Time for Henderson?
David de Gea has had a much better season for Manchester United this term but his weak attempt at stopping Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s cross shows he still has a mistake in him.
The Spaniard wasn’t commanding enough against Sheffield United recently and his decision making was flawed here, gifting Everton a way back into the game at the start of the second half when they had looked dead and buried.
Calvert-Lewin’s cross was going nowhere so De Gea could have left it, but having opted to try and intercept he needed to do more than a tame palm into the path of Abdoulaye Doucore. It gave Everton a lifeline when they didn’t deserve one and within three minutes they were level, United panicking defensively, their confidence dented by the first goal.
De Gea’s rare mistakes this season haven’t been as pronounced as the previous two years, but he’s still not instilling confidence into this side. United have an outstanding goalkeeper on the bench, an academy graduate and an England international, but he will be lost to them if he doesn’t get the chance to show he’s good enough to be No.1 at Old Trafford.
The time has come for Dean Henderson to be given his shot. De Gea has been a magnificent servant to United and depending on how Henderson performs he may start next season as No.1 again, but right now he’s not commanding enough and his mistakes are returning. He was arguably too slow to be alert to the danger when the ball fell to Calvert-Lewin for Everton’s equaliser.
The loss of Pogba
United have been relatively fortunate with injuries so far this season, partly due to the way Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has managed his squad, but losing Paul Pogba to a thigh injury will certainly be a blow.
They’ve coped without Pogba before and will expect to do so again, but there’s no doubt the midfielder, on recent form, will be a far greater loss than he has been previously.
Losing him late in the first-half was a shame for United as his partnership with Scott McTominay had been excellent for the best part of 40 minutes. They’d won possession back regularly and were at the heart of getting United on the front foot.
Solskjaer’s use of Pogba recently has shown how keen he’s been to get him in the team one way or the other and when he’s in the kind of form he’s been producing for the last two months any team would miss that quality, and United’s struggle to control the game in the second half as they did in the first wasn’t a good omen for any stretch without their World Cup winner.
Greenwood’s return to form
Mason Greenwood may not have got on the scoresheet for United but his performance against Everton was one of the positives for Solskjaer.
The teenager has had a difficult season, struggling to recapture his form from his breakthrough campaign while dealing with issues off the pitch, but he’s been showing signs of a return to prominence in recent weeks and this was probably his best display of the season so far.
He was almost faultless in the first half, using possession intelligently and moving into good areas of space. One delicate cross almost picked out Edinson Cavani and had he not dragged a right-footed shot wide after his flurry of stepovers had left Andre Gomes dizzy it could have been a sensational goal.
This certainly looked like United’s strongest front three and seeing 19-year-old Greenwood playing with the confidence of youth will be a major boost in the closing months of the season.
The goals haven’t flowed as easily this term and every promising talent goes through a difficult spell, but United have handled Greenwood with empathy and intelligence, allowing him to ease his way into the campaign as he rediscovers his best form, something which he now looks have done.
After his direct run at Gomes and the way he glided past the midfielder, Greenwood got a “well done Mason” from Solskjaer, and the praise was certainly merited.
Making the most of Cavani
At Arsenal a week ago United’s best two chances came when they put balls into the box for Cavani but they didn’t do it often enough, attacking centrally when they need to focus on getting the ball wide and crossing into the box for the experienced striker, whose movement is good enough to find space in a crowded penalty area and his heading ability is excellent.
Solskjaer often references crosses into the box when Cavani starts and United used that tactic against the Toffees. The 33-year-old was just unable to connect with a wonderful floated ball from Greenwood but when Marcus Rashford’s excellent right-wing delivery picked him out he was never going to miss.
Cavani should probably have done better when he mistimed a shot from a low cross from Aaron Wan-Bissaka later in the first half, but it was clear the best use of his penalty box instincts is to give him the service from wide areas, rather than trying to play through teams.
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A missed opportunity
United will watch Liverpool play Manchester City through gritted teeth today, knowing that whatever happens, they have thrown away a golden opportunity.
This is the kind of weekend in a title race when you have to take advantage of two of your rivals playing each other, but United were unable to do so.
Whatever happens at Anfield today United should have been seeing a positive outcome, instead all they will see is a missed opportunity. This is going to sting.