Richarlison started showboating in the 57th minute, almost balancing the ball like a performing seal. Jadon Sancho was too timid and conceded a corner. Harry Maguire urged him to challenge more aggressively.
It is unlikely there is anyone in the current Manchester United squad who has it in them to. Even Dominic Calvert-Lewin, in the first-half so feeble Evertonians must have hoped Duncan Ferguson would replace him, stirred the Gwladys Street End.
Ralf Rangnick sounded like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the eve of the game, extolling United’s training performances this week. True to form, they lost. “That was the worst United team I’ve ever seen,” said a gloating blue.
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As much as United may lament Anthony Gordon’s luck, United’s lethargy in the move for his winner was the antithesis of the ‘aggressive’ training sessions Rangnick had purportedly presided over in the week. Nemanja Matic’s meek challenge on Alex Iwobi left the ball loose for Gordon’s potluck hit. It’s the day for it in Liverpool.
United meandered to defeat. When Paul Pogba was denied a foul in the 86th minute, he tossed the ball away. Victor Lindelof screamed at Pogba to retrieve it and place it in the six-yard area to hasten the restart but Pogba did not hear him. Eventually, Juan Mata heard and played ball boy. The Goodison roar can carry across the grass of Stanley Park but it was not that loud.
Cristiano Ronaldo slumped to the turf at full-time. When he did find his feet from him again, he started hobbling towards the temporary tunnel designated for the visiting team, right by the away section. A red flare was thrown onto the pitch and there was a lot of animated gesturing, as well as some applause, from the demoralized United fans.
This had an air of the Easter Sunday surrender at Goodison three years ago. It was not as biblical as that and that is part of the chore of watching United in this dreary run-in. It is perverse they have not been cut adrift by the other Champions League qualifying competitors.
United have won three of their last 12 games and now failed to beat two of the bottom four teams across four fixtures. Everton had kept five clean sheets in the Premier League all season before United’s charitable arrival. This is the worst Everton team in 20 years and the standard of their performance in a game devoid of any memorable quality still offers Burnley hope.
The United supporters had the gall to chant ‘going down’ in the 77th minute with their team a goal down. They have had to resort to gallows’ humor a number of times in a sorry season that may not even end with Europa Conference League qualification.
A surrender of ‘we want Glazers out’ soon started. There is little chance of that happening any time soon but the disenchantment is acute and Monday marks three years since Joel Glazer last attended a United game. With seven games left, it promises to be a long six weeks.
Ultimately, this was more important for Everton than United’s collection of underachievers and wantaways. Outside Goodison, staff spoke with certainty they would lose their jobs if the club was relegated.
That was evident in the duels. Michael Keane wrestled with Ronaldo, Richarlison doubled as cheerleader and Maguire found the advertising hoarding rather than a teammate. Rangnick beckoned United further forward and Lindelof got the message, only Maguire and Alex Telles were five yards deeper. It took less than four minutes for Telles to hopelessly hoik the ball, causing Bruno Fernandes to slump his shoulders and Rangnick to preach calm. By the end of the first-half, Lindelof’s hand was raised apologetically for failing to engage in an aerial duel.
For the sake of the contest, Everton had to score first. Their supporters, more agitated than edgy and having finally concluded the players were not up for the fight, were up for fighting some of the players.
Goodison is a ground where its denizens holler if one of their players is felled by a gust of wind yet they were audibly anxious and ready to turn. Calvert-Lewin’s mistimed jump was hardly the worst of offenses but his ill-timed fashion shoots have put him out of fashion with Everton’s following. Failure to play the ball forwards threatened a riot and Frank Lampard resorted to literally pointing forwards.
In the move that Maguire inadvertently finished, there were two overhit passes soundtracked to exasperated groans before the ball reached Gordon to shoot A dyed-in-the-wool Scouser, Gordon epitomized the Everton ethos many of their players never will.
Marcus Rashford, on his first start in nearly a month, was unfortunate with two committed attempts that Jordan Pickford saved yet Rangnick then switched Rashford with the ineffectual Jadon Sancho. Rashford, United’s only goalscoring threat, was peculiarly hooked with 24 minutes remaining.
It was apparent two months ago Sancho prefers to play from the left, where United have not been short of options for seven years. Investing £72.9million on Sancho has failed to balance out a lopsided attack, with the right-hand side a problem area once more.
United have bigger problems, though.