Thursday 27 July 2017

Zlatan on spot to get pedestrian United off the hook

Man United 1 Everton 1

Zlatan Ibrahimovic converts from the spot to secure a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. Photo: REUTERS
Zlatan Ibrahimovic converts from the spot to secure a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. Photo: REUTERS

James Ducker

Jose Mourinho was talking in the most derogatory terms about Luke Shaw on Saturday. Last night, he had the left-back to thank for helping to rescue a point for Manchester United.

With the game entering the final minute of stoppage time, Shaw found himself unmarked in the penalty area and unleashed a shot.

Ashley Williams stuck out a hand to save the ball and referee Robert Madley duly pointed to the spot and showed the Everton defender a red card.

Up stepped Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score from the penalty spot and from the clutches of defeat came a draw.

It was not what United needed going into this game but, in the circumstances, United were happy to take it.

However, that's nine draws at Old Trafford this season and 21 points dropped. If the Europa League was not already looking United's best route into next season's Champions League, it is now.

Goalscorer Phil Jagielka celebrates with teammate Romelu Lukaku after giving Everton a first half lead. Photo: REUTERS
Goalscorer Phil Jagielka celebrates with teammate Romelu Lukaku after giving Everton a first half lead. Photo: REUTERS

As good as Ibrahimovic is, it comes to something when a 35-year-old is dictating the terms to United, asking, as the Swede was in the build-up to this match with the club's official television no less, if they could match his ambition.

Progress

Ibrahimovic wants to know that he will not be "wasting time" by staying on and seemed to be challenging United to make a statement in the transfer market.

There has been progress at Old Trafford this term but it has been harder to spot in recent weeks when the football has slowed, momentum dropped and results have suffered.

Leighton Baines sends Jesse Lingard flying at Old Trafford. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Leighton Baines sends Jesse Lingard flying at Old Trafford. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

As against West Brom last Saturday, there was a whiff in the first half against Everton of the static, pedestrian team that mostly bored supporters witless during the Louis van Gaal era.

The crowd was certainly jumpy, their agitation growing after Everton took the lead midway through the opening period when Marcos Rojo and David De Gea conspired to make a hash of things.

Williams headed Kevin Mirallas' out-swinging corner to the far post. Rojo was caught in two minds and Phil Jagielka capitalised on the United defender's hesitation to hook the ball through the legs of De Gea, whose concentration lapsed.

Read more: 'Some players are in real trouble' - Jose Mourinho's confession after his side's NINTH home draw

Mourinho had rung the changes in an attempt to force a reaction after the scoreless draw with West Brom, with Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera returning from suspension and Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan - two players who had incurred the manager's wrath at the weekend - dropped to the substitutes' bench.

Substitute Luke Shaw comes on for Ashley Young. Photo: Getty Images
Substitute Luke Shaw comes on for Ashley Young. Photo: Getty Images

But it was hard to discern United's game plan. Too often there was no support in attack and the absence of a quicksilver predator was exposed five minutes before the interval when a fine ball from Ashley Young went careering across the six-yard box untouched.

Everton looked comfortable for the most part and, when opportunity did knock for United, the chances, surprise, surprise were spurned.

Herrera, who also had a drive pushed aside, crashed the ball against the crossbar on the rebound from Daley Blind's saved free-kick and Ibrahimovic was guilty of taking a touch too many before then to give Williams time to block his shot.

In a desperate search for some drive and impetus, Blind was hooked at half-time and Paul Pogba, available again after two weeks out with a hamstring injury, summoned.

Ashley Williams handles the ball in the area resulting in an injury-time penalty for Manchester United and a red card for the Everton defender. Photo: REUTERS
Ashley Williams handles the ball in the area resulting in an injury-time penalty for Manchester United and a red card for the Everton defender. Photo: REUTERS

Within 10 minutes of the restart, the Frenchman had been reacquainted with that familiar obstacle - the woodwork. Young whipped over a free-kick after Gareth Barry had poleaxed Marcus Rashford and Pogba headed against the crossbar, the eighth time this term he has been denied by the woodwork.

With Pogba in the middle and no Antonio Valencia, rested here, Herrera was shunted to right-back and Young moved to the left. It was unorthodox but Mourinho needed some spark, any spark. Tempers threatened to flare but, beneath the surface, Everton continued to keep their cool.

Doggedness

This was a far cry from their performance in the 3-1 defeat at Anfield three days earlier, their doggedness and discipline epitomised by Williams and Jagielka as well as Mason Holgate, who barely gave Rashford an inch on Everton's right.

By the 65th minute, Mourinho had even resorted to introducing Shaw (left), which marked quite the turnaround from last Saturday when he questioned the defender's focus, commitment and ambition and claimed he was a "long way behind" his rival left-backs.

United thought they had drawn level 19 minutes from time. Herrera, looking very much at home and United's best performer on the night, stood up a cross.

Ibrahimovic attacked it and Joel Robles, despite getting a hand to the ball, could not keep out the header, but the United striker was wrongly ruled offside. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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