A topsy-turvy contest ended with spoils shared, Manchester United appearing to have won it before Everton’s dramatic late equaliser. Dominic Calvert-Lewin bundled home to make it 3-3 in injury time, United having been 2-0 up at the interval. It means Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side drop two points and if leaders Manchester City can win at Liverpool on Sunday they will be five ahead with a game in hand.
Once more United’s defence was to blame; all three Everton goals could have been avoided. The visitors’ late strike crystallised what is a deep-lying fault line in the rearguard. Lucas Digne’s free-kick was not dealt with by the hapless David de Gea or the equally guilty Harry Maguire, who as captain should have taken responsibility. Instead the ball was allowed to go to Calvert-Lewin and he scored.
But wherever the blame lay, sadly once again the night ended with a United player being racially abused on social media, this time Axel Tuanzebe, who had given away the free-kick. Greater Manchester police were already investigating abuse he received, along with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, after last month’s defeat by Sheffield United.
“We should have been out of sight really,” said Solskjær. “I wouldn’t blame anyone on the goals but we know we could have done better as a team on all of them . The last kick of the ball makes us go home really disappointed, we have lost two points on a long thump upfield which we should have defended. We should have played the last minutes better – we had to get the ball in the corner and see it out. We need to stop conceding easy goals [but] we have got better as a team and we will see where we end up.”
Mason Greenwood was a major plus for United. The teenager has struggled to emulate last season’s post-lockdown form but the way the forward performed throughout impressed. One run along the right that had him skating through the Everton rearguard, before letting fly, impressed. This was wide yet United were soon ahead with an accomplished strike: Bruno Fernandes fed Rashford on the right and, spying Edinson Cavani’s clever movement, landed a cross on the striker’s head. He did not miss.
If the Uruguayan’s arrival on a free transfer is the bargain of the season, his finish had his team in cruise control. Either they tapped the ball about with Greenwood, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka to the fore or they hemmed Everton in, squeezing the ball and spirit from them.
Fernandes twice might have been involved in a second. First a loose clearance fell to the playmaker but his effort was blocked. Then a free-kick he fired into Robin Olsen’s near post was not anticipated by a teammate. But the half ended with Paul Pogba limping off, Fred replacing him.
Solskjær said: “Paul has a muscle injury – his thigh, so we need to give him a scan [on Sunday] – see how serious it is.”
His exit was followed by a sublime Fernandes finish. Collecting the ball 20 yards out to the right, the Portuguese fashioned the sweetest of strikes over Olsen and in.
For United the order for the second half was to keep on pushing on. They began this way but soon faltered. A sharp move had Cavani finding the on-rushing Shaw whose instant effort was parried away by Olsen.
This may have been the killer instinct Solskjær speaks of his team requiring to be true title challengers but it was absent when Everton levelled the contest with two quick goals.
The first was a move in which Tom Davies fed Calvert-Lewin who slipped past a slumbering Maguire. The centre-forward’s ball in was pushed – too weakly – by De Gea into Abdoulaye Doucouré’s feet and he made no mistake. United had barely cleared their senses when Doucouré turned creator. Once more they were culpable for slack concentration, allowing the midfielder to find James Rodríguez who beat De Gea with aplomb. The game was well and truly back on.
A concerned Solskjær patrolled his technical area as United tried to recover: this was a test of their championship credentials. Could they forget the setbacks and go once more? Rashford spurned a close-range chance when put in by Cavani in what was a concerning augury.
It proved – seemingly – disingenuous. Because Olsen committed a howler akin to De Gea’s. Shaw’s free-kick in was headed by Scott McTominay and though the ball veered from Everton’s goalkeeper he was leaden-footed and United thought they had secured the winner.
Towards the close Rashford should have secured a fourth – a miss that proved extremely costly for his team. Carlo Ancelotti, Everton’s manager, said: “I am really proud. The spirit is really good.”