LIVERPOOL, England — Manchester United have had some chastening days at Goodison Park since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, and now there’s another to add to the list.
Ralf Rangnick’s team were beaten 1-0 by Everton to follow on from a 2-0 defeat under David Moyes in 2014, a 3-0 defeat under Louis van Gaal in 2015 and a 4-0 thumping under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2019. Each one of those results should have been a low point never to be repeated, but the fact that it’s still happening nearly a decade since Ferguson left shows how big a job it is for the next manager to turn the club around.
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Ajax manager and presumed Old Trafford coach-elect Erik ten Hag might want to add another zero onto his asking price, particularly if there’s an April trip to Everton on next season’s fixture list.
In the short term, Anthony Gordon’s deflected first-half goal means United have given themselves an even bigger mountain to climb if they want to play Champions League football next season.
It says everything about the state of Rangnick’s team that even after Arsenal slipped up at Crystal Palace in midweek, they couldn’t lift themselves enough to beat an Everton side who had lost 17 of their previous 22 league games and started the day just a point above the relegation places. United still have seven games left, but playing like this, they don’t belong in Europe’s top club competition.
« The players should be eager to play Champions League football, but as long as we play like today they don’t deserve it, » Rangnick said afterwards. « If you don’t score in 95 minutes against a team who conceded three goals against Burnley, it is difficult to explain. For us as a coaching staff it is difficult to understand why we didn’t create more chances. »
Everton, fresh off the back of a 3-2 defeat at Burnley in midweek, were there for the taking.
United started poorly, but Everton were so bad that Marcus Rashford still managed to force Jordan Pickford into two good saves. The second came from a header after 12 minutes, but between then and a long-distance shot from Paul Pogba nine minutes from time, United created nothing. Cristiano Ronaldo’s frustration boiled over towards the end, with him smashing the ball into the benches in protest at Everton’s time wasting, but most of the damage was self-inflicted.
A nervous Everton crowd were beginning to turn when Gordon’s shot flicked off Harry Maguire and past David De Gea in the 27th minute, and from them on, the home supporters wildly celebrated every pass and tackle.
« We had our moments and could have scored in the first 25 minutes, but I would have wished us to be more penetrating, » Rangnick added. « You could literally feel they were crumbling after that result against Burnley and we didn’t take advantage, and their first shot on goal, a deflected shot, changed the game and changed the atmosphere. Second half they just defended and we were not able to break down that wall. »
It shows the muddled thinking at United that when Rangnick needed a substitute to change the game in the second half, he turned to Juan Mata — without a single appearance in the Premier League this season up until that point.
Ronaldo had one final shot in stoppage time that Pickford did well to save, but an equalizer would have served only to mask another appalling United performance. Alex Telles was poor, Bruno Fernandes gave the ball away again and again, and Ronaldo was almost anonymous, but the list of players who underperformed went beyond those three.
Everton’s goal was the 42nd they have conceded in the league this season, the worst record of any of the top eight and the same number as Burnley in 18th. It was ironic that, on Wednesday, Sean Dyche said he told his Burnley players that Everton didn’t look like a team who knew how to win a game, and Frank Lampard could have easily aimed the same accusation at United, although he chose not to.
« You can’t talk about a team with Ronaldo and Fernandes and [Jadon] Sancho and Rashford and say they don’t know how to win a game, because they do, » Lampard said. « They are maybe not in their best moment at the moment. Today we dug in and got the result we needed. »
If Ten Hag takes on the United job, he will need new players in the summer, but the issues do not begin and end with the squad. Of the dark days at Everton under Moyes, Van Gaal, Solskjaer and now Rangnick, only De Gea has started each time, suggesting the players are only part of the problem.
Rangnick says he has already told the board what needs to change in the summer, but United’s fans heard the same after each of those desperate results in this part of Liverpool. Only time will tell whether Ten Hag is the man to stop the rot or just next in line to get stuck with the Toffees.