Red Devils are all image and no substance
Anthony Gordon has spent most of the season putting Everton’s overpriced millionaires to shame. This time he meted out the same treatment to Manchester United’s.
In doing so he has surely ended the fading hopes of Ralf Rangnick of bequeathing Champions League status upon his successor. More importantly for his own club, Gordon kept daylight between Everton and the bottom three.
Between them, United and Everton have spent over one billion in pursuit of their ambitions, only for both to fall woefully short. How poignant that a home-grown talent who cost nothing – a player still on the same contract he was on when in Everton’s under 23s – demonstrated the folly of believing that the more you spend, the better you are.
Gordon scored the critical winning goal. He dragged his teammates to a level which defied their perilous position, assisted by a United performance as insipid as any in the post-Ferguson era. “A disgrace,” admitted their ’keeper David de Gea. Not for the first time, there was more venom in the United players’ quotes than any of their tackles.
Frank Lampard said on Friday he was accustomed to being only two games from the sack. Two games sounded optimistic given Everton’s plight.
We will never know how twitchy Everton’s majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri was. For Lampard’s sake, one hopes this is one of those afternoons he will be able to look upon a few years into this job, reflecting upon it honestly as the stakes were highest for his team and his own managerial reputation.
It is a sign of United’s demise that Lampard could not have wished for an opponent less suited to a Goodison fight. This is Manchester United in name only – all image and no substance. They lack tempo, cohesion and courage, strutting around like preening prima donnas who believe every pass should be to their feet so as to minimise their running time.
United have become a club which kills the reputation of its appointments. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho were all considered a bigger problem than the players. Now it is Rangnick, the ‘Godfather of gegenpressing’ forced to admit he could offer no answer as to why his players do not transfer his training ground drills to a matchday. A coach can only ever be as good as his players’ willingness to listen and work. The only conclusion watching this is certain United players consider themselves bigger than the badge.
Sure, there are individual talents when the ball is at their feet. Collecting possession in order to enforce a relentless pace in a discernible pattern is another matter.
With Goodison bathed in sunshine this began as an afternoon in which it looked like United might be able to demonstrate their quality without breaking sweat. Just as well. None of them showed an inclination to exert themselves. Such was their demeanour of preparing for a summer holiday, one suspects a few United players would have willingly played in sunglasses – emblazoned with the logo of the latest club sponsors, of course. Maybe a few of them are demob-happy, their contracts about to expire. Maybe a few others are waiting for the next coach before bothering to get back to work. Perhaps a couple more are playing to get out.
Goodison was predictably edgy given the consequences of another failure. So even though United had begun lethargically, they were initially granted enough space to gather confidence. Bruno Fernandes was finding pockets of space and Marcus Rashford was twice denied by Jordan Pickford in the first 12 minutes. It would be 69 minutes before Pickford was called upon again, testimony to the lack of response when the game’s momentum swung.
That happened on 26 minutes, just at the point when Goodison was unsure whether to get behind its team or lose patience.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was discovering that the Gwladys Street was not quite as enamored with his fashion sense as readers of GQ, chastising their striker for not chasing every lost cause.
When Calvert-Lewin was second to a 50-50 in the centre circle, the cue for outrage was halted by Gordon, scampering to win possession before picking out Richarlison with a cute pass.
The young midfielder manoeuvred to the edge of the penalty in time to pick up the loose ball after the Brazilian’s cross. His shot deflected off Harry Maguire past the stranded De Gea, and Goodison was behind its players again. They would remain so as United wilted.
“I was pleased it was Anthony scoring because of what he brings. He loves the club. No wonder the fans love him,” said Lampard.
Only late Everton panic threatened to deny them the points, Ronaldo forcing Pickford into an injury-time save.
For a second successive home game, the final whistle was greeted by triumphant relief. Lampard knows his work is far from done. Rangnick may be relieved that his work at Old Trafford nearly is.
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