Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial struck in the dying minutes to earn Manchester United a 2-0 win over Everton and a berth in the EFL Cup semi-finals.
Everton began the game in skittish fashion and Paul Pogba might have scored with an unmarked header from a corner. However the hosts were able to weather an early storm of their own making and settled into a game that bore the unmissable signs of heavy legs from both sides, an ill omen ahead of the hectic fixture list.
Ultimately it took the tie’s sole moment of genuine quality to swing it as Cavani darted in from the right before curling a brilliant shot past Robin Olsen in the 88th minute. Everton might well have felt aggrieved that he was even on the pitch after replays showed the Uruguayan seemingly grab Yerry Mina by the throat. There is no VAR in the EFL Cup until the semifinal stage, where United will face Manchester City.
As Everton chased the goal that would have sent the tie to penalties United hit them on the counter with substitutes Marcus Rashford and Martial combining to win the game. Recap the key talking points from the game below.
Everton fail to meet the moment
How grimly appropriate that after dealing with a fullback injury crisis for so long the return of a steady veteran hand at the tiller prompted the Everton defense to unleash unmitigated chaos in front of the Gwladys Street End. Robin Olsen flapped awkwardly at crosses and tried to dribble around United forwards whilst the returning Seamus Coleman passed the ball like a man starting his first game in nearly two months.
For all the talk of the boon that might come to those who get to play games in front of a small crowd of 2,000, currently just Liverpool and Everton of the Premier League clubs, you sensed that tonight the presence of fans rather made the host’s backline acutely aware of the moment. This cup quarterfinal, a rare game in front of supporters and a real chance of ending 25 years without domestic silverware and Toffees played like a team paralyzed by the moment, at least early on.
It was appropriate then that what brought Everton back in the game was the moments that English fans relish perhaps more than any others. A robust challenge from Abdoulaye Doucoure, a string of corners: these were greeted by a roar that one could scarcely believe had come from a socially distanced crowd.
For a time the hosts were in that virtuous cycle where the roar of supporters convinces players they can achieve what they might not have otherwise attempted. When it comes off the momentum builds and for all their dominance early in the half Manchester United would have been relieved when the halftime whistle blew.
Certainly from then on momentum slipped away from Everton, who could not even register a shot on target in the second half. Without James Rodriguez they perhaps lacked the guile and composure to overcome their nervous moments; certainly when the creative burden instead falls on a misfiring Alex Iwobi the drop off is inevitable.
Is Bruno Fernandes being overburdened?
You can hardly blame Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for relying heavily on Bruno Fernandes. He is as transformative a player as there is in the Premier League. When he plays well, so do Manchester United and their good performances without the Portuguese playmaker are few and far between.
But ahead of the intense festive fixture list Fernandes already looks a scintilla less impactful than he usually does. The most convincing explanation for that is simple. He has not missed a game since the EFL Cup tie against Brighton on September 30 and has played 45 minutes or more in 16 of the 17 matches since. Over the last 32 days he has played 795 minutes (plus added time) and rested for just 105.
Little wonder then that when Paul Pogba teed him up for a promising chance on the hour mark Fernandes took what was a tired swipe at the ball as it flashed over the bar. By rights this could have been a night where fresher faces such as Mason Greenwood and Donny van de Beek took more of the creative burden but the latter does not quite seem to be on the same wave length as his new team-mates.
One of them did, Cavani’s brilliant strike winning the day even if it came after a string of higher percentage chances that he missed.
Meanwhile Greenwood looks like a player who needs a few more to add to the one he has scored since the start of November. He does not drive at defenses with the ferocity he did last season and doesn’t seem quite as insistent on getting his shot away. In such circumstances struggling players will naturally turn to Fernandes. The last thing he needed tonight was an even greater burden.
Dean Henderson: That Manchester United coaches were drilling him on his short passing at half-time says everything about a skittish display in possession from Henderson, who looked no more at ease when Everton surrounded him for corners. RATING: 4
Abdoulaye Doucoure: A true midfield dynamo early in this game, there were occasions where he seemed to be carrying Everton up the pitch by sheer force of will. RATING: 7