In a shambolic afternoon of football, Everton tuned up Manchester United 4-0.
The loss was United’s fifth-straight away defeat, something they had never done in the past 33 years. Who were the winners and losers?
There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not Richarlison is a striker or a wing-forward but one thing should now be clear: he’s a bloody good footballer. The Brazilian signed from Watford for a potential £50m (only £35m was guaranteed) and he has responded well.
In his first full season at Goodison Park, Richarlison has 14 goals in 33 games, a thoroughly respectable total for a club finding their way in the top half of the table. That 14th goal came today at Goodison when he opened the scoring, capitalising on Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s unintentional knock-on he unleashed an acrobatic volley high into the roof of the net, putting United on a back-foot from which they would never be able to emerge. The rest of Richarlison’s display was bright too, in fact there’s so much potential in this 21-year-old that Everton will almost surely turn a profit on him should they decide to sell.
Loser: David de Gea
So, which top club has David de Gea agreed to sign for in the past week? Hmm? There’s not been any reports but there’s also no other logical reason why a goalkeeper who is comfortably one of the world’s top 5 has played the last week of football like a hungover uncle.
De Gea let Leo Messi slip a dribbler underneath him in the Camp Nou, which was pretty terrible but at least one could have made an excuse that he wasn’t expecting such a poor shot from Messi and it threw it off. But today when Gylfi Sigurdsson let fly from 25 yards out, he knew what was coming, he had a clear sight-line and could see it all the way, and he… did… nothing?
Well, he did dive, but very late and in slow-motion. It was a quite incredible mistake. And although Lucas Digne’s ripper wasn’t savable, the way De Gea approached Theo Walcott and “tried” to stop the Englishman’s effort was appallingly weak. That goal was the first goal in the last six that he actually conceded from inside the box. That’s right: all three of Barcelona’s goals and the first three of Everton’s today were outside of the box. He looks absolutely shot, which is ironic because he can’t seem to handle them.
Winner: Kurt Zouma
Kurt Zouma was, at just 20 years of age, a key part of Chelsea’s defence as they won the Premier League under José Mourinho. Zouma was a colossal figure with so much potential to grow that it was such a shame to see a cruciate injury leave him out in the cold with Antonio Conte. The Italian never warmed to Zouma even when he was fit again so he was loaned out to Stoke.
With all due respect to Stoke, that was a considerably lower level than his talent demands. But it facilitated him playing a lot and working his way back to full health after the injury. This season he’s been on loan at Everton but again, with all due respect, that is a level considerably lower than his talent. Zouma is potentially world-class and is still just 24 years old.
Zouma was supreme against United today, making light work of their genuinely impressive front-line. Whether he finally gets another chance at Stamford Bridge next season, or whether some top club is smart enough to take a risk on him (or even if Everton can convince him to return and be the bedrock of their defence) there is no doubt that Zouma will grow from strength-to-strength.
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Loser: Nemanja Matic
Scott McTominay can do everything Nemanja Matic does (be tall and tackle people) as well as oh so much more. He has already surpassed Matic as a player and the matches against PSG and Barcelona have proven that. Now, he was left on the bench today because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is obviously thinking about the matches against Manchester City and Chelsea – but this match proved that Solskjaer was just going to have to ride the young Scot because Matic offers such a massive downgrade. He was embarrassing in terms of trying to stop Gylfi Sigurdsson on his goal, giving the Icelander an ocean of space to shoot into. That was the lowlight of the Serb’s awful display. He needs to go.
Winner: Lucas Digne
When Lucas Digne joined Barcelona, it was a dream come true. After failing a PSG here was an even bigger club for him to strut his stuff with. And then… he didn’t. It’s not that he was bad, he just barely played. And as a result lost his place in the French national team set-up. Had Digne been a regular player at Barcelona it’s highly likely that he would have been playing for France when they won the World Cup.
But now a move to Everton has given him the most spectacular platform possible to show his class, to prove that failing at Barcelona was down to Luis Enrique’s weird preference, not his deficiencies as a player. Digne has been great for Everton and dominated Manchester United this afternoon at Goodison, rampaging up and down the touch-line and scoring his side’s third goal with a spectacular half-volley from a broken set-piece. He had to go off later, and Everton will be praying it’s nothing serious because he is just crucial to them.
Loser: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had a transformative effect on Manchester United and he’s definitely a reasonably good fit for the job (as long as he retains his coaching staff), but he’s struggling right now. And whilst it’d be easy to blame the players, either for not expressing their talent enough (David De Gea, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial) or simply not being good enough (Nemanja Matic, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones) the manager does have to catch some heat, with one example being particularly egregious.
Solskjaer’s best defender by a million miles has been Victor Lindelof. The Swede has been so impressive that if he were to start next season no one would be really disappointed. But Solskjaer today started him at right-back… Just think about that. Your best centre-back. Arguably your only good centre-back, and you move him to right-back? For who, Jones and Smalling? Two misfits who have been stinking out the United squad for years now? Come on! Just because you’re at the wheel doesn’t mean you have to drive the damn thing into a ditch.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s appointment as manager in 1986, Man Utd had never lost five consecutive away games across all competitions…
Arsenal 2-0 MUFC
Wolves 2-1 MUFC
Wolves 2-1 MUFC
Barcelona 3-0 MUFC
Everton 4-0 MUFC
Now they have. pic.twitter.com/6bfrdLcbyQ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 21, 2019
Loser: Ed Woodward
In terms of hierarchies of blame, the chief culprit for the United’s woeful nonsense (after the ownership of the Glazer family) should be Ed Woodward. United’s chief executive whose superpower seems to be to conjure money for nothing with sponsorship deals that are easily derided but are absolutely invaluable in terms of cash flow.
But here’s the thing: being good with money doesn’t make you good with money in football. Woodward has no idea how to scout talent and his transfer plans seem to be either chasing world-famous stars or knicking transfer targets off Manchester City. It’s genuinely shambolic to see how United’s squad is constructed. Despite spending hundreds of millions of pounds, United are still starting buffoons who weren’t good enough back in 2013 when Sir Alex Ferguson left and have only gotten more underwhelming since then.
United need at least four players this summer, probably more like five or six. But if you’re United, would you trust Woodward to bring the right ones in? He’s more likely to blow his budget on famous forwards like Gareth Bale. Woodward is a disaster of a sporting director and United would need peak Sir Alex Ferguson to even have a hope of getting a consistent tune out of this ramshackle squad. With Solskjaer they had three great months but now the stuff has hit the fan and United are an absolute mess again. Over to you, Ed!