Saturday 21 September 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer holds his hands up after defeat 'so bad it was hard to describe'

Everton 4 Manchester United 0

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gestures towards the travelling fans after yesterday’s defeat at Goodison. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Yates
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gestures towards the travelling fans after yesterday’s defeat at Goodison. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Yates

Jim White

The good news for Manchester United is that next season there might not be a repetition of last week's humiliation in Barcelona. In urgent need of points, they fell to miserable defeat here yesterday, seriously hurting their attempt to even qualify for the Champions League.

Outfought, out-thought, outmanoeuvred against a vibrant, fizzing Everton, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team were simply abject. As their European ambitions crumbled into indignity, this was as wretched a performance as they can have delivered in this most disappointing of seasons.

Richarlison gives Everton the lead with a spectacular overhead strike. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Richarlison gives Everton the lead with a spectacular overhead strike. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Worse, it was another worrying indictment of the new manager's credentials for the enormous rebuilding job required. As he sheepishly went over to the visiting fans after the final whistle to say sorry, you wondered what he was apologising for: the result or his appointment.

"I don't know, you've got to ask them," Solskjaer said when asked if his players shared his view that this was a performance "so bad it was hard to describe". In a damning assessment of his team's attitude and approach he added: "If you want to play at this club, it has to be more."

For Everton and their manager, on the other hand, here was redemption. Marco Silva's side played with real zip, as if anxious immediately to atone for the recent aberration at Fulham.

By the end of 90 minutes of complete domination, every pass was greeted with delighted oles from the stands.

Richarlison of Everton scores his team's first goal as Diogo Dalot of Manchester United challenges. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Richarlison of Everton scores his team's first goal as Diogo Dalot of Manchester United challenges. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

This was what the Portuguese coach had long promised to produce: a smart, intelligent, zestful attacking exhibition.

"We were the best team on the pitch from the first minute," Silva said. "We never gave them the chance to feel comfortable."

Everton had shown their intent from the off, pushing and pressing, forcing their visitors into an early catalogue of errors.

And how United were keen to oblige. Chris Smalling passed straight into touch, Phil Jones then fell over, allowing Everton to win a corner, while Victor Lindelof, covering as emergency right-back, looked a man adrift, never in the right place at the right time.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin of Everton is challenged by Ashley Young of Manchester United. Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Dominic Calvert-Lewin of Everton is challenged by Ashley Young of Manchester United. Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Faced with such a wobbly back line, Bernard and Richarlison, Everton's wide men, relished their moment, delighting in confusion.

Richarlison took an early shot which David de Gea did well to parry; the ball dropped for Bernard who poked wide. It was a let-off which was not to last long.

That was demonstrated after just 13 minutes, when the relentless one-sided pressure brought its first reward.

Lucas Digne hurled in a long throw to the middle of the United area and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, despite being several inches smaller than his markers, headed on. Richarlison, lurking unattended in the middle of the area, finished with a smart overhead volley.

Manchester United's French forward Anthony Martial (R) holds off Everton's English striker Theo Walcott (L). Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP
Manchester United's French forward Anthony Martial (R) holds off Everton's English striker Theo Walcott (L). Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP

The statistics of that goal did not make comfortable reading for Solskjaer: United have now not kept a clean sheet in 11 consecutive games, their worst sequence in 21 years; and this represented the most goals ever conceded in a Premier League season.

Things were not about to improve. Everton were full of ideas and running. United, on the other hand, had no invention, no craft, no pace.

Lacklustre and disconnected, Paul Pogba was a passenger, Fred hapless and hopeless, Nemanja Matic statuesque. Between them, United ran a full eight kilometres less than their opponents.

With the defence an accident waiting to happen and the three-man attack barely able to counter, it was like Jose Mourinho had never left.

Despite the drift towards their goal, United won their first corner after 27 minutes. It was the falsest of false dawns.

Marcus Rashford's cross was headed out by Digne, Idrissa Gana Gueye broke into the United half, he passed to Bernard, who forwarded the ball to Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelander stepped inside a static Matic and walloped the ball past De Gea from 25 yards out.

United's woeful condition was put into stark perspective by the attempt to retaliate. The ball was passed between Romelu Lukaku and Pogba, who laid it back to Fred. The Brazilian passed directly into touch.

Solskjaer, who had spent much of the first-half coming to the edge of his technical area and making the kind of vague gestures of a man lost in a thickening fog, made two changes at half-time in the attempt to resolve things: Ashley Young replaced Jones and Scott McTominay arrived for Fred.

However, the second half did not demonstrate improvement.

It did not get any better for United and their rapidly diminishing Champions League qualification hopes.

A half-hearted clearance from a corner fell to Digne, so far out he was practically in Stanley Park. He simply stroked the ball through a forest of limbs into the corner of De Gea's goal.

Five minutes later, Sigurdsson nutmegged Lindelof as he sent the substitute Theo Walcott through on the United goal. He compounded visiting misery with a fourth.

United's afternoon was summed up by the fact Jordan Pickford did not have to make a save until the 85th minute, when his side were four goals up.

"They beat us on all the basics," said Solskjaer, struggling to compute his team's woeful capitulation.

"We were beaten on all the ingredients you need."

For whoever still remains in Solskjaer's plans for next season, Thursday nights might await.

After this, it is probably as well. Champions League? You're having a laugh. (© The Daily Telegraph)

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