An early miss by Ellis Simms proved costly for the Blues as their habitual disappointment at Old Trafford continued as goals from McTominay and the usual Martial strike condemned them to defeat and desperately waiting results elsewhere to see how the table would be affected.
With Champions League qualification the prize at stake, victory over Brentford in midweek lifted the hosts, Manchester United, back into the top four of the Premier League table three points ahead of Tottenham who failed to make the most of a man advantage for almost half an hour before Everton stunned them with Michael Keane’s sensational strike.
United, with Marcus Rashford in good goalscoring form were determined to continue a results stranglehold they’ve held over the Toffees since the inception of the Premier League, while the Blues were in search of at least a point to continue the dogged battle against the dreaded drop to the Championship.
United might be at the better end of the table but, they’re not the finished article, many observers feeling they’re still a long way from being challengers to their cross town rivals and current league leaders, Arsenal.
Speaking on Friday, United manager Erik ten Hag updated the media on squad availability saying, “Luke Shaw is not available for tomorrow. And we have to see how it progresses in the coming week. The good news is Christian Eriksen is back in training and he will be back tomorrow in the squad.”
The United boss was keen to see the endeavour and effort that brought the result against Brentford continue against the Blues when he commented, “We have to do it every game and that needs preparation and it has to be the standard. So this is the demand, no ifs or buts, you have to do it and that is the responsibility. Players have to deliver, so they have to be accountable.”
Ten Hag was clearly expecting to face a different Everton to the side that United have already beaten twice this season when he said, “It’s obviously a manager doing a great job. The team is really fit from Everton. Their physical output is outstanding so we have to match that.”
With Casemiro serving the last of his recent three game ban and Shaw injured, the Dutch manager named his starting line-up: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Maguire (c), Martinez, Malacia, McTominay, Fernandes, Antony, Sabitzer, Sancho and Rashford.
Not surprisingly, despite the precarious position the Blues are still in, following the late goal that earned another valuable point against Tottenham, the mood within the dressing room is one of increasing belief and confidence. For manager Sean Dyche though, it remains imperative that nobody gets carried away and stay focused on the tasks still to be completed – gaining the necessary points to stay up.
“There’s a certain way that I like the players and staff to work,” commented the boss adding, “So I would not say the ups and downs are too amazing. Instead, it’s about maintaining a nice consistency in how we operate. The mood in the camp can be affected, but we have a consistent way of working throughout the ups and downs of what we do. The mood is obviously impacted by the ups and downs of what we do… the feel-good factor of performing well.” He continued, “Performances have generally been good, we have scratched away in some games and played well in others. We have certainly shown a clear-minded spirit in our performances. I am pleased with that because it’s an important factor in a Premier League season. All these things add to something different. Keano’s goal adds a different feel to what was a strong performance [vs Spurs].”
Continuing his comments on mindset within the squad, the boss believes the players deserve full credit for taking “ownership” and setting high standards within their performances. “As a manager, I’ve always felt you guide players to what you think is appropriate, what you think is good for them as individuals and good for the group. Then eventually you want it to rub off so that they start taking ownership. Owning things. Not tactically, but looking after each other professionally, maintaining standards and self-governing what we lay down as being important to the group and team.”
Clearly delighted with what he’s seeing in both training and gameday situations, he added, “There’s the expectation to deliver performances and there are clear signs of that. The group are demanding more of each other, not just me and the staff. They are taking it on both in training and on the pitch.”
Heading to Old Trafford, Dyche knew he had at least one change to make to the team as Abdoulaye Doucoure starts a three match suspension following his altercation with Kane on Monday. The manager wouldn’t be drawn on who would replace Doucoure but advised, “Ruben (Vinagre) missed out [against Tottenham Hotspur] with a tight Achilles but he’s back on the grass training, Dom [Calvert-Lewin] continues his recovery, obviously, and Andros [Townsend] a bit more distantly. We’re pretty good overall. Some players are just carrying a few knocks and bruises but nothing too serious.”
With one enforced change to make, Sean Dyche named his starting eleven in an expected to be 4-5-1 formation: Jordan Pickford, Seamus Coleman (c), Michael Keane, James Tarkowski, Ben Godfrey, Alex Iwobi, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Amadou Onana, Dwight McNeil, Demarai Gray and Ellis Simms.
On a gloriously sunny day, in charge of proceedings in this early kick-off was the experienced Michael Oliver.
An early cross from Alex Iwobi saw Maguire do enough to foil a volley from Ellis Simms but it was Jordan Pickford with the first save, pushing a shot from Sabitzer, found by Sancho, away for a corner after a slight deflection off Michael Keane. The hosts won a second corner and that went for a goal kick as McTominay lifted a shot high over the bar.
The Blues got forward with McNeil feeding Godfrey on the overlap to win a corner but, it was defended and United countered at speed only for the more to slow and Pickford easily held a cross from Wan-Bissaka. A long ball from Malacia saw Rashford get away from Tarkowski, Pickford quick off his line to narrow the angle and block the shot and a follow-up cross seeing a Rashford header go behind for a goal kick.
