Just when you think Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is stepping closer to the brink of being shuffled out of the exit at Manchester United, he secures a vital win. And just when it looks like the club are sleepwalking into another calamity, Bruno Fernandes dusts off his cape and redirects the command of the game the Old Trafford side’s way.
For all the question marks over how good a manager Solskjaer actually is, there can be no denying that he is a fine magician. His trick of getting results when he needs it most has been the most consistent marker of his tenure. There can be no denying, either, that a lot of that is owed to the Portugal international – United’s most decisive, driven and transformative player since signing from Sporting CP in January.
At Goodison Park early on Saturday afternoon, all the pressure was on Solskjaer. Failure to beat Carlo Ancelotti’s men would’ve left United with their lowest points tally after seven matches of a top-flight season since 1989/90. It has long been an open secret that enquiries have been made over Mauricio Pochettino’s interest in taking charge of the club should the opportunity arise.
And for all the insistence that the hierarchy are fully behind the Norwegian, it would be remiss of United not to do those kind of checks. Solskjaer badly needed a victory on Merseyside after the surrender to Arsenal, the shambles in Istanbul and the team stuck 15th in the table. Triumph didn’t look likely in the opening 20 minutes. “Every game lives its own life, and the first goal is massive, so hopefully today we can start bright,” Solskjaer had said pre-match.
Everton’s ease in scoring the opener ripped up that script. Jordan Pickford’s long goal kick was flicked on by Dominic Calvert-Lewin who didn’t need much effort to oust Victor Lindelof in the air. Bernard picked up the ball, cut inside Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and arrowed a shot that beat David De Gea at his near post. It was 19 minutes in and it was another collective defensive failure from United. But then, as so often is the case, Bruno happened.
The visitors picked up the pace after conceding and worked some lovely passing triangles before Juan Mata fed Luke Shaw. The full-back delivered a superb cross that Bruno emphatically headed in the top right from the place he loves – the spot. A finish the build-up of 20 passes deserved. That response took just six minutes and after another seven, United were ahead.
Fred supplied Marcus Rashford with a diagonal ball and the striker slipped it to Bruno. The talisman’s clever chip evaded the head of Rashford, went off the post and in. Everton, who had started the season so impressively but have taken just one point from the last nine available, tried to up the ante after the break. There were no more goals, but VAR incidents.
Pickford, who escaped being penalised for his reckless challenge on Virgil van Dijk last month, kicked Harry Maguire along with Michael Keane. The United defender had pushed the goalkeeper as he jumped to claim the ball, which he then dropped. The contact was minimal, but the penalty was unlikely to be given after that especially since only three subjective spot-kicks (not handball) have been awarded via video review in 71 games.
Maguire then rashly went through Lucas Digne, but got a toe to the ball. The flag had already gone up for offside earlier in the move. There was more edge and hard tackles than moments of quality as the match wore on, but Edinson Cavani opened his United account at the death with a fine finish.
Fernandes again played a pivotal role as he slipped the substitute in to deceive Pickford at the near post. And so Solskjaer breathes a sigh of relief. Ancelotti, meanwhile, has lost three league games in a row for the first time since November 2006 with AC Milan.