Another Manchester United game, another reprieve through VAR. After close calls went their way at Chelsea and at home to Watford, this one was perhaps the most contentious of all.
In added time here at a fractious Goodison Park, Everton had just been denied a winning goal by a superb save by David De Gea. But when Dominic Calvert-Lewin drove in another low shot, the ball took a deflection off United defender Harry Maguire and rolled in to the goal past a wrong-footed goalkeeper De Gea.
Everton 2 Manchester United 1. The only problem was that Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson – the player originally denied by De Gea – had not recovered his footing and was still sitting on the six-yard line in an offside position as the shot arrived. He actually had to lift his legs up to allow the ball to pass by.
This immediately gave rise to two arguments.
The first was that De Gea was wrong-footed and would not have stopped the ball. The second was that a player sitting in front of the goalkeeper so close to goal simply had to be interfering with play.
In the end, after a short delay, the VAR officials disallowed the goal. It felt right, even though Everton felt they had been wronged. Manager Carlo Ancoletti’s complaints were so prolonged at full-time that he was shown a red card by referee Chris Kavanagh. The loss of two points will have hurt the Italian more, no doubt.
It was a rather crazy finish to a compelling game. In the first half, both goalkeepers made mistakes – De Gea to give Everton the lead in only the 2nd minute and Jordan Pickford to allow Bruno Fernandes to equalise almost half an hour later.
Pickford was playing in front of the watching England manager Gareth Southgate so his timing was poor. That said, he did make a great save from United substitute Odion Ighalo moments before all the fuss at the other end in injury time.
On the whole, Everton shaded the contest. United recovered from the early setback well to play positively and create chances. But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team lost their way in the second half and as such will be happy with the fact they didn’t lose.
De Gea’s early error was extraordinary. Pickford’s half an hour later was less of a surprise.
Certainly there seemed little danger to the United goalkeeper when the ball was played back to him in just the second minute. The Spaniard had time to choose his clearance and on reflection that was the problem.
De Gea simply took too long and by the time he went to clear upfield Calvert-Lewin was on to him and the rebound from the young striker’s raised foot took the ball in to the net with some conviction.
De Gea looked bemused and little wonder. It is highly unlikely such a thing has happened to him before and after this he will doubtless ensure it doesn’t happen again. Next time, he will have to be quicker.
United, in decent form, were rattled but only briefly. Within two minutes a long pass from deep found Calvert-Lewin sprinting down the inside left channel and De Gea was required to push his low shot round the post for a corner.
De Gea’s defenders dealt with that immediate threat and after that United settled down. Everton continued to carry a threat when they moved forwards. There seemed to be a huge gap at times between United central defenders Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof and the pace of Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison threatened to take them right through it on occasion.
On the whole, though, it was United who went on to dictate the tempo of the rest of the half and it was a surprise they didn’t score before they did.
Certainly with Fernandes in the team, United seem to have a little more structure and balance. They have a focal point from which to play their football in the final third.
It was the Portuguese who was eventually to equalise but before that Nemanja Matic twice came close, both times from distance. His first shot was taken first time from a Fred pull-back in the seventh minute and struck the top of the bar.
Then, five minutes later, Aaron Wan-Bissaka robbed Leighton Baines down the right and when then ball was funnelled back to Matic 25 yards out he brought a sharp low save from Pickford with a raking, low shot.
United were progressive in the middle section of the half and young Mason Greenwood could also have scored, diverting a Fred cross over with a flick header in the 17th minute.
Despite their lead, it felt as though Everton needed a little more tempo and perhaps more aggression. United were impressive in the middle of the field but were too often under only minimal pressure.
Still, the goal came as a shock. Fernandes has a decent shot on him and the one he got off under no pressure on the half hour was a nice strike, low to Pickford’s right from 25 yards. The ball was swerving, too, but the that only took it back towards Pickford and the goalkeeper should simply have saved it. Instead the England goalkeeper seemed to dive over the top of it and as a result United were back on terms.
Briefly and without warning the temperature of the game rose. Calvert-Lewin was late on Luke Shaw and a melee followed. Both were booked. Then, almost immediately, Tom Davies and Maguire were too. Then, just before half-time, Richarlison headed a half-chance wide on the six-yard line. It was the best chance Everton had fashioned since taking the lead.
More progress was to come in the first half of the second period, though. Everton were much improved and the better side.
Andre Gomes, fit again after that awful autumn ankle break here against Tottenham, was increasingly influential, breaking up some of United’s midfield possession and using the ball with intelligence.
But it was Sigurdsson who came closest with a right-footed free-kick that curled away from a static De Gea and struck the goalkeeper’s right hand post. Richarlison, on the follow-up, couldn’t direct his shot on target.
That incident came in the 56th minute for a time. Everton enjoyed a long spell of possession and territory and looked dangerous, particularly when Calvert-Lewin was played in to space.
One run down the left from the English forward drew a save from De Gea at his near post while handball awarded against United midfielder Fred gave Sigurdsson another free-kick chance that led to a shot in to the wall.
With 15 minutes left it was United who were left to play on the break. Solskjaer’s team are good at it, mind, and Everton would have been mindful of that threat when Juan Mata and Ighalo were introduced late in the day. Indeed Fernandes led a rapid breakout from an Everton corner only for Leighton Baines to clear his ball to the near post athletically and necessarily.
Everton forced a number of corners during the second half but were not generally effective with them. One, with 14 minutes left, was flicked on dangerously by Mason
Holgate was cleared from almost under his own crossbar by a United shirt.
In the game’s death throes, though, it was Pickford who stood tall when necessary. His first save from Fernandes was decent as the United playmaker broke through down the left. His second, with his foot from Ighalo, was excellent. It saved Everton from defeat and unwittingly set the scene for the drama and controversy to come.