When in dire need of a result, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer delivered as usual. The Norwegian spent all week facing questions over his future at Old Trafford but a 3-1 victory at Everton will secure an extension to his tenure. The heat has been turned down on the Man Utd boss, for now.
Solskjaer was the subject of speculation all last week following their back-to-back defeats to Arsenal and Istanbul Basaksehir. The loss to the Gunners was their third in the Premier League this season, leaving the Red Devils floundering in 15th position, while their defeat and defending in Turkey was, in Solskjaer’s own words, “unforgivable“. If some United fans were frustrated before Istanbul, their frustration boiled over in the aftermath. The result was bad but Ole’s boys were terrible on an embarrassing night on which they registered fewer shots on target than Turkey’s current seventh-best team.
It was Istanbul Basaksehir’s second ever victory in the Champions League and their first in the Champions League group stages, having lost their first two matches to Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipig earlier this season. The Manchester Evening News wasted no time in putting out a story on Thursday morning that Mauricio Pochettino had been ‘approached’ by Manchester United ‘with a view to him replacing’ Solskjaer. On Saturday morning there were still rumours lingering, as the Daily Star claimed Mauricio Pochettino has twice rejected the Barcelona job to give himself a chance of managing Man Utd.
A solid performance at Goodison Park – and more importantly three points – was not just yearned for but a requirement for Solskjaer on Saturday afternoon. And he duly delivered but with a huge helping hand from his Portuguese saviour Bruno Fernandes. Solskjaer’s early smiles were wiped away after only 19 minutes when United showed early shades of their poor defending in Turkey. A long ball down the field from Jordan Pickford was aimed at Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who forced Victor Lindelof to head into the path of Everton winger Bernard, with the Brazilian squeezing a precise shot through Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s legs and into the net. It was poor from Man Utd with the Toffees getting joy from their route one approach early on, while Bernard and Lucas Digne were causing issues down the left-hand side.
The Toffees were guilty of their own bit of bad defending only six minutes later, as they left Fernandes with all the space in the world to hammer a brilliant headed equaliser past Pickford. And on 32 minutes the Red Devils had turned the match on its head, with the Portuguese playmaker whipping a ball – meant for Marcus Rashford – straight into the goal via the post. It was no more than Man Utd deserved after ramping up the pressure on the Toffees goal. United were in control for most of the match with Fernandes putting one on a plate for Edinson Cavani to score his first United goal in second-half injury time.
2 – The two longest passing sequences leading to a goal in the Premier League so far this season have both been scored by Manchester United; Aaron Wan-Bissaka against Newcastle (21 passes) and Bruno Fernandes’ equaliser today against Everton (20 passes). Building. #EVEMNU pic.twitter.com/Z6HrIyMnO6
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 7, 2020
It comes in stark contrast to their visit to Goodison Park in 2019, when Solskjaer presided over his most chastening day in the hotseat last April. The Norwegian was forced to apologise to fans for a performance so “difficult to describe because it is so bad” in a 4-0 battering. Ahead of this fixture, Solskjaer admitted that was “the lowest” he has felt as United boss, despite recent persistent rumours that he is close to losing his job. There were many shoots of positivity to come out of their display 45 weeks on from that particular embarrassment, with the performances of Fernandes, Harry Maguire and Fred standing out above the rest.
Roy Keane complained about the lack of leaders in Solskjaer’s squad following their first league loss to Arsenal at Old Trafford since 2006, calling it “a real, real worry for United now.” But coming from a goal down, under the pressure they were under, shows United do possess enough characters to drag them to victory. Fernandes led the way through his quality, driving the Red Devils up the pitch, while Maguire produced the sort of commanding performance expected from a captain of the club. Now the real test for Maguire, Fernandes and the rest of United’s squad is to do it on a consistent basis.
It was hardly a shock to see United hold out for the victory and even extend their lead in the second half. The Red Devils haven’t lost a Premier League match in which they’ve been leading at half time since September 2014 against Leicester City . What is surprising, though, is that with those three points at Goodison, United have now started better – or at least less badly – this season than last, despite all the negativity surrounding the club. It took them nine Premier League matches in 2019/20 to reach their current total of ten points.
The main threat to Solskjaer’s job is still their lack of consistency. We know this Man Utd side have the personnel to beat any team in the world on their day but now they need to show they can string six or seven wins together on the bounce. West Brom and another match with Istanbul Basaksehir give them the perfect opportunity to show steady form before tougher tests against Southampton and PSG. The performance of Fernandes has at least paused the pressure on Solskjaer but without wins from the next two matches, the heat will be right back on the Norwegian.