Football Features

Man Utd’s youngest players show most maturity as Red Devils suffer in victory

By Harry Edwards

Published: 14:43, 9 March 2024

Manchester United were grateful for the magic feet of Alejandro Garnacho as they beat Everton 2-0 in the Premier League.

It’s not often you can say a win by more than one goal wasn’t deserved, but Everton definitely had a case they were worth more than the result they left Old Trafford with.

Although they have been afford a bit more comfort in the relegation battle, the Toffees are still very much in the fight. And it was showing. Playing as if their Premier League future was on the line, Everton started well and were on top, troubling the Man Utd goal.

That was the story for pretty much all of the first half, with Everton having 11 shots to Man Utd’s nine and 29 final third entries to 23. But the only thing that mattered was the scoreline, and Everton went into the break 2-0 down.

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While some blame can and will be blamed on Everton’s defence, it would be an injustice not to focus on the brilliance of Garnacho. If it weren’t for the Argentinian Man Utd would not have worried the Everton defence at all.

In the first half, Garnacho had the most final third passes (eight), the most touches in the opposition box (seven), won the joint-most duels (four) and won the most fouls (three). And two of those fouls, crucially, were penalties.

The first came when Everton were threatening. With the ball on the left of Man Utd’s box, Garnacho was up against James Tarkowski and did the English defender with a neat bit of footwork, cutting in. The swipe from Tarkowski missed Garnacho’s first leg but caught the second, sending the Argentinian over. Bruno Fernandes stepped up and scored the penalty, just about beating Jordan Pickford.

The second penalty was slightly different. This time, Garnacho picked the ball up in the middle of the pitch and drove towards the box, dancing through the numbers on the edge of the area. Teasing the Everton defence and enticing them to have a swipe, it was Ben Godfrey who took the bait, upending Garnacho in the box. This time it was Marcus Rashford who stepped up and scored from the spot, a crucial goal for him at this moment.

The ball over the top of Garnacho was the story of Man Utd’s afternoon and the attacking method in which they had the most success. Garnacho had the beating of Everton’s defence all day, and was an overhit pass from Fernandes away from getting the goal his game deserved.

He ended the match with three shots, 10 touches in the opposition box, two chances created, two successful dribbles, five duels won and 12 passes in the final third.

“I think today Garnacho was the one who was going to make things happen, I think he was certainly the best player on the pitch,” Wayne Rooney told TNT Sports.

Rio Ferdinand added: “I don’t think any of the players really expected him at the beginning of the season to be the player he is now, in terms of the way he’s impacting games from the start. I think they all expected him to be an impact player off the bench.

“But he’s taken the bull by the horns. And he’s saying ‘Give me that shirt, I’ve got the shirt and I’m keeping it.’

“He’s doing all he can now to be one of the main goal threats in this team.”

Also coming out of the game looking strong was Kobbie Mainoo, despite playing out of his comfort zone. Mainoo has caught a lot of eyes this season, and rightfully so, being one of the standout names in what has been an underwhelming campaign.

It is mainly playing in the pivot that Mainoo has thrived, picking up the slack that others have left. However, with Casemiro back in the team, Mainoo was pushed slightly further forward. It’s not a role that plays to Mainoo’s strengths, but he applied pressure when required and found himself in dangerous areas, helping Man Utd further up the pitch.

Mainoo has previously been compared to Clarence Seedorf by Ferdinand, who said last month: “I’m not saying he’s of the same ability, or that he’s that player yet, but he gives me vibes of Clarence Seedorf. The way he manoeuvres in tight situations and the way he manipulates this ball and uses his body at times.”

And now he has been compared to former Man Utd midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger as he was breaking through in football.

“I think he’s been incredible for such a young age, and the maturity he shows,” Rooney told TNT Sports.

“When you see young players coming into any first team, they’re normally a bit raw and they’re normally playing off the cuff. He reminds me of a young Bastian Schweinsteiger in how he plays.

“He entices players in, he always seems to make the right decisions. I think he’s got a real bright future.”

Rio Ferdinand: “I enjoy watching him. We all talk about young players, I think all of us, our eyes are always open and looking for the next young players. He’s a young player, again, I think it’s that calmness. We can talk about ability, the ability is there for a lot of young players in their makeup. But it’s what up here [mental strength], and he seems to have that calmness and that assuredness as a young player that is beyond his years.”