In a tight afternoon of football, Manchester United and Everton played out a 1-1 draw.
Ole’s at the wheel but Everton have Big Dunc Energy. The result was a predictable stalemate, but what did we learn?
1. Greenwood has what Man Utd need
Marcus Rashford can produce amazing finishes, wonderfully arrowed things that swerve and dip and deceive keepers with power and movement. Anthony Martial can produce special finishes, instinctive early efforts that fly off his feet with supreme technique and deceive goalkeepers. The Frenchman can also pop up and bag the kind of ugly tap-ins all good strikers need to produce.
Both men are great strikers, but neither looks a truly next-level finisher. Neither man has the dead-eyed accuracy and nerveless nature where you’re actually surprised when they miss a chance. Mason Greenwood, on the other hand, has that very much. The teenager came off the bench today having bagged a brace midweek against AZ and showed why he has what Man Utd need.
7 – Mason Greenwood has scored seven goals for @ManUtd in all competitions this season; among teenagers for clubs in the big-five European leagues, only Jadon Sancho (11) and Gabriel Martinelli (8) have more in 2019-20. Talent. #MUNEVE pic.twitter.com/bws1SQnM56
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 15, 2019
All teams need consistent goalscorers, ruthless finishers. But a team like Man Utd who has such trouble breaking down packed defences is absolutely desperate for the kind of player Greenwood is. The teenager showed that today with his finish, where he took one touch and picked out the near-post with pin-point precision from the edge of the box. This kid is so supremely special.
2. ‘Big Dunc Energy’ is real
Everton were terrible, but under Duncan Ferguson they rallied immensely against Chelsea. But that was at home and they were the beneficiary of some forgiving refereeing. Could they replicate that away from home? That was the test, and at Old Trafford they passed it emphatically.
Not only did they manage to compete with Man Utd without hacking them to bits (although Tom Davies was lucky to avoid a second yellow) they were ferociously competitive despite a stomach bug destroying their squad, leaving them with only one recognised midfielder (the aforementioned Davies). They had Mason Holgate in midfield and the youth product delivered for his boss.
Yes, Everton were lucky with the goal they picked up. But at every turn they resisted a Man Utd siege. They never let the Stretford End impact lift Man Utd because every time things started getting away from them they pulled together and shut down attacks. Obviously Ferguson isn’t perfect, and subbing Moise Kean only 18 minutes after bringing him on “just to waste some time” was shocking, but for the most part the energy and drive produced by the caretaker coach is very, very real.
3. Right in the face!
Everton’s opening goal didn’t come against the run of play. In fact for the 10 minutes leading up to it the Toffees were building pressure by forcing Man Utd back towards their own goal and slowly building momentum. However when the goal did come it was a menagerie of good fortune that reflected, chiefly, how poor the Premier League‘s implementation of VAR is.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka for Man Utd against Everton:
✅ Most tackles (7/7)
✅ Most take-ons (3/4)
✅ Joint-most interceptions (2)
No player dribbled past him today. ? pic.twitter.com/WXsAIOheNc
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 15, 2019
Leighton Baines sent a devilish corner in and David de Gea attacked the ball with all the enthusiasm of Eeyore. The Spanish goalkeeper was weak in his attempts to clear the ball but, at the same time, the onrushing Dominic Calvert-Lewin quite clearly slams an arm over his shoulder and into his face. It was a foul, clear as day.
But alright, the referee missed it. So here’s where VAR comes in and saves the day, right? Wrong. Somehow VAR looked at the incident and decided that there had been “normal contact” between Calvert-Lewin and De Gea. That is absurd and once again shows that the absurdly high bar for VAR overturning a referee’s decision the Premier League holds to often results in bad decisions being made.
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4. 4,000 and counting
On the 23rd October, 1937; Man Utd beat Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 at Old Trafford. That match featured no graduates of the Man Utd academy, consisting entirely of players signed by the club. That was the last time Man Utd’s academy went unrepresented in a senior matchday squad. No, seriously. For 4,000 games since there has always been at least one graduate involved somewhere.
Today against Everton, Man Utd lined up with Scott McTominay, Jesse Lingard and Rashford on the pitch. Meanwhile, Axel Tuanzebe, Brandon Williams and Greenwood were on the bench (with Greenwood coming on and scoring). For six of 18 players to be from the youth academy is impressive, and given how young they are and how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is happy to trust other graduates to fill spots in the event of an injury, the likelihood of this streak pushing on well past 4,000 is extremely high.
5. Man Utd need a No. 10 more than anything else
Man Utd are going to be linked with a number of positions in January because there is so much work needed. Striker, defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder, right-wing… but nothing is more important for Man Utdd than a No. 10; bar none. The presence of Fred (and, eventually, Paul Pogba) allows them to semi-function without a true no. 6 because of their passing skill.
The presence of Daniel James and Greenwood means they can get by without a striker and even a right-winger. Sure, a specialist winger would be very useful in breaking opponents down but it’s not a burning need given James and Greenwood can both play there. And then Greenwood can also play superbly in attack and is a natural finisher, so they can make do until the summer without a striker.
Mason Greenwood's two Premier League goals for Man Utd:
⚽️ 77': Off the bench vs. Sheffield Utd.
⚽️ 77': Off the bench vs. Everton
He's Solskjaer's Solskjaer. ? pic.twitter.com/wEamAaLulM
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 15, 2019
But a No. 10? A creative attacking midfielder? Man Utd have no one who can do that. Lingard is a counter-pressing dynamo who excels in big games but isn’t the best at unlocking defences with genius passes (evidenced today by his terrible non-performance). And whilst Juan Mata used to be able to play those killer balls his ability to do so has been impacted by age and a lack of playing time.
He simply isn’t consistent (evidenced today by him picking the wrong pass in a crucial stoppage time attack, something he’d never have done two years ago). Man Utd have no one else to create great chances and break teams down, and they need one if they’re to fulfil their season’s ambitions.