MANCHESTER, England — When referee Jon Moss blew the final whistle on Saturday, Victor Lindelof picked up the ball and punted it into the empty Old Trafford stands: The action summed up Manchester United‘s night.
As the players trudged off amid the visitor’s celebrations, it felt a lot like the 4-4 draw with Everton in April 2012 that ended up costing United the league.
It is too early to say whether this result will have a similar impact, but it is the type of game they really have to win if they want to push Manchester City right to the wire.
City will be five points clear with a game in hand if they beat injury-ravaged Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday. It shouldn’t have been like that.
At half-time United were flying after goals from Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes put them 2-0 up. Everton looked dead and buried, but within seven minutes of the restart it was 2-2 when first Abdoulaye Doucoure and then James Rodriguez found the net.
United looked to have recovered from their wobble when Scott McTominay made it 3-2, but the final 10 minutes were filled with tension and panic until Dominic Calvert-Lewin stabbed in the equaliser with the last kick of the game.
It was no surprise that Lindelof wanted to boot the ball as far into Stretford as he could. United were a threat going forward, and Fernandes’ goal in particular was spectacular, but it was overshadowed by what happened at the other end. For just the fourth time in the Premier League era United led by two goals at half-time and failed to win.
“We played some good football in the second half but conceded three goals from three shots on target, when you do that it is disappointing,” said Solskjaer after the match.
“We reacted well after their two goals but then why was there four minutes added in, we had to get the ball in the corner and see it out. Poor goals to concede.
“I wouldn’t blame anyone on the goals but we know we could have done better as a team on all of them.”
Nine goals against Southampton and another three here means United are comfortably the Premier League’s top scorers, but the goals against column is becoming more and more of a worry.
Calvert-Lewin’s goal, scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time, was the 30th league goal United have conceded this season — the most of any team in the top half of the table and only one fewer than Fulham, eight points adrift in the relegation places. By contrast, Man City have conceded 13.
Solskjaer is the type of manager who can live with goals going in if they are something special, but all three of Everton’s were avoidable. First, David De Gea fumbled Calvert-Lewin’s tame cross to gift Doucoure a tap-in, and then a lack of pressure on the ball gave Doucoure an age to pick out Rodriguez 10 yards from goal without a red shirt within touching distance.
It’s the third goal, however, that was the worst of the lot.
United couldn’t deal with Lucas Digne’s long free kick into the box, and when the ball squirmed in between De Gea and Calvert-Lewin, the Everton striker looked like the only one who wanted to win it.
United had already got away with one when Harry Maguire was bundled over by Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison had the chance to score while Maguire lay on the floor expecting to hear a whistle that was never going to come. He should have been stronger, an accusation that could be levelled at every United defender during a frantic finish when they seemed to radiate vulnerability.
Lindelof’s hoof into the air at the end was the only thing any one of them did with any conviction, and by then it was too late.
Solskjaer spoke at his pre-match news conference on Friday of needing to strengthen certain areas of his squad and it would not be a shock to see him bring in another centre-back in the summer.
The question marks over Lindelof refuse to go away and Eric Bailly is not fit often enough to be relied upon — hence why Dayot Upamecano at RB Leipzig remains a target. De Gea’s performance will also restart the debate about whether it is time for Dean Henderson to get a run in the team.
“We deserved to win the game but that is football for you, you have to take your chances and cannot concede with every shot,” said Solskjaer.
“After 2-2 we played really well then the last kick of the ball kicks us in the teeth and we go home disappointed. We need to stop conceding easy goals.”