage of Marten Stekelenburg rashly coming off his line and by dinking the ball over him, just about crossing the goal line via the crossbar and then the post. United gradually dropped back in the second half and was punished after Marouane Fellaini, just two minutes after coming on, gave away a penalty with a clumsy challenge which was converted by Leighton Baines.
At their best period, United still couldn’t properly outplay Everton, meaning that individual performances were not at the standards they normally are, which weren’t normally that high, to begin with. Wingers Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan both performed generally well, with Martial working hard on both ends of the pitch and Mkhitaryan showing touches of class, and both were consistent threats. Antonio Valencia once again does enough to be given a mention here, and was a strong presence on both attack and defence, although his performance was a shade poorer than his regular standard.
United’s midfield was most affected by Everton’s style. Pogba was consistently marked by Idrissa Gueye and Michael Carrick couldn’t cope with Everton’s pressure. Collectively, this was one of United’s least effective midfield performances of the season. But working his socks off to help elevate the midfield was Ander Herrera. He was the one keeping the midfield together and added the bite that neither of his midfield teammates provided. His performance was exactly the type that, ironically, would’ve made for Everton’s end game. If they had someone like him performing at that standard, United would’ve been done for.
And it’s not as if he didn’t contribute in attack. He’d drift wide to link up with Mkhitaryan and to cover him when he cuts inside, and near the hour mark rattled the post with a stinging left footed shot. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that, just after he was shifted out of position to accommodate a defensive substitute, that sub ended up conceding the penalty that cost United the victory.