United reach the League Cup semi-final as they deliver a late sucker punch to resilient Everton
There was a tense atmosphere at Goodison Park where a limited number of fans were allowed to spectate the clash between these two former giants, as both clubs seemed hungry for a trophy to fuel their individual renaissances.
Spirits would certainly have been high for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men prior to kick-off, with the 6-2 drubbing of Leeds still fresh in their minds. Any underestimation of Everton’s quality however would have been woeful misjudged, especially given their recent resurgence in form under veteran manager Carlo Ancelotti.
To add to the many causes for caution, Solskjaer laid out a much-changed starting eleven that bore little resemblance to the team that had so recently dished out a thumping in the Premier League.
In a testament to the depth of United’s squad, the lineup appeared strong despite nine total changes. Perhaps most notable were the inclusions of Eric Bailly and Donny Van De Beek, both of whom have missed out on plenty of game-time this season – albeit for diversely differing reasons.
Despite the unfamiliar sense of the team, United flew out on the front foot on Wednesday evening.
First, there was some fine work from Mason Greenwood that eventually saw the ball find its way to Van De Beek in a crowded box, where a fine block prevented any harm coming Robin Olsen’s net.
Soon Edinson Cavani was to get his first chance of the game, as a floated ball by Alex Telles was met with a well-executed volley by the Uruguayan at the far post – sadly, the angle proved too tight to cause any real danger.
Having demonstrated his excellent footwork earlier, it was then time for Greenwood to show off his heading ability after yet another Telles whip. Meeting a quick cross with a glancing header, the 19 year-old was to be disappointed as the ball rolled agonisingly past the far post.
Such a flurry of chances in a short space of time left United bereft of anything to show for their good work, and before they could capitalise on their fast start, Everton began to grow into the game.
As they rose to the challenge of dealing with United’s quality, chances became sparse for both sides but testament to their improvement, the last chance of the first half fell to the hosts.
A brave foray forward against his boyhood club saw Michael Keane earn Everton a free-kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the United box, and the set-piece specialist Gylfi Sigurdsson was more than happy to take up the chance.
The Icelandic danger-man swerved a strong effort towards the United goal, but Dean Henderson was acrobatically equal to the shot that just lacked the curl to reach the corner of the young Englishman’s net.
Half-time: Everton 0 – 0 Manchester United
The first half had been drawn to a close by the two sides matching each other in quality, and the tone carried itself through into the second.
The two sides nullified the threat of the other so well that there were few genuine chances as the clock ticked on, and the next event of note saw an increase in temper rather than one of the scoreline.
In what could have only been a flaring of South American tensions, an off-the-ball incident between Cavani and Yerry Mina left the towering Colombian defender writhing on the floor. With no VAR in use in the League Cup however, no action was taken for what seemed to be a grasp of Mina’s jaw.
The referee was soon left with yet another difficult deliberation, as Richarlison fell awkwardly after finding himself caught between the challenges of Fernandes and Bailly. The Brazilian, who has been the catalyst for so many of Everton’s best performances this season, had to leave the pitch injured while Fernandes received a yellow card.
With nerves rising and incidents marring the match, Solskjaer sent on the pair of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in an attempt to increase his team’s attacking tempo.
The substitutes were soon to reward their manager, and it was Martial who was to provide the assist for the breakthrough – though truly, it was Cavani who deserves the plaudits. In a real demonstration of his quality, the former-PSG man bent a left-footed effort from the edge of the box that delightfully slotted past Olsen into the bottom corner.
United now found themselves holding the lead with only a handful of minutes left on the clock, and Everton had no option but to send ten men forward with every chance they saw.
Failing to break United’s defensive block, they were ultimately exposed by United’s trademark counter-attacks. With the last kick of the game, Martial slotted home from Rashford’s pass to secure a place in the League Cup semi-final.
After failing to take the early advantage, United were made to push hard for a victory at Goodison Park. The overriding sense upon the final whistle was one of belief in the strength of the full squad of Manchester United, which is demonstrating its value now more than ever, as we enter the hectic winter period of the footballing calendar.
Yet another Manchester derby beckons in the League Cup semi-final, and many will be cautiously optimistic as the red half of Manchester continue to see the balance of power shift in their favour.
Full time: Everton 0 – 2 Manchester United
Man of the Match: Edinson Cavani