Manchester United saw the club’s title hopes dealt a major blow this evening, after twice throwing away the advantage to stutter to a 3-3 draw with Everton.
DCL strikes at the death
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men welcomed the Toffees to Old Trafford a short time ago, for their latest Premier League outing.
The Red Devils of course headed into proceedings with spirits high in the camp, after bouncing back from a shaky spell of form with a historic 9-0 drubbing of Southampton during the week.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 02: Edinson Cavani of Manchester United celebrates with team mate Marcus Rashford of Manchester United after scoring their side’s fourth goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on February 02, 2021 in Manchester, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby – Pool/Getty Images)
In turn, United were aware ahead of kick-off that another 3-point haul this evening would see them move back level with rivals Man City atop the English top-flight table.
When all was said and done at the Theatre of Dreams, however, despite coming within seconds of exactly that, the hosts were held.
A thoroughly entertaining affair eventually saw both sides forced to settle for a share of the spoils, in a 3-3 stalemate.
The Reds appeared to have taken firm control of proceedings late in the first-half when, after Edinson Cavani had opened the scoring with a trademark back post header, Bruno Fernandes made it two courtesy of a stunning strike from the edge of the area:
The whip and the dip 💥
Something special from Bruno Fernandes 🙌
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 6, 2021
Everton, however, refused to accept defeat lying down, and emerged following the interval looking revitalised.
This eventually led to a wild opening to the 2nd period, which saw both Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez go on to find the net, to level things up in Manchester:
What a turnaround from Everton! And what a strike from James Rodriguez 💥
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 6, 2021
David de Gea was far from blameless in Everton dragging themselves back into things, with the Spaniard’s palming of the ball back into the path of Doucoure having essentially set the Toffees’ comeback in motion.
But, as the saying goes, anything you can do, I can do better…
Upon a free-kick being whipped into the visitors’ box a little over 15 minutes from time, it was Robin Olsen’s turn to hang his head, after the Swede somehow managed to misjudge his dive, in the process allowing Scott McTominay’s header to find the corner.
This is his joint best scoring PL season (4) pic.twitter.com/3kyySjxbxR
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) February 6, 2021
But, incredibly, just when it appeared as though the 3 points were wrapped up, with Manchester United heading back to the Premier League’s summit alongside neighbours City, disaster – in the form of Dominic Calvert-Lewin – struck.
With essentially the final kick of the game, the ball was delivered into the home side’s penalty area from deep.
And, after Michael Keane managed to manufacture a flick on, the ruthless Calvert-Lewin was on hand to prod past David de Gea, sparking wild celebrations amongst the travelling players.
2 – This was just the second time in Premier League history Manchester United led a home game by 2+ goals at half-time and failed to win, following a 2-2 draw against West Brom in October 2010. Drama. #MUNEVE pic.twitter.com/9myHH5C6Sh
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 6, 2021
For United, on the other hand, the Premier League title is slipping ever further away, with the Reds now two points adrift of the summit, whilst having played two games more than Pep Guardiola’s Citizens.
The Pogba problem
An altogether heartbreaking evening for the Reds on Saturday, meanwhile, was actually compounded further by a blow on the personnel front.
Late in the first-half, Paul Pogba was forced to exit the fray, after pulling up with what appeared to be a right thigh issue.
In turn, the Frenchman, if the issue is a muscular one, could be set for a considerable spell on the sidelines.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 06: Paul Pogba of Manchester United reacts as he walks off the pitch after picking up an injury during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on February 06, 2021 in Manchester, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
And, if tonight’s evidence is anything to go by, then this could spell very, very bad news for the Manchester giants.
Upon looking back at the action at Old Trafford, it is hard not to focus in on just what a different side the hosts looked on the back of their star midfielder’s departure.
United completely controlled the clash up until Pogba was forced to limp off, running rule over the midfield, and looking an altogether balanced outfit.
The 2nd-half, however, laid bare all of the issues in this side without their record signing.
Employing a double pivot pairing of Scott McTominay and Fred, the latter of whom was also allowed to surge forward on occasion, control of proceedings in the middle of the park was lost.
This did not come due to an inability on the part of the pair to hunt down possession, though. This is in fact an area in which both McTominay and Fred excel.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 20: Scott McTominay of Manchester United celebrates after scoring their sides second goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leeds United at Old Trafford on December 20, 2020 in Manchester, England. The match will be played without fans, behind closed doors as a Covid-19 precaution. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Instead, it was the shortcomings on the part of the duo when it comes to getting a foot on the ball, and opening the game up.
The ‘McFred’ pivot, either individually or as a duo, simply cannot emulate Pogba’s influence when it comes to patrolling an entire midfield.
The Frenchman does so many things – particularly in the transition from defence to attack – which go unappreciated, and only become truly evident when he is not fit and available.
If Pogba is indeed confined to the sidelines over the weeks to come, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will likely need to be proactive, in adding another dimension to his midfield from elsewhere in United’s squad.
And one option who could well provide exactly that, is none other than forgotten man Donny van de Beek…
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