Soccer

Manchester United v Everton: Five things we learned as Bruno Fernandes scores free-kick in dominant win

Manchester United playmaker Bruno Fernandes

Solskjaer’s sneak preview of likely Leeds line-up

Manchester United’s summer may have gone smoothly in the transfer market but otherwise preparations have not been perfect. Last week’s suspected Covid outbreak led to the penultimate friendly against Preston North End being cancelled and players have returned in dribs and drabs, with the likes of Jadon Sancho and Edinson Cavani yet to return.

All that means the line-up deployed here by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is likely to be similar to the one that starts the season this time next week against Leeds, bar one or two. A front three of Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Daniel James – with Bruno Fernandes’ support as a No 10 – certainly feels likely given the number of absences up top.

Benitez has a job on his hands to win over fans

Barely five minutes were on the clock before the first self-deprecating chants could be heard emanating from Old Trafford’s away end, with a sombre “the ball, the ball, we haven’t touched the ball”. It was about as loud as the 1,500 Everton supporters in attendance were all afternoon.

Only half an hour had gone by the time of Fernandes’ free-kick for the third, but a significant number of that 1,500 immediately left their seats. It was a sign of how much work Benitez has to do to get them on side. This may only have been a pre-season friendly but meek performances like this will not help.

Pickford jitters after months of solid performances

Jordan Pickford was not only one of England’s best players at Euro 2020 this summer, he was one of Everton’s best last season too. The idea that he performs for his country but not his club has not held water since the turn of the year. If not for some of his performances, Everton would have slipped even further down the table during Carlo Ancelotti’s final days in charge.

This was definitely an afternoon to forget, though. A mix-up with Lucas Digne led to United’s early opener, with Pickford spilling the ball directly into Greenwood’s path. Another fumble followed moments later, and after being beaten three times, he was replaced by new signing Asmir Begovic. But on his first outing since the Euros final, these jitters were understandable, and he should pick up where he left off once the season starts proper.

Maguire set-piece threat waiting to be unlocked

Harry Maguire carries himself like a centre-half who should be dangerous on set-pieces but his record since joining United is only average at best, with only four from dead ball situations in 107 games. He has managed the same number for England, but in just 37 caps. The United skipper is clearly capable of providing more of a threat. It is about unlocking it.

Perhaps with the appointment to Solskjaer’s coachings staff of Eric Ramsay, who has been tasked with maximising set-plays as part of his role, that will change. Maguire’s header from a corner for United’s second here was reminiscent of the goals he has scored for his country, arrowed into the top corner, leaving his international team-mate Pickford with no hope of denying him.

Matic too easily forgotten in United’s midfield conundrum

With Sancho through the door and Varane’s confirmation expected later this week, most United supporters have turned their attention to the next transfer target. And though a move for Kieran Trippier is expected – provided United raise the funds – there is also interest in a midfielder capable of breaking up Fred and Scott McTominay’s solid but unspectacular double act.

Those same fans are likely to be disappointed if that midfielder turns out to be Nemanja Matic, given that this will be his fifth season at Old Trafford and he is not getting any younger, but his qualities have been somewhat overlooked in the debate. Matic – who impressed here – is a better passer than both Fred and McTominay and well-suited to opponents like Benitez’s Everton, who are happy to sit off and give him space to dictate.

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