5 Things We Learned: Everton 1-1 Manchester United


1) Trouble Killing Games

It is becoming a recurring trend this season that we’ve been left baffled as to how we haven’t won a football match. Sunday wasn’t on the same level as Stoke, Burnley or Arsenal, but it still was a game that we should have put to bed.

We hired a ruthless manager in Mourinho in order to make a pretty timid bunch into winners. He probably underestimated the enormity of this particular task when he gave a pretty cock certain opening press conference in July. His tone has piped down a notch or two in each interview since.

It’s well documented how big a job he has on his hands, but changing the overall mentality is the biggest issue. The signings over the past 5 or 6 seasons generally haven’t been Manchester United standard. By Manchester United standard I refer more to character rather than quality. Sir Alex Ferguson always placed a huge amount on a player’s character when deciding on signing them or not and I have no doubt he’d have passed on signing the likes of Depay, Rojo and Schneiderlin.

The latter trio aren’t featuring much, Rojo aside by default, but it’s not the point. The more bad/weak seeds you fill a group with, the more the overall group adopts that mentality. For me, a number of players need getting rid of and that should hopefully address the mentality issue which I feel is preventing us from closing these games out.

2) Jones Rejuvenated

We all know the Sir Alex Ferguson quote on Phil Jones a few years back. We also all know how little Phil Jones has done since. Injuries have been an obvious issue – with Jones’ luck being on a par with his facial expressions. However, perhaps he’s also lacked a strong mentor. Mourinho shares quite a lot of characteristic traits to Ferguson and perhaps his management style is bringing out the best in Jones.

Jones’ style always has been quite abrasive. He’s not the Rolls-Royce Rio Ferdinand style defender by any means. What he is though reflects both Ferguson and Mourinho to an extent. Hard work, attitude and pure will to win at any cost are three things I’d tag the trio under.

Jones was United’s best performer on Sunday. Over the past few games he’s been one of our best 2-3 players. Mourinho’s sides are generally quite injury free which should hopefully help him get a consistent run in the side, which has been a rarity the past 3 seasons. With luck on that front he may yet get on some sort of a nearby track to the one Ferguson’s prophecy had him on.

3) Working Harder

It has taken a while but we are now starting to look like a side who has bought into its manager’s philosophy (yes I’ve used the word philosophy outside an LVG discussion). We finally look to also have a settled system and have identified what suits each player best – particularly our world record signing.

He may not have been effective on Sunday in an attacking sense, but that was Paul Pogba’s best defensive shift and his most hard working showing. He seems to now have an understanding of his role and his defensive duties, whereas before he played a bit like a headless chicken.

Another summer signing, Mr Ibrahimovic, also put in a far improved ‘defensive’ shift in his work off the ball and putting pressure on Everton defender’s in possession.

Our running stats – or lack of, have been well documented, but more important than metres run is actually understanding your role in defending and attacking. We finally seem to be getting there on that front.

4) Reckless

I was going to entitle this point as ‘Reckless Rojo’ mostly in relation to that horror tackle and due to him being an absolute bonehead. But Rojo aside, there are a few more culprits that fall under the reckless category.

Marouane Fellaini for one. Daft penalty to give away, but not a huge surprise either. He’s liable to do that on a weekly basis. As is Rojo. Closing out a game with those two is a recipe for disaster.

As touched on in point one, a lot of United’s squad members mentalities are very questionable but if we are to make a start on providing targets for the firing squad – Rojo and Fellaini need to be top of the list.

5) Unlucky or our own doing?

It’s a recurring theme of this 5 things we learned piece that our squad lacks character. But it is worth spreading it across three separate points, as there seems to be a thinking that we have been very unlucky this season. I would support that view to a point, however I refer back to point 1 and place the majority of the blame on us as a squad.

If we take it game by game, Stoke: We butchered a number of chances and conceded a pretty shocking goal. Burnley: We got a man sent off and missed a truckload of guilt edged chances. Arsenal: We conceded a goal at the death of the match after being pretty comfortable throughout. Everton: See Arsenal.

That, in writing, looks like we are creators of our own downfall. Finish your chances, stay disciplined and alert in closing stages and maybe we’d have those 8 more points. We have dropped 7 points in the last 10 minutes of games this season – that’s not down to luck. It’s down to mentality. We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and crying about luck/refereeing decisions/missed chances and start actually acting upon opportunities. We’re not far away and we are playing great football, but less of the excuses and start showing some balls and actually taking actions on the pitch… We’ll get there eventually…I hope.

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  1. Sideshow Bob on

    Very harsh on Rojo, Alan. The silly challenge on Gueye is his only blemish since switching to centre back. He’s played well.

    The point about character is overblown, I think. For me, squad confidence is the bigger issue. Swap Costa for Ibrahimovic and we’d be competing for title. A top quality striker breeds confidence throughout a squad. Victories in the games against Stoke, Burnley and West Ham, and this squad would be flying.

    • That’s fair enough, Bob. Rojo’s performances certainly have been excellent – and for the most part this season Fellaini has been very good also. The point I was trying to make though was ultimately they both have a clanger in them and can’t be relied upon discipline wise. They both have shown they can contribute positively and in certain roles can be very effective, however I personally don’t think they are good enough for that to compensate.

      I’d agree that we’d be further up the table had we a more pfolific striker. I don’t believe we are far away whatsoever and in terms of the football we are producing, it’s my favourite United side to watch since ’08/09. Regards confidence being a bigger issue – I think it largely falls under the same category as character, the category being mentality. I’m not saying that big character’s don’t have confidence blips at times, because of course they do, but usually big character’s can lift a group when they’re down – or provide match winning moments that would have decided the above games.

      Zlatan was brought in to be that guy and so far he hasn’t really delivered. Pogba is starting to show leadership, but I feel we need more. As you say, a top striker breeds confidence, but for me a top leader in any position – looking back to Keane, Neville, Schmeichel could lift a group and have people follow them. I thought Zlatan could be that guy, and maybe he still will be, but ultimately I feel that’s what we need more of. You will never get a situation where the whole squad are big characters, but if you have two or three key guys really leading on and off the field then the overall group can buy into that.

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