MANCHESTER, England — Here are three thoughts from a dramatic game at Old Trafford in which Man United earned a 1-1 draw vs. Everton with virtually the last kick of the game.
1. Ibrahimovic rescues point for mediocre Man United
Jose Mourinho used to guarantee home wins. Now he seems to promise home draws. If that suggests a personal decline, it’s also the reason Manchester United’s quest for a top-four finish is in dire straits.
For the ninth time this season and the second in four days, United shared the points with Everton at Old Trafford. It is a ludicrous statistic, but even that was a relief, given that they had trailed for 72 minutes. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return from suspension meant they did not endure a second successive match on their own turf without scoring — but only just.
The Swede converted his 27th goal of the campaign from the penalty spot after substitute Luke Shaw’s shot was handled by a diving Ashley Williams. The Everton centre-back was dismissed, and the Toffees’ chances of just a second win in 24 trips to Old Trafford disappeared.
Meanwhile, Ronald Koeman was agonisingly close to becoming the only manager to win his first three Premier League games at United’s home. Ibrahimovic’s goal probably also ends Everton’s faint hopes of Champions League football, yet the visitors still emerged with more credit. They had the more coherent game plan.
United extended their unbeaten run in the top flight to 20 games while highlighting their problems. A struggle to score has been a constant. Mourinho sent on Paul Pogba at half-time, and the world’s costliest player hit the bar, just as Ander Herrera had done before the break. Ibrahimovic also had an equaliser disallowed, deemed offside when he converted Herrera’s cross. Each was a near-miss.
With Joel Robles joining the list of visiting goalkeepers to excel at Old Trafford this season, it was a familiar tale, too familiar to be dismissed as coincidence or misfortune. This latest draw could yet have consequences.
Mourinho had threatened to prioritise the Europa League by resting his players in the Premier League, and that prospect grows nearer. They are five games in continental competition from a return to the Champions League, yet they’re also four points from the top four and no longer have a game in hand on Manchester City.
2. Mourinho’s naming and shaming backfire
Call it tough love or blame transference or Mourinho’s infamous mind games, but he rang the changes by naming and shaming. The issue was that while such tactics invariably produced results in his Chelsea heyday, suggesting he was a managerial mastermind, United’s problems have actually multiplied.
Having criticised his front four against West Brom, he dropped Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and granted reprieves to Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, but wielding the axe did not transform the team. Nor, indeed, did the availability of Ibrahimovic after a three-game ban. The first half suggested a different side in a different game were producing a similar performance to Saturday’s 0-0 draw. The second brought a chaotic reshuffle.
United were sterile and slow at the start of a scrappy game. If anything, they missed Mkhitaryan’s craft until Mourinho reversed his initial selection and brought the Armenian international on. Playing three central midfielders then left a void in the area behind Ibrahimovic, while Rashford again suggested he is no natural left winger. Lingard thudded a shot into the advertising hoarding but was otherwise ineffective.
So Mourinho brought on Pogba, back after his hamstring injury, in the strangest of reshuffles. Off went Daley Blind, and at first, Lingard seemed to be playing left-back. Then Herrera went to right-back, sacrificed for Pogba’s arrival. The players themselves seemed confused; Ashley Young was seen seemingly appealing for instruction. Then he went off so that Shaw, deemed a long way from the side by Mourinho a few days ago, could come on, and though he helped conjure the leveller, such scrambled tactical thinking explained a scratchy performance.
The tempo went up, but the quality did not. United remained poor. Marouane Fellaini in effect operated as a centre-forward throughout a frantic and fractious second half. United played direct football in a manner that would have brought David Moyes heavy criticism.
Another man who links these clubs was denied a reunion, as pain in both ankles accounted for Wayne Rooney’s absence from the squad. The captain has played 86 minutes the past two months, but it is hard to attribute any setbacks to his absence. He is increasingly insignificant.
3. Everton show merits of experience
Koeman has positioned himself as the great advocate of youth this season. A manager who has had two goal-scoring teenagers and another finding the net two days after his 20th birthday is discovering the merits of experience. The kids weren’t all right in the Merseyside derby. Lessons were learned — and not just because the value of a savvy veteran was apparent in a goal set up by a 32-year-old and scored by a 34-year-old.
Williams, up for a corner, headed on, and Phil Jagielka hooked a shot over his head and through David de Gea’s legs. It was his first Premier League goal in 672 days. If that had the feel of a fluke, Jagielka excelled at his day job. He has looked in decline as a defender at times this season, but one particular challenge on Rashford was superb.
Tuesday’s game at Old Trafford was an occasion for Everton’s dogs of war, and there was more of a battle-hardened look to this team. Koeman reversed course from the rookies he deployed at Anfield last weekend, benching Matthew Pennington and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Shorn of Pennington and reverting to a back four made Everton more compact. The recalled Gareth Barry, their oldest player at 36, was perhaps too slow to be picked against Liverpool but added authority against a one-pace United side.
The reintroduced Kevin Mirallas (29) tested De Gea with a crisp half-volley, leading to the corner that brought the goal. The Belgian conceded a free kick when grabbing Lingard by the throat but overall played with the air of a man with a point to prove. When he went off, Pennington came on for a cameo as Koeman stockpiled defenders to deal with United’s aerial assault.
Everton could detect the difference from Saturday’s derby at either end of the pitch. Romelu Lukaku was fired up and forceful. Robles was wretched at Anfield but proved defiant right up until Ibrahimovic sent him the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.