English Premier League
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The Grim Reaper appeared at Goodison Park to accompany David Moyes to his end as Manchester United manager 12 months ago. This time Louis van Gaal scythed through his players for a lack of “motivation, inspiration and aggression” as their hold weakened on automatic entry into next season’s Champions League. Everton revelled in their latest brand of torment.
The ramifications of a comprehensive Goodison defeat will not be as severe for Van Gaal as they were for his predecessor last April but this was a galling afternoon for a United team weak in defence and devoid of penetration in attack.
At best, their claims on a top-three finish have been undermined by a second successive Premier League defeat. At worst, the Old Trafford side have offered Liverpool a glimmer of hope in the pursuit of Champions League qualification and could be without Wayne Rooney for an extended period with a knee injury. Van Gaal pointed the finger at a complacent attitude throughout the visiting ranks but Everton out-thought and out-played their in-form opponents en route to their biggest win over United since 1992.
James McCarthy struck an early breakthrough, John Stones glanced home his first Everton goal and the substitute Kevin Mirallas sealed his team’s fifth win in an impressive six-game unbeaten run. This was Van Gaal’s first league defeat by a three-goal margin as United manager and confirmation that Roberto Martínez’s men have learned the lessons of a trying but improving campaign. “We were the better side in every department,” said a proud Everton manager, after a tactically disciplined, determined display.
There were striking parallels to Everton’s performance in the corresponding fixture last season. Martínez’s team sat deep and were content for United to dominate possession, a 62% share in the first half, yet were the more incisive, clinical team when they had the ball. A two-goal interval lead was also identical to Moyes’ final game as United manager.
Everton were sharp and aggressive from the opening whistle, with McCarthy, looking leaner and quicker than he did on his return from a series of hamstring injuries, and Ross Barkley to the fore. Martínez’s decision to recall Leon Osman on the left of midfield with instruction to track Juan Mata’s runs inside was another factor in the visitors’ struggle to open up their hosts. An early breakthrough suited the Everton approach to perfection.
Only five minutes had elapsed when Gareth Barry cleared a United corner and allowed his fellow central midfielder to lead a devastating counterattack.
McCarthy sent Seamus Coleman away down the right – a potent outlet for Everton all afternoon – and though Paddy McNair stopped the full-back’s cross from reaching Romelu Lukaku his touch fell invitingly to the Republic of Ireland international. McCarthy surged through the weakest of challenges from McNair and Daley Blind inside the area, before tucking a neat finish inside David de Gea’s far corner.
United should have been level within two minutes only for Marouane Fellaini to squander a gilt-edged chance against his former club. In contrast to a frosty return to Goodison 12 months ago, the Belgium midfielder was afforded a warm reception from his old supporters at kick-off. Their appreciation increased on seven minutes when Fellaini blazed over from 18 yards having dispossessed Barry as the midfielder attempted to control a wild pass out of defence from Stones.
Fellaini has been instrumental in United’s rise into the Champions League places but faded badly here after collecting an early booking and was replaced by Radamel Falcao at half-time. “There were several reasons ,” admitted Van Gaal. The £27.5m midfielder might have departed earlier had the referee Andre Marriner spotted a deliberate handball as Fellaini lay on the ground claiming a foul from behind by Barry.
His and United’s day deteriorated regardless.
Everton’s third telling break down their right flank resulted in Chris Smalling conceding a corner from another Coleman delivery. United cleared Leighton Baines’ first driven cross to the near post, did the same with his second but switched off at the third corner from the England left-back. Stones stole a march on the dawdling Antonio Valencia and steered an unstoppable header beyond De Gea and over Ashley Young on the goalline.
The pattern remained unchanged despite the introduction of Falcao and Ángel Di María in the second half. Tim Howard prevented Rooney hauling United back in the game from close range and saved comfortably from a Falcao header but, for all their control of possession, the visitors offered little pace or penetration up front. They were undone by their interpretation of the offside law as Everton extended their lead with 16 minutes remaining. Lukaku stopped when Barkley’s chipped pass forward found the centre-forward in a clear offside position. United’s defence paused too, but not the onside Mirallas who sprinted on to the loose ball and finished confidently inside De Gea’s near post. Mirallas went close to his second and Everton’s fourth with a powerful drive from 25 yards that the United keeper tipped over. Rooney then limped off after colliding with the otherwise ineffectual Blind. A painful end to another grim Goodison trip for United.
Man of the match James McCarthy (Everton) Reports
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Man United @ Everton