Pulling a Rabbit out of the Hat
Through the first half and parts of the second in Saturday’s game, Everton looked lifeless and shellshocked. Manchester United dominated possession, threatened the Toffees’ goal and appeared to have wrapped the game up in a crimson bow. Then, for about ten minutes early in the second half, Everton sprang to life. First, it was Abdoulaye Doucouré tucking home a spilled Dominic Calvert-Lewin shot that dropped from the gloves of David de Gea; then, it was James Rodríguez burying a dart in the bottom-right-hand corner; and it ended with Calvert-Lewin nudging the ball into the back of United’s net in the 95th minute.
The soccer deities finally smiled upon the sixth-placed Toffees. If skeptical of divine intervention, just consult the stat sheet — Everton scored three goals on three shots. Carlo Ancelotti had Gylfi Sigurdsson on the touchline ready to enter the game before deciding to wait ten minutes, during which span Everton would net their first two goals. The goal-scorer, James, was the player Sigurdsson replaced.
It wouldn’t be an Everton fixture without a mistake in net, although that might be a bit harsh of an indictment for Robin Olsen. Deputizing for the injured Jordan Pickford in Everton’s two most recent matches, the 31-year-old was magnificent against Leeds United but had a rocky outing in Manchester. First, the bad: Olsen let in three goals on five shots on target and slipped on United’s third goal, which nearly cost his team the game. Now, the good: the goalie kept Marcus Rashford from netting on an open shot and can’t really be blamed for United’s two other goals — shoddy defending left Edinson Cavani open at the far post for the opening tally, and the Swede was merely was a spectator for Bruno Fernandes’ magic act on the stroke of halftime. Had Pickford conceded that one though, you just know the hordes would have blamed him.
Whomever Ancelotti decides to roll with upon Pickford’s return, he will have to accept the nightly error his shot-stoppers are prone to. Although, Everton were the beneficiaries of a de Gea mistake themselves on their first goal, so maybe lapses between the sticks were just a symptom of a wildly erratic 3–3 draw.
Whatever Carlo Ancelotti said to his side at halftime had his team emerging from their deep hibernation of the first half. And while Everton managed to salvage a point, why did it take almost 50 minutes to wake up? After a ten-minute frenzy, which produced two goals and tied the game, the Toffees slumped back into their first-half stupor and invited United to waltz to a win. On United’s first goal, Marcus Rashford was allowed to aim for Cavani at the back post, as nobody closed him down, despite the Red Devils having taken advantage of that space a few times already.
Taking nothing away from Fernandes’ peach of a hit, he had time to pick a spot just over Olsen’s head — two goals courtesy of, to a certain degree, lackadaisical defending and marking. And then there were two goals in the span of three minutes and 17 seconds. After ceding possession, there was an unfortunate stumble that saw Everton’s lead slip away. But the final act came in the dying seconds of Saturday’s affair. A result that Everton were fortunate to receive? Yes. Do issues still threaten the team’s top-four aspirations? Even more so.