Progress? What progress?
Visiting Goodison Park around Easter is enough to bring the Manchester United away dayers out in cold sweats after what happened on Easter Sunday three years ago.
It’s coming up the anniversary of that 4-0 defeat, one of the low points of United’s recent history given the pathetic surrender from those players on the pitch that day.
It was in the bowels of this historic old stadium that day that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer promised he’d be successful at United and “some players won’t be part of that success.”
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Three years on have United made any progress? They’ve got better players but as a team they’re just as spineless. Five of the starters that grim day were back this weekend, Diogo Dalot and Paul Pogba were on the bench and Anthony Martial is only away on loan. It’s hardly been the cull that supporters were promised.
United were sixth that day in 2019, approaching the end of another dreadful season when Manchester City and Liverpool had all the fun at the top of the Premier League. The three years since have clearly not been put to good use.
Rashford and Sancho
United’s £73million splurge on Jadon Sancho was supposed to solve their long-standing right-wing issues but here we are in April and there’s nobody who fancies running that graveyard slot in the front three.
Sancho has looked far happier playing from the left under Ralf Rangnick and his best form has come in that position, so it was a surprise to see Marcus Rashford beginning from that flank against Everton.
Rashford has looked lost in the last couple of months but this was probably as bright as he has been. He twice tested Jordan Pickford in the early stages and for the hour he was on the pitch he looked like United’s most likely source of goals.
The two wingers would occasionally swap flanks but it was clear they both preferred to cut in from the left and Rashford was the brighter, showing some clever touches and linking up well with Alex Telles. The weight of Rashford’s passes to find the Brazilian’s runs inside were particularly sharp.
The academy graduate – making his 200th Premier League appearance – had every right to feel aggrieved that he was the player to make way for Anthony Elanga and not Sancho. Rashford’s complaints have not met with a sympathetic audience recently but when he’s taken off after being United’s best attacking player his frustrations are understandable.
Right back roulette
Right-back might well be the most rotated position under Rangnick but that isn’t a show of strength from United, rather a sign that this is a problem area that must be addressed by the new manager.
Dalot had started the last three games before being dropped at Goodison Park, where Aaron Wan-Bissaka came in for his fourth start in eight games. Tellingly, they were on the bench together for United’s trip to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
Neither has looked good enough for United and they would need to find another couple of levels at least to remain a part of this squad if the club actually have ambitions of a title challenge in the next few seasons.
Wan-Bissaka is regularly considered the better defensively, but he can be slow to react to crosses from the left and was too passive against Richarlison in the build-up to Everton’s first-half goal. His flaws in him going forward have been well documented.
The constant switching between Dalot and Wan-Bissaka looks a pretty clear sign that Rangnick has faith in neither and on the evidence of their performances this season that is understandable.
The Rangnick experiment
If there was any doubt after last week’s draw with Leicester City then we can now decisively circle Saturday, April 9 as the day all life was extinguished from United’s season.
That’s hardly a surprise given Rangnick’s record now reads nine wins from his 22 matches in charge. The players will take most of the blame for this horrific campaign but United were basically experimenting when they appointed a coach who had been doing a different job for eight of the last 10 years.
That’s the thing with experiments, sometimes you find out something fascinating, but more often than not they end up in failure and this one has. Under Rangnick’s guidance United have now failed to beat three of the bottom four and because of dreadful records like that they are staring down the barrel of a season in the Europa Conference League.
Rangnick questioned the physicality in the United team once again last week but this contest presented a good opportunity to try and prove the interim manager wrong, given the weaknesses Everton have shown in recent weeks.
There certainly seemed to be a desire to be a little stronger. Maguire gave Calvert-Lewin no room to breathe and Victor Lindelof wasn’t messing around when he took a five-yard run-up to win a header against Richarlison, crashing through the back of the Brazilian in the process.
But that was only sustainable for so long and there was a spell in the second half where United were rocking as Everton increased the intensity on them.
The new manager will have his own ideas of the players needed to improve the squad, but willingly to get stuck in must be right at the top.
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