Manchester United 1-1 Everton
- Goals: Mason Greenwood (£4.3m) | Victor Lindelof (£5.3m) own-goal
- Assists: Daniel James (£6.1m) | Leighton Baines (£4.9m)
- Bonus: Greenwood x3, Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£5.3m) x2, Jordan Pickford (£5.4m) x1
Manchester United have one of the more appealing fixture runs over the busy festive period, with the Red Devils taking on Watford, Newcastle United, Burnley and a struggling Arsenal side between now and New Year’s Day.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing from a Fantasy perspective is up for debate.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s troops have more than held their own against the ‘bigger’ clubs this season, defeating Manchester City, Chelsea, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur and being the only club to take points off runaway leaders Liverpool.
Against the ‘also-rans’ of the Premier League, United have won just twice.
In between those big-name scalps, there have been miserable defeats to Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Bournemouth and West Ham United, as well as unconvincing draws with Southampton, Aston Villa and Sheffield United.
Sunday’s one-all draw with Everton was the latest in a long line of unremarkable displays against clubs outside the current top five, with the repeated criticism of Solskjaer being that he doesn’t have a Plan B to break down stubborn sides with a defence-first mindset.
United are unquestionably at their best in counter-attacking situations and even their two wins against bottom-half sides came against teams (Brighton and Norwich) who opened up and played into the Red Devils’ hands.
Facing a re-energised and well-organised Everton outfit at Old Trafford, there were familiar failings.
Anthony Martial (£7.7m) was either too static or too deep up front, with his lack of movement mirrored by some surly body language.
When United’s attackers aren’t provided space with which to exploit their lightning-quick pace, they are blunted.
Daniel James (£6.1m) was given little room to operate by Leighton Baines (£4.9m) down the right, while Jesse Lingard (£6.3m), so impressive in the Manchester derby, is perhaps not the man for the number ten role when space is at a premium.
Everton even handled the in-form Marcus Rashford (£9.0m) relatively well, with the United forward blanking for the first time at Old Trafford since Gameweek 3.
The good thing about Rashford from an owner’s perspective is that, even on an off-day for himself and United, he looks the likeliest player to make things happen.
There was the usual mix of driving runs and ambitious shots, with the England international firing wide from inside the box early on and testing a nervy-looking Jordan Pickford (£5.4m) with two of his trademark dipping free-kicks.
A wild, 50th-minute effort that disappeared in the direction of the nearby cricket ground perhaps summed up his day but there would have been little to concern Rashford’s owners from an individual performance perspective, as he continues to carry much of United’s goal threat from the left flank.
The same can’t be said for Martial, who has assumed Rashford’s former ‘false nine’ role.
The Frenchman managed only one shot all game and, when bothering to move, was acting more as a link-up player than goal-getting striker.
Martial’s owners will likely have other fires to put out in Blank Gameweek 18 and perhaps over Christmas but, if it is a straight choice between the France international and Rashford, the latter unquestionably poses the bigger threat at present.
Martial could even have a challenger for his role, with substitute Mason Greenwood (£4.3m) coming off the bench to rescue a point for the hosts.
The teenage striker crept a low shot past Pickford from a James pass to spare Solskjaer’s blushes, with the United boss saying after full-time:
Mason Greenwood is different class in and around the box. You’re not surprised when he scores goals. It’s fitting that it should be an Academy player that scores in the 4,000th match [in a row in which Utd have fielded a youth product] and it makes it hard for me to leave him out.
At the other end, this was the 12th league match in a row without a clean sheet for the Red Devils.
While Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£5.3m) impressed defensively and evoked memories of 2018/19 by picking up two bonus points despite not registering a clean sheet or attacking return, the two centre-halves were again unconvincing and failed to inspire too much confidence ahead of United’s next three appealing fixtures.
Everton’s deadlock-breaking strike indeed came courtesy of Victor Lindelof (£5.3m), who inadvertently bundled the ball into his own goal after David de Gea (£5.5m) had been robustly challenged from a corner.
Reflecting on that goal and the game overall, Solskjaer said:
I’m disappointed in that one by the referee. I think it’s a foul, especially in this day and age. Maybe in the eighties, it would have counted. He’s got his elbow, his hand over David’s shoulder, and an elbow in the face, so it’s a foul.
We dominated the game, we put pressure on them. We couldn’t really create the openings we wanted to after they scored. Before they scored, we had two or three decent opportunities to take the lead and that was the big difference.
When you have 20-odd shots and the pressure mounts, you expect us to score. Sometimes it’s quality, sometimes it’s luck. Yes, today they got the goal and had something to hang on to. The first half against Tottenham was similar to the first half against Everton in the way they defended against us.
While Freddie Ljungberg has had limited impact at Arsenal, Duncan Ferguson has roused Everton in the last two Gameweeks.
The uncertainty over who gets the job permanently at Goodison Park might be enough to put Fantasy managers off for the time being but the Toffees are just about over their recent tricky fixture run and have some appealing matches ahead.
Certainly, the visit of Arsenal on Saturday ought to hold little fear.
Hampered by injury and illness, Ferguson stuck to his guns with a 4-4-2 and deployed Mason Holgate (£4.4m) ‘out of position’ in central midfield.
The FPL defender duly responded with an excellent performance, even testing de Gea twice in the early stages (although one, admittedly, was an overhit cross).
Ferguson lost Djibril Sidibe (£5.4m) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (£7.4m) to illness ahead of kick-off, while Lucas Digne (£5.7m) limped off with a recurrence of his groin problem with just 25 minutes gone.
Baines and the fit-again Seamus Coleman (£5.3m) barely put a foot wrong on their first-team returns, however, with the Everton backline in general looking solid and not allowing their hosts a single big chance after Lingard’s early turn and shot in the first minute.
The two-man attack of Richarlison (£7.8m) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£5.7m) continues to impress, meanwhile.
Neither delivered attacking returns on Sunday but both were a handful for United’s defence, with Calvert-Lewin indeed the one who impeded de Gea for Everton’s opener.
Both he and the ‘out of position’ Richarlison were on the scoresheet in Gameweek 16 and, should Ferguson still be in charge by the time Ljungberg’s troops visit Merseyside, the current Everton strike pair look like appealing short-term punts.
Ferguson said of his front two:
Richarlison always runs himself into the ground. We have a fantastic striker [Dominic Calvert-Lewin] who will chase everything, centre-backs getting in blocks and headers.
Reflecting on the game overall, the interim Everton boss said:
I think the 4-4-2 causes other team problems, you can get pressure on the ball and it worked really, really well.
Everyone was dropping like flies, we had a lot of sickness, but I like a 4-4-2 and thought Mason would do a good job in midfield and was proven correct. I thought he was tremendous, they all were.
We were fighting fires everywhere and Leighton was incredible. He will savour these moments when he retires.
They are fighting for us, fighting for the Club and fighting for myself and I could not be prouder of them. The boys were tremendous, they were warriors out there.
This shows we can compete against the best teams in the league if we put in the work, which we are. We have the quality and good players, they keep a good shape and defend well.
As the teamsheet below shows, Ferguson substituted a substitute in the dying stages: Moise Kean (£6.4m) being hauled off less than 20 minutes after his introduction, with the temporary Everton head coach explaining that he was merely looking to “kill a bit of time”.
Manchester United XI (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; James (Mata 85′), Lingard (Greenwood 64′), Rashford; Martial.
Everton (4-4-2): Pickford; Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne (Baines 24′); Iwobi, Davies, Holgate, Bernard (Kean 70′ (Niasse 88′)); Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin.
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