Manchester United drew another game in the Premier League, this time at Goodison Park against Everton – dropping two more points in their Mourinho-led quest to begin their ascendancy. The latest draw not only dealt a decisive blow in their ambitions to win the league after three mediocre seasons, it has also put their chances of finishing in the Champions League positions in serious doubt.
Manchester United, fresh from a rampant win against West Ham United in the EFL cup, started the game against Everton with the favoured front three of Ibrahimovic flanked by Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Paul Pogba started in midfield following the suspension of Wayne Rooney alongside Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in what looked the most balanced midfield that United could possibly field. After a cagey start from both sides, United grew into the game, moved the ball inside Everton’s half without real purpose for large periods but opened the scoring before the half time whistle courtesy of a goalkeeping error from Stekelenburg coupled with an instinctive finish from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, his 6th goal in the last 5 games – the Red Devils went into the break with a deserved lead to build on.
But Manchester United did very little to cement their authority in the second half. Barring an attempt from Ander Herrera that hit the crossbar, a result of an intense ten minute period from United, the away side did not really test Stekelenberg who would have been kicking himself by then for conceding a goal that could have clearly been avoided. Everton made two vital substitutions in the midfield with Deulofeu and Enner Valencia and the momentum shifted. Marouane Fellaini came on in the 85th minute for Manchester United in an attempt to see out the match but it backfired as the ex-Everton man gave away a costly penalty in the dying moments as the game ended 1-1 with the Blues finishing much stronger than many would have anticipated after that dire first half.
United had 10 attempts in total, 6 in the second half with none on target, in contrast to Everton’s 12 attempts in total, 9 in the second half and 6 of those 9 were on target – requiring De Gea to step up, which the Spanish international duly did. It suggests a massive drop off in energy and performance levels and this one came much earlier than in the draws against Stoke, West Ham United and Arsenal.
It may have been an individual error in the end that cost the visitors two points – their sixth draw in the league so far. But this has become a motif under Mourinho so much so that United falling short after going 1-0 up is not surprising anymore. De Gea fumbled against Stoke City and West Ham, Rashford failed to deal with Oxlade-Chamberlain and now Fellaini joined the act in denying the Red Devils all 3 points at Goodison Park. United’s profligacy in front of goal in the league – scored less than Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion – is as bad as Mourinho’s personal win-loss record in the last 15 months – only 9 wins in the last 30 games with an average of 46 points per 38 games. Individual errors, for all we know, may just be the tip of an iceberg.
But in all fairness, Manchester United are a side in their fourth year of transition with an assortment of players bought under Sir Alex, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal – three staggeringly different managers followed by Jose Mourinho who is unique in his own right. Under Mourinho, this is probably the closest that United have looked like the Manchester United of the old in terms of playing exciting football with freedom but this may actually be his hardest job in terms of the margin of error the he is allowed and the tactical decisions he could make, in any given situation, when compared to his successful Chelsea and Inter Milan sides which were built on players that shared his idea and vision of the game.
United are definitely progressing per se under a manager who is desperate to win despite the systemic problems in the infrastructure, but in the grand scheme of things these incessant occurrences of individual mistakes could see them fall short of achieving even the bare minimum.