Man United’s hopes of a twenty-first English Premier League title and the team’s first in the post-Alex Ferguson era took a major hit after an absolutely bonkers 3-3 draw with Everton at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Starting the game three points behind table-topping Manchester City, albeit having played two games more, the Reds needed to win in order to erase the gap, at least temporarily until City’s clash with defending champions Liverpool.
As it has been a recurring theme, the team’s defence marshalled by captain Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, and flanked by Aaron Wan Bisakka and Luke Shaw, let down the front men.
The efforts of Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, and Edinson Cavani, who had all combined efforts to give Manchester United a deserved 2-0 half time lead turned out to be in vain when shaky defending, as well as another poor display by the now constantly error prone David de Gea gifted Everton a stunning comeback.
Everton was able to hold its own against Man United thanks to the goals from Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez. Scott McTominay’s goal to put United ahead was then cancelled out by Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s late equaliser breaking the Red’s hearts.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solsjkær has described the game as a ‘kick in the teeth’, especially considering how well United’s attack played, and has drawn criticism from pundits for claiming his team are not in the title race.
Now, it is traditional for managers to be cautious when evaluating their team’s title chances, if only to avoid piling too much pressure on their players but Solsjkær is not being totally honest. There’s nothing wrong with modesty, but the Norwegian actually has the makings of a good team in his hands.
His team might be a work in progress, but that hasn’t stopped it from recovering from a start that almost reached crisis levels to actually topping the table, a position now relinquished after a run of indifferent results. Still, it has remained within touching distance of City, though the latter do seem like they are in the mood to become runaway leaders.
Pep Guardiola’s men have been unstoppable at times this season, but they aren’t immune to a blip in form, especially in this most strange of seasons.
In the event of that happening, United are on the basis of the quality of their frontline and unmatched squad depth, best placed to take advantage. The arrival of Fernandes in particular galvanised the team, and Cavani has only made the frontline more frightening than it’s ever been in years.
Man United’s draw to Everton has created a tough road ahead for the team’s hopes to regain the title
Though Man United put nine past Southampton in the previous fixture, extenuating circumstances such as the fact that the Saints finished the game with nine men means that United’s attacking play against Everton, at least until the second half capitulation was the best they’ve managed to conjure up this season.
It was a performance full of fluidity and sharpness, and duly put United in the driving seat, a position thrown away by the team’s shaky defence. It’s become a routine occurrence for the team’s forwards to bang in the goals only for the backline to let them in with just as much frequency.
Several explanations have been offered for the less than iron-fisted nature of Man United’s defence. Some have suggested that the none of the center backs, be it the starting pair of Maguire and Lindelof, or the reserves Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe, are good enough to win the title.
A more plausible explanation is that while they might possess the quality, they lack the consistency to make the team totally impenetrable. More worryingly, all four are prone to the odd error, which leads to a lack of stability and confidence.
Another school of thought is that they make so many mistakes because the Man United squad does not have an enforcer to shield them effectively. That would be Nemanja Matic but the Serbian’s lack of pace, a problem even at his peak during his time at Chelsea now exacerbated by the ravages of age.
Whatever the case may be, if Solsjkær does not find a way to make his backline harder to penetrate, be it through adapting his tactics, improving the players he has got or signing reinforcements, the hunt for a first title in the post-Fergie era will go on for longer.
After all, it was the great man himself who proclaimed that, “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles”. As of now, it is ironically crosstown rivals Manchester City, who by the way, are find themselves in the league summit by a miserly defence led by Ruben Dias and John Stones who have the initiative.
Author: Timothy Ainebyoona
Timothy is a dynamic analyst passionate about news and all things sport.