Manchester United combined toothless attacking play with some shocking defending to present Everton with three goals and suffer an almost identical reverse to that which preceded the departure of David Moyes this time last year.
United could scarcely have got off to a worse start, conceding a first in much the same circumstances as they leaked those goals at Goodison last season. Following early Reds pressure, United had bodies upfield for a corner and Everton broke quickly, the ball finding its way to the impressive McCarthy, who surged into the United area and comfortably stroked the ball under the advancing De Gea.
Other than that, United dominated the early stages without carving out any more than a few half chances, such as a Smalling header straight at Tim Howard and a wildly high shot from Young. There was a lack of incisive movement up front, especially from Rooney, who so rarely plays well against his former side, and Young, who looked less convincing than at any time this season. Fellaini was well-marshalled for the second game running and, following an early yellow card, too often looked a passenger in the middle of the park. The absence of Carrick was again glaring. In the face of a hard-working Everton midfield, Blind was finding it difficult to screen the defence against Everton’s breaks and produce any meaningful forward distribution.
Although those breaks were few and far between, they always carried a threat, such as when Coleman got clear on the right and Smalling had to be smart to intercept his cross for Lukaku. That led to a series of corners that allowed Everton to increase their lead, Stones rising above Fellaini to power a header past De Gea. It gave the home side a two goal lead at half-time that, on the balance of play, they scarcely deserved, but they had certainly been the more effective side in terms of making the most of what play they had.
Fellaini was understandably substituted at half-time as Falcao entered the fray up front. United were on the front foot straight away with Rooney having a shot blocked at close range by Howard. Apart from that, however, it was largely much of the same from United: a lot of possession but the build-up play too often pedestrian and punctuated by breaks from Everton.
With twenty minutes remaining, Falcao got his head to a long cross only to see his looping header easily dealt with by Howard. For a short spell, it looked as if that might be the beginning of a concerted late charge from United, but such optimism was quickly put to bed as schoolboy defending led to Everton’s third goal. With Lukaku clearly in an offside position, the United defenders stopped playing only for Lukaku to leave the ball for the advancing Mirallas to pick up after surging through from a deeper position. Had United’s defenders had their shorts round their ankles, they could hardly have looked more embarrassed. He calmly stroked the ball past De Gea to leave red faces in the United back line and a situation that was now irretrievable. Indeed, only a fine save from De Gea prevented Mirallas from making it four just five minutes from time.
Both result and performance offered cautionary reminders to Reds fans that an anticipated late surge for a top three place is now surely out of the question and that maximum points from the next two games are surely essential to prevent any nervous looking over the shoulder in the race to secure fourth. We also desperately need a fit Michael Carrick and, next season, some high quality cover in that position.