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Fellaini flops as Manchester United draw 1-1 at Everton

By The Rainbow
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LIVERPOOL, England — Three points from Everton 1-1 Manchester United at Goodison Park in the Premier League.

1. Fellaini gives Mourinho something to remember

Goodison Park has always been close to Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho’s heart, he has said, because his compatriot Eusebio scored four times there in Portugal’s 1966 World Cup quarterfinal win over North Korea. Mourinho was three at the time, though, and more recent memories must be less pleasant. His Chelsea team lost on two of their last three visits and, just when United were headed for a hard-earned victory, an old Evertonian made an unfortunate intervention.

Marouane Fellaini had only been on the pitch for two minutes when he chopped down Idrissa Gueye. Leighton Baines converted the resulting penalty in the 89th minute and United dropped points in yet another draw. They are now 13 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and, while it is only December, the temptation is to rule them out of the title race.

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United have only won one of their last eight games. A second triumph in that time beckoned after Zlatan Ibrahimovic showed his return to goalscoring form has been timely and emphatic. After only striking once in 11 games, he took a sixth goal in five matches with masterly assurance. He had the confidence and ability to execute a first-time lob over an out-of-position Maarten Stekelenburg with the outside of his boot. The ball hit bar, post and goal line before entering the net, but Ibrahimovic acted as though it was a formality. He had been ineffective before then but, in an instant, it mattered not.

Mourinho’s men were inches from a second goal as Ander Herrera clipping the bar. Herrera, Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick again looked an accomplished trio in the midfield, and United should take further encouragement from Henrikh Mkhitaryan who, on his first league start since Sept. 10, brought quick footwork and a capacity to pick a pass. He found an offside Anthony Martial with a defence-splitting ball and Ramiro Funes Mori, Gareth Barry and Tom Cleverley resorted to illegal means to halt him. Mkhitaryan looked a more dynamic Juan Mata and a man attuned to the pace of the Premier League, all of which rendered his long absence all the stranger. Yet when Mkhitaryan went off, Fellaini came on for his 100th United appearance and their afternoon turned sour.

2. Rojo’s reprieve a stroke of fortune for United

It has been quite a weekend for Manchester-based Argentinians making reprehensible tackles. A day after Sergio Aguero was sent off for his foul on David Luiz, Marcos Rojo should have suffered the same fate.

Perhaps his intentions involved less malice, but when the ball broke between him and Gueye, the Everton midfielder covered the ground much quicker. Rojo responded by leaping in with two feet and raised studs. It was the definition of a red-card offence, but Michael Oliver opted for yellow.

The Toffees had been the beneficiaries of his leniency earlier, when Barry ought to have been booked for a late and forceful challenge on Ibrahimovic, but United should have been left with 10 men for 73 minutes. There was a further flashpoint when Ibrahimovic landed on Seamus Coleman, making contact with his studs. Oliver took the view that it was not deliberate.

Mourinho has argued United are the unluckiest team in the Premier League, but Rojo’s reprieve was a stroke of fortune. The manager has been sent to the stands twice this season but Herrera remains the only player expelled during his reign.

Rojo arrived with the reputation as a hard man after a two-year stint at Sporting Lisbon produced 24 cautions and four dismissals. His disciplinary record has been rather better at Old Trafford, but this was enough to raise questions of whether Rojo has the reliability that Mourinho requires, despite improved form of late. With Eric Bailly back on the bench after recovering from a knee ligament injury and the boss seemingly a fan of Phil Jones, he may soon drop out of the team, but through managerial preference, not suspension.

Marcos Rojo was lucky not to see red for his first-half tackle on Idrissa Gueye.

3. Koeman shakes things up and Everton respond

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And if it is an exaggeration to say that, with his team kicking off in eighth place, Ronald Koeman’s side were in desperate straits, he took drastic action nonetheless. It was a sign of his dissatisfaction that two of those who have captained Everton this season were dropped. Phil Jagielka’s omission has been a while coming, with increasing indications that valiant veteran is in decline. Ross Barkley should be nearer his peak but, after being demoted against Manchester City, he suffered the same fate against United.

If Everton’s intention was to show they are no pushovers, stand-in skipper Barry led the way by unceremoniously upending Ibrahimovic. Yet their initial attempts at resistance were undermined by a case of poor decision-making from Stekelenburg.

The game plan was based around solidity. There was a lopsided look to Everton, with Cleverley more of a defensive presence on the left of midfield, looking to track Antonio Valencia back, but providing precious little attacking threat. It was no surprise he was replaced by the more progressive Gerard Deulofeu.

Yannick Bolasie was more of a threat on Everton’s right, the weaker half of the United defence, policed by Rojo and Matteo Darmian, displaying his pace and ability to get into promising positions but without offering enough end product.

The lack of chemistry between Barkley and Romelu Lukaku may have accounted for the local’s spot on the bench. Everton did not muster an effort on target until the 53rd minute when Kevin Mirallas, who was preferred to Barkley, linked up with his fellow Belgian before drawing a save from David De Gea with a stinging shot.

But Everton were galvanised by Koeman’s changes, bringing a sense of urgency. De Gea had to excel to deny Gueye, Funes Mori and substitute Enner Valencia. Pressure told as Fellaini erred and while Everton now only have one win in their last 10 games, Koeman got a response to the tame defeat at Southampton.