Coleman won a free kick for a foul by Sancho, Gray crossing and finding Amadou Onana who couldn’t direct his header on target. Excellent covering by Iwobi saw his deny Rashford a shot as United came again to concede a corner that saw a shot from Antony come back off the far post and Wan-Bissaka miss across the face of goal, an incredible miss. United were having much the better of the opening quarter of an hour and won another corner on their right that was wasted as Malacia fired high and wide from just outside the Everton penalty area.
Another free kick wide right for the Blues after Malacia hauled down Demarai Gray saw Rashford back to head clear, the next Everton raid seeing Wan-Bissaka need two bites at the cherry to clear and a minute later McNeil found Simms in space but, he dragged his shot wide of the far post when he really should have at least tested De Gea.Sancho got away from Gray and Onana and when Antony tee’d up Sabitzer, Pickford punched the shot away and gathered the back header from Tarkowski.
Antony got clear of Godfrey to get end of a long ball from Martinez and another excellent stop by Jordan Pickford kept the scoreboard idle. Everton countered with Gray going down in the box under pressure from Maguire, VAR said no penalty and it was just a corner that was played too strong and sailed out for a goal kick. Another massive long ball again saw Antony escape the attention of Ben Godfrey who incredibly got back to win the ball with a perfectly timed tackle.
Michael Keane with an excellent block to deny Rashford again as another attack by the home side was stifled before another long ball over the top saw Rashford get beyond Keane with Pickford again positioning himself perfectly to block the attempted lob over him. Half an hour gone and Jordan Pickord had been by far the busier goalkeeper and another corner came the way of the home side as Tarkowski and finally Keane denied McTominay. Onana cleared the first cross and a shot from Martinez was blocked. Quick one touch passing by United created a chance for Fernandes who fired over the bar but, the pressure on the Blues defence was becoming relentless.
Sabitzer lifted a shot over the bar after a patient build-up by United and on 36 minutes, the deadlock was broken as the Blues failed to clear as Rashford dribbled across the edge of the area before Sancho slid a ball into space for McTominay to run onto and send his shot under and past Pickford.
Pickford with his legs denied Rashford again, not knowing the offside flag was working in his favour, as the home side looked to double their lead before the interval and another attack saw a Wan-Bissaka shot deflected behind for another United corner that failed to produce. One added minute was announced with United again on the attack and another top quality save from JP denied Antony after he’d waited to pick his spot, the resulting corner seeing Martinez send a shot high over the bar and a rather one-sided half had only seen the one goal.
Half Time: 1-0
A natural left back in Vitalli Mykolenko rightly replaced Ben Godfrey for the second half and through the opening ten minutes, Everton looked a bit more reliant in keeping United at bay whilst looking to counter when they could. A free kick from the left finding the head of Tarkowski but again, he was unable to unduly worry De Gea.
James Garner and Tom Davies were a double change for the Blues replacing Idrissa Gana Gueye and Amadou Onana respectively on 59 minutes, United sending on Martial to replace Antony with their first change.
McTominay got away with a sly kick at Coleman, Gray rushing in and Seamus picking himself to have a ‘friendly’ word with the Scot. A cross from McNeil saw Tarkowski pressure De Gea and they won a corner as a shot from Iwobi was deflected behind – better from the Blues at last. Garner saw a shot blocked and out for a second successive corner that was cleared. A quick counter saw Pickford tip a Fernandes header over the bar and then be ready to save a volley form Wan-Bissaka. Desperately in need of an equaliser, Everton prepared to bring on Neal Maupay and he joined the action in the 70th minute replacing Ellis Simms.
A slip by Coleman allowed Rashford to take the ball and feed Martial who made it two-nil and effectively game over on 71 minutes.
With the home crowd taunting chants of ‘Going Down’ towards the visiting Blues support, United prepared to bring on Eriksen and Fred in the 76th minute for Sancho and Sabitzer. A decent passing move ended with Coleman sending in a shot that De Gea saved comfortably before Rashford limped off with a groin strain to be replaced by Weghorst.
Into the final ten minutes and a cross from McTominay found Fernandes in space that Pickford gathered easily. Another slight error by Coleman almost gave United a chance of a third goal, Pickford eventually saving a Fernandes shot straight at him. Nathan Patterson made a cameo appearance replacing Coleman who looked to have tweaked something in the previous melee.
Fernandes won a corner off Mykolenko, Patterson put a ball from Maguire behind for another and a shot from Eriksen was blocked before three added minutes were announced. Pickford saved well again from Malacia and if ever there was a Man of the Match for Everton it was the England goalie who had done everything within his powers to prevent United winning by a landslide.
Finally, referee Michael Oliver mercifully ended the Blues pain and we could all go and do something more productive on a sunny afternoon.