Manchester United May Be Requesting The Same Menu Next Week If They Maintain This Performance Level
Mason Greenwood ordered his steak overcooked at St Andrews but did not overcook his strike and Luke Shaw needed the carbohydrates as he pounded up and down the turf.
Shaw was not one of the players who explored the St Andrews Links yet his corner-taking hit the pin.
United matchgoers had waited 18 months and six days to walk down the Warwick Road on a Saturday and this was about as enjoyable as they could have hoped it would be. Denis Law, clad in a dapper club blazer, nodded approvingly in the directors’ box.
The players did an impromptu lap pf honour at full-time, a number gifting their shirts to starstruck supporters. It has been too long since players and fans shared a tangible bond and the positivity that is coursing through the club continued.
This was a perfect and imperfect dress rehearsal for United. Their football was penetrative and as slick as the saturated turf, albeit against a leggy and laboured Everton, the polar opposite to lively Leeds next Saturday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer trialled his 4-3-3 successfully without Paul Pogba. Nemanja Matic, the sole specialist defensive midfielder in the squad, was excellent holding the fort and Donny van de Beek advanced from deep whenever United had the ball. Matic and Van de Beek were withdrawn at the pause, the former a near-certainty to govern the midfield against Leeds.
Solskjaer’s assistant, Kieran McKenna, was on Van de Beek’s case constantly to supplement the attack. Even an XI devoid of Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Jadon Sancho, overwhelmed Everton with a fluid front four. Solskjaer literally sat back and enjoyed the performance from the raised dugout, rarely staggering down the steps and into the technical area.
Even with the introduction of Pogba at the interval, United were unable to maintain momentum without Matic. The second-half, laden with substitutions, was a predictable non-event, save for Diogo Dalot’s adroit header in added time, and United were looser with Fred at the base of their midfield triangle. Andros Townsend smacked the crossbar and Demarai Gray spurned a presentable opportunity with an overhit cross.
United played some of their most controlled and comfortable football across three matches against Everton last season and, despite the change of manager, there was no discernible difference from their opponents.
Everton were so lethargic Matic left James Rodriguez, a luxury in a competitive campaign, never mind a Saturday stroll, on the turf. A minority of Evertonians chanted ‘You’re just a fat Spanish waiter’ at Rafael Benitez, the song they subjected him to when he managed the red side.
United were buoyed by the inclusion of senior internationals and Shaw and Harry Maguire continued their left-sided link-up from the European Championship, the full-back crossing for the United captain to nod in from a corner. Victor Lindelof enjoyed a serene return on his first pre-season appearance, lasting an hour.
Some matchgoers have taken time to warm to Maguire but appreciation soared with him in the stands for last season’s run-in. His world-class form for England has vindicated the £80million fee once and for all and Raphael Varane will have relished Maguire’s authority at both ends as he watched MUTV while feeding his daughter in her high-chair.
The line-up suggested Solskjaer already knew the majority of his starters for Leeds and the first-half was confirmation of it. Anthony Martial, playing for the first time in more than four months, had a reasonable run-out that ended with the half-time shrill and the relocation of Greenwood to centre forward suggests that role is not fixed. Greenwood, the beneficiary of a full pre-season and summer rest, will not be starting on the bench next week.
All it took was some committed pressing from Bruno Fernandes to hear supporters bellow his name. They chanted it in anticipation again ahead of a free-kick. Fernandes whipped the ball past Pickford for 3-0 on the 30-minute mark.
Everton’s 1500 following were serenading ‘England’s number one’ and then Jordan Pickford regressed, spilling a firm header from Lucas Digne for Greenwood to ping into an empty net. Pickford’s footwork for Maguire’s header was suspect and he was fortunate not to fumble a routine shot from Fernandes into Martial’s path.
The Scoreboard End soon started to goad a goalkeeper with form for dining off a stellar international tournament. Pickford was hooked for Asmir Begovic at the pause