This was the footballing equivalent of taking a revolver out of the cupboard and blowing a couple of your toes off.
For 45 minutes Manchester United were outstanding against Everton. They led 2-0 at half-time and had produced one of their most complete first-half performances under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
But the naivety of this team and their inability to learn from familiar mistakes is what is holding them back now and twice in the second half they proved they were their own worst enemy.
A mad five minutes threw away all the good work of the first half and then with the three points in sight after Scott McTominay had restored the lead United threw it away all over again. Everton must have been laughing all the way back down the East Lancs Road after this undeserved gift of a point.
At half-time Solskjaer would have been putting the videotape of this performance on loop at Carrington. It was everything he would want from his team, which will only make what followed even more painful.
The first-half was a performance of authority and confidence, of tactical precision mixed with individual brilliance. It was a performance worthy of a team challenging for titles, but it didn’t last.
United’s press was intense and well organised, they were dominant in midfield and fluid in the final third. Everton, under a manager in Carlo Ancelotti who has three Champions Leagues plus Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 titles to his name, were powerless to resist.
Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes had United two goals to the good but it could have been more. Mason Greenwood missed an excellent chance and there was a 20-minute spell when Everton were simply unable to get out of their own half.
But United have shown they can be convincing going forward now, it’s at the other end where their problems lie and until they defend with the same conviction they will continue to fall short.
Their first-half display deserved to win this game alone but by the 52nd minute they had to go and win it again. David de Gea’s mistake gifted the visitors a way back into the game from Abdoulaye Doucoure’s tap-in Everton’s confidence grew and United’s shrank. Within a few minutes James Rodriguez had levelled with United’s static defenders watching on.
United did go and win it again, only to lose it again. Axel Tuanzebe came on in injury-time to see the game out but instead conceded a soft free-kick. United defended it predictably poorly, Harry Maguire dropped too deep and De Gea was too slow off his line. With time up it was 3-3 and Maguire’s plaintive pleas to the linesman for handball, when it hit Calvert-Lewin’s chest, showed the sheer desperation in the United ranks.
After back-to-back clean sheets this was a reminder that United’s defensive issues still aren’t resolved. They are too soft to pick apart from set-pieces, lack a commanding goalkeeper and are still vulnerable to spells where they simply fall apart.
United have now dropped seven points in their last four Premier League games, failing to beat Sheffield United, Arsenal and Everton in the last 11 days, and that could well spell the end of their title challenge if City end their long wait for a win at Anfield.
There have been positives for United this season and there were again on Saturday, but the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome. United have conceded 30 goals in 23 Premier League games, 17 more than Manchester City, and with that kind of defensive record the title will be a leap too far.
United have to improve at the back, whether that is through a change of personnel, a new signing or tactical improvements. Until that happens they will continue to have days when they can’t help but inflict a few wounds on themselves.