Everton 1 Manchester United 3 – Solskjaer survives to fight another day
The US elections.
Not far behind, however, was the issue of whether Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be sacked if his side suffered a defeat to the Toffees, following speculation that the top brass at United (aka Ed Woodward) had met with Mauricio Pochettino this week to sound him out for the job.
But not for nothing is Solskjaer known as United’s super-sub. Just when it seemed the game was up for Solskjaer, the 47-year-old Norwegian came on and put up a tactical masterclass to beat Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton 3-1.
WATCH: Solskjaer reacts to United's win over Everton
More than just the three points, the result could very well end up saving Solskjaer’s United career, or at the very least, prolong it for another two to three weeks before another defeat throws his future up in the air again.
For now, though, Solskjaer can at least enjoy the upcoming international break in peace instead of looking through LinkedIn for his next job.
Line-ups: Solskjaer chooses to drop Paul Pogba to the bench, following the Frenchman’s mistake which led to Arsenal’s winning penalty last weekend. It’s a bold move that could easily backfire on Solskjaer if they fail to get the victory here, but it’s last throw of the dice time for the United manager and he’s showing that he can make the difficult decisions if he has to. Juan Mata comes into the team in place of Pogba, while Anthony Martial, returning from a three-match suspension, replaces Mason Greenwood up top.
Everton, meanwhile, welcome James Rodriguez back from injury, while the in-form Dominic Calvert-Lewin continues to lead the line for the Toffees.
7th minute: Calvert-Lewin goes close!
Everton start the game brightly and go close to opening the scoring through Calvert-Lewin, but the England striker’s header from Bernard’s cross just loops over the bar. An ominous sign for Solskjaer, who does not look best pleased at how much space Bernard was given to cross the ball.
17th minute: Martial almost puts United in the lead
Martial, one of United’s best players this season (a low bar, to be fair), almost opens the scoring for United, but he contrives to fire wide with just Jordan Pickford to beat. United might come to regret that miss.
19th minute: GOAL! Route one football helps Bernard open the scoring
United DO come to regret Martial’s miss barely two minutes later, with the home team taking the lead through Bernard. It’s route one football that does the trick as a long goal kick from Pickford is flicked on by Calvert-Lewin into the path of Bernard, who side steps Aaron Wan-Bissaka far too easily before planting a low shot past David De Gea. Somewhere out there, Pochettino receives a flurry of congratulatory messages on his phone…
25th minute: GOAL! Bruno Fernandes draws United level
Looks like those messages for Pochettino were premature. United strike back barely six minutes later and it’s none other than Bruno Fernandes who gets the equaliser. Surprisingly, his goal does NOT come from the penalty spot. Instead, it’s his precise header from Luke Shaw’s pinpoint cross that beats Pickford in the Everton goal.
28th minute: Digne hits the post!
Everton are getting a lot of joy down the left-flank, with Digne and Bernard combining well to terrorise Wan-Bissaka. A neat one-two between Digne and Bernard sees the former break free into the box, but the full-back’s shot from a tight angle hits the post and goes out. A huge let-off for Solskjaer and his men.
32nd minute: GOAL! Fernandes gets his second to put United in front
If Solskjaer eventually manages to survive the threat from Pochettino, he’ll have Fernandes to thank. The Portuguese has undoubtedly been one of United’s most consistent players (in a positive sense, not in a Pogba sense) since joining the club in January and he is proving his worth again tonight. This time, Fernandes’ cross from the left wrongfoots the entire Everton defence and floats into the back of the net with Pickford stranded. Replays show that Rashford, who jumped for the header, did not get a touch of the ball, so the goal goes to Fernandes. But make no mistake, it was Rashford’s jump that put the Everton defence off and helped bamboozle Pickford. Despite pressure from Everton, United manage to take their 2-1 lead into the break.
62nd minute: Maguire almost scores a tap-in after a Pickford howler
Pickford, who has been under scrutiny since he injured Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk in a horror tackle three games ago, almost finds himself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons again. This time, he drops a simple cross into the path of Harry Maguire, who knees the ball over the bar from close range under pressure. Pickford, however, decides he doesn’t quite fancy playing behind Maguire during the upcoming international break and so goes in late on the United defender with a reckless challenge. Maguire crumples onto the ground in pain, but no punishment is meted out to Pickford, even after a VAR review.
64th minute: Maguire takes his revenge, but on Digne
It’s Maguire’s turn to sweat after his late tackle on Digne in the box is reviewed by VAR. Thankfully for him, Calvert-Lewin was found to be in an offside position in the build-up, so Maguire’s tackle, much like Pickford’s on Van Dijk, is not penalised. What goes around comes around.
73rd minute: Pickford makes a brilliant save from Rashford
The impressive Fred puts Rashford through on goal with a delightful chip, but the England striker’s attempt at goal is to near Pickford, who manages to get a foot out in time to make the save. United looking dangerous on the break once again, while Everton continue to labour ineffectively in search of an equaliser.
95th minute: GOAL! El Matador makes his mark
Everton commit men forward as they try and force an equaliser but never really come close to testing De Gea in the United goal. Instead, it’s the visitors who strike in stoppage time, with Fernandes leading a devastating counter before feeding the ball to substitute Edinson Cavani who rifles it past Pickford from close range for his first United goal. That’s game, set and match for United and Solskjaer can finally breathe again.
So, it’s ultimately a comfortable win for United against an Everton side that flattered to deceive at the start of the season, but has now lost three games in a row. While Ancelotti will be disappointed at failing to beat a vulnerable United side low on confidence, this result could very well prove to be the springboard upon which Solskjaer turns United’s season in the Premier League around.
Then again, there have been plenty of false dawns for United already this season, so we might still just see Pochettino in the Old Trafford dugout in future. But it won’t be this week or the next, at least. - By FBS Guest Writer