Manchester United squared off against Everton this past weekend, continuing their campaign to finish in the top four of the English Premier League table. Although, they were favorites to win the match, they were unable to replicate their winning form, falling defeated for the second week in a row to the resurgent Merseyside Blues, who are now undefeated in their last six matches.
Louis Van Gaal's selections were again affected by injuries this week to Phil Jones and Michael Carrick. Paddy McNair replaced Jones and Daley Blind was started in place of the calm, collected Carrick. Usual starters adopted the other spots in the lineup as David De Gea started in goal, Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, and Luke Shaw rounded out the back four; Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, and Ashley Young comprised the rest of the midfield, and Wayne Rooney started in the lone striker position.
It was almost immediately evident that the day would be Everton's as United's defense appeared disjointed and unsettled. In the fifth minute, an Everton counter attack began from their 18-yard box. The goal-scorer James McCarthy received a through ball at the edge of the United box, dribbled in between two weak challenges from McNair and Blind, and struck his shot past David De Gea. Shortly after, Fellaini was gifted a chance to equalize, but squandered it by striking his shot way over the bar.
For the second week in a row, United dominated the possession in the game, but also unfortunately were not able to convert possession into goals. A well-worked possession led to a chance for Daley Blind. His shot required a save, but did very little to challenge Everton's goalkeeper, Tim Howard.
Everton lengthened their lead on a corner kick that was earned on yet another counter-attack started by right back Seamus Coleman. Leighton Baines delivered a wonderful cross to the near post that was headed well to the far post by John Stones. It was nearly headed off the line by Ashley Young, but the winger's efforts were ultimately futile on Stones' brilliant header.
With the lion's share of possession, there was a genuine hope and belief that United could get back into the game with at least one goal. Radamel Falcao's inclusion into the game certainly added more excitement to the attacking front, but still United were unable to find the goal.
United's backline, however, seemed to have given up as Everton's third goal seemed to evidence. An in the air through ball was played, as the Red Devil's defense stepped up and drew off Romelu Lukaku. The ball, however, did not go to Lukaku, it seemed to have a mind of its own, skidding perfectly into the run of Kevin Mirallas. The United backline completely shutdown on the pass, disregarding Mirallas's run, hoping for an offside whistle. Mirallas took up the ball and dribbled into the box to take his chance well, leaving no hope for De Gea and putting an emphatic end to the game.
United's back-to-back defeats in the past two weeks marks the first time this season that they've been defeated twice in a row. The result places United in fourth place in the league table, but most importantly, seven points ahead of Liverpool and Tottenham. United need six points in order to clinch at least a fourth place finish over these team, which should be relatively easy to accomplish in their last four matches. There may be some bad news on the other hand involving the health of Wayne Rooney, who was noticeably hampered by an injury he sustained in the match against Everton, prompting a substitution. His health will be a huge concern to the Dutch manager, who will hope his side can return to their goal scoring ways. They have a great opportunity to bounce back against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday at Old Trafford. The game will be aired on CNBC at 12pm.