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04th Dec 2016

Goodison Park draw leaves Jose Mourinho and Ronald Koeman with plenty to ponder

Honours even at Goodison

Tony Barrett

In keeping with the old adage that there is always someone worse off than yourself, Ronald Koeman welcomed Jose Mourinho to Goodison Park in the knowledge that having the wrong coloured Christmas tree pales in comparison against allegations of tax evasion.

For 90 minutes the pair were able to forget such problems and focus instead on the ones that they have on the pitch and in that respect neither Everton nor Manchester United let their managers down on a day when the shortcomings of both sides were again all too apparent.

A victory that United had done little to earn was within their grasp when Mourinho made the kind of mistake that once seemed almost beyond him. In his desperation to protect a 1-0 lead, the United manager decided to introduce Marouane Fellaini for Henrikh Mkhitaryan but in doing so set a chain of events in motion which culminated in Everton scoring an equaliser that was as deserved as it had seemed unlikely. Caught out by his own negativity, Mourinho reverted to type, blaming the officials for awarding a penalty against Fellaini who brought down Idrissa Gueye.


“A nonsense,” the United manager complained but the nonsense decision was his own regardless of the voracity of the penalty award. Fellaini will be the fall guy but Mourinho got what he deserved for letting a bull loose in a china shop. He would also do well to reflect on the fact that the most indefensible decision of all had gone in favour of his team when Michael Oliver, the referee, allowed Marcos Rojo to escape with a yellow card following a dreadful lunge on Gueye.

Rojo stayed on, United were not reduced to ten men and the defender averted an automatic three match ban; whatever Mourinho’s complaints about the penalty, the most contentious decision of the game had benefited him, although there will be those who argue that having Rojo free from suspension is not necessarily a good thing. Having accumulated one point fewer than David Moyes had at the same stage of his only season in charge of United, though, it is clear that Mourinho’s problems run much deeper than an erratic defender with a propensity for rash challenges.


The fear for United and their supporters must be that Mourinho has misplaced – if not lost altogether – his once peerless ability to see out games. Arsenal took advantage recently and now Everton have done the same. Explaining the reasons for his tactical change, Mourinho tried to dismiss the idea that he might have erred but, as with the substitution that cost United two points, his logic fell short. “It is obvious,” he said. “Everton is not a passing team. They play direct. Everything is direct. When a team that is losing plays direct, when you have a player on the bench with two metres to play in front of the defensive line to win the match.”

Everton had been direct, certainly earlier in the game, but either through desperation or design, they had become less so as the match wore on with Koeman asking his players to get wide and find space between United’s full backs and central defenders. The biggest danger to United at that stage was that they would be out-flanked, not that they would be undone by a long ball, which made the introduction of Fellaini even more inexplicable. It also put the lumbering midfielder on a hiding to nothing as he had such a small amount of time to get his limbs functioning, hence the stiffness of movement and trademark clumsiness that led to his ill-fated lunge on Gueye.

Everton had their reprieve but what is increasingly unclear under Koeman is what exactly his plan is. From regular adjustments to Everton’s formation to chopping and changing personnel, his is an approach that smacks of a manager who neither believes in his squad nor knows what to do with it. This time it was Phil Jageilka and Ross Barkley who were left out of the starting line up and while neither could complain given recent form, the identity of their replacements underlined the paucity of Koeman’s options with Ramiro Funes Mori and Kevin Mirallas coming into the side.

Everton v Manchester United - Premier League

A switch to 4-4-2 was designed to make Everton harder to play against and to a point it worked as United spent most of the opening half struggling to make any kind of impact going forward. The problem with that strategy, though, is that it leaves little margin for error and Everton currently need more margin than most. Whatever Koeman’s misgivings about his squad – and it is all too apparent that he has many – he has only himself to blame for Maarten Stekelenburg whom he signed as a solution to Everton’s goalkeeping problems only to discover that he is anything but.

A listless first half that was low on quality and incident – with the obvious exception of Oliver’s failure to dismiss either Rojo for what should have been a straight red or Gareth Barry for what could have been two yellows – was drawing to a close when Stekelenburg made exactly the kind of mistake that Everton could not afford. If his decision to race from his goal line was bad enough, his failure to beat the immobile Zlatan Ibrahimovic proved fatal as the Swede caressed the ball over his head and over the goal line, albeit via the underside of the crossbar and a post.

United had done little but had the lead; all they had had to do was not be as fallible as their opponents. There will be games when they need to do more but this was not one of them. Three years to the day since Everton had reason to believe their first victory over United at Old Trafford since 1992 was the start of a new era of competitiveness, it is now clear that they have fallen behind once again.


After last week’s pallid defeat to Southampton, Koeman reverted to managerial code, insisting his players’ effort could not be questioned and in doing so leaving everyone else to draw the obvious conclusion that their quality could. It was the same eight days on. Everton ran but with no clear idea of where they were running to or what they thought it might achieve and they competed without ever gaining a competitive edge. This isn’t a team that isn’t trying, it is one that has lost its way to such an extent that trying can actually make things worse, as Stekelenburg’s kamikaze rush from goal demonstrated.

That is not always the case, of course, and Everton’s attempts to get back into the game in the second half suggested that their spirit has not been broken despite having won only one of their previous eight league games. Three times David De Gea denied them during a spell when Stekelenburg was unemployed as Everton again suffered for having too few players capable of beating a top class goalkeeper outside of Romelu Lukaku. On a day when the Belgian put in a solid shift outside of the box, Everton sorely needed him to be at his most predatory inside it but his energy was being used up in areas where he couldn’t do any damage. Again, trying was not making things better.

Everton v Manchester United - Premier League

Mercifully for Everton, it is not only their current players who suffer from that problem and hope arrived in the form of Fellaini who was brought on after 85 minutes as Mourinho looked to hold on to what he had. As an insurance policy, it was akin to throwing a wrecking ball at your own wall and wondering why it collapses and within two minutes Fellaini had offered his former club salvation by clumsily upending Gueye. A yellow card for dissent followed but the more fitting punishment was provided by Leighton Baines who brought the scores level from the penalty spot.

Fellaini’s next indiscretion was at the other end of the pitch where he showed wonderful technique to control the ball on his chest before misdirecting his pass into the advertising hoardings; a career summed up in a single act. That it happened in front of the United fans only made matters worse. They need no further evidence of his shortcomings but he had provided it anyway and in doing so Fellaini made himself emblematic of a game in which both teams demonstrated that the problems of the two managers go well beyond Christmas trees and tax issues